Ken Orrick passes

Ken Orrick - photo by Lilly PavlakKen Orrick of Lost Highway died at his home on Saturday (1/24) after a massive heart attack.

Orrick, guitarist/vocalist with Lost Highway, a band originally from Orange County, California, was a founder member and stayed with them until the mid 1980s when the group disbanded. Lost Highway was reformed in 1996 with Orrick, who was originally from Smithville, TN, as the band leader.

He was the band’s primary lead vocalist. His approach to singing was influenced by Carter and Ralph Stanley, Larry Sparks, Lester Flatt and Melvin Goins. Fellow singer/songwriter Chris Stuart described his singing as “smooth and clear, yet distinctly bluegrass-influenced”.

As well as having a voice that has gave the band its signature sound, Orrick wrote many fine original songs, written in the best traditional style and putting Lost Highway firmly in the solid, driving, hard-core bluegrass category.

Over the 30 years in which Ken Orrick was associated with Lost Highway, he contributed great songs like Lord, Let Me Die (ironically), This Road Leads Home, Shake The Master’s Hand, Roll On River, Guilty Of Love, I Don’t Believe I’ll Fall In Love Today, Time Waits For No, I Can’t Go On Loving You, Dreams and It’s Gonna Rain. All are excellent songs that would be worthy additions to the repertoire of discerning bands in the future.

Kerry Hay, of Hay Holler Records, who released six albums on which his good friend features, remembers Orrick ……..

“I spent many hours with Ken in recording studios, at concerts and at IBMA. He was a good conversationalist and was obviously in love with the music. He was a congenial person and had good things to say about almost everybody. He had strict guidelines (e.g. dress, punctuality, practicing/rehearsals etc.) for band members, and enforced them. In recording, he was somewhat of a perfectionist. Ken and I had minor differences from time to time, but always resolved them without acrimony. I considered Ken Orrick my good friend, even after he left Hay Holler.”

Chris Stuart, who wrote the sleeve notes for Lost Highway’s album Headin’ Down That Lost Highway (HH CD 1345), says this of Orrick ‚Ķ.

“He had one of the best voices in bluegrass music. Incredible tone and feeling in his singing and I always admired him for that. I also remember travelling with him in Oman when our band and Lost Highway toured together. He always warmed up his voice before going on stage and he could always connect with an audience. He was just a natural singer and performer. Ken had his own personal demons, but on stage he was at his best. He was the source of some great stories and we’ll miss him.”

Long term enthusiast Penny Parsons is shocked by the news ……

“I had been a fan of his singing and song writing with Lost Highway for many years. I heard the band long before I saw them live. My friend Kirk Brandenberger made me a tape of some of their material in the 1980s, with Stuart Duncan on fiddle. I was immediately struck my how powerful and authentic their music was. There was something about Ken’s voice that just resonated with me. He knew how to hit the nail squarely on the head. I remember the first time I saw the band, at IBMA (don’t know the year, but it was in Owensboro), and how exciting it was to finally see them perform live. My memory is that Ken projected a vitality and a joy about the music that was contagious. I am truly saddened to learn of his passing. Bluegrass music has lost a great friend and proponent.”

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.

  • Gwen Buege

    Ken was currently working on my solo Cd. His advice and expertise were invaluable to me. Sadly the project was never completed. And yet I still believed he would do what he said he was going to do because of our friendship of 30 years. He was a man of his word. His voice, whit, and charm will be missed. My band, Blue Dogwood, has been and will continue to do his songs and keep them alive. Oh, Kerry Hay…..”Don’t let me die” was written by David Dicky an original member of Lost Highway. My two favorite songs of Ken’s are “Novemeber Rain” and “Don’t Live Your Life in Sorrow”…his theme song.

  • Oh.. Gwen, Hay… it was “Lord Let Me Die” that Kerry was referring to. Ken wrote that song. The reason that I know that is that I was there when he did. And was there when we recorded it.
    Tammy, Ken’s daughter and myself took Ken to his final resting place this past week in Smithville Tennessee. For some of us, this was closure. Take care,

    Nick Haney, Altus AR

  • BoonvilleKid

    It’s a shame he had to go, especially being as young as he was. I was not aware that he had died until this evening when I played his CD for the song: “A Face in the Crowd”. I had purchased that CD after watching Ken and his group Erick Uglum, Dick Brown, Marshall Andrews and Paul Shelasky, perform in Hugo, Oklahoma. This would have been in about 2001.