Kenny Hall has been a notable musician in the old time music world since the release of his album, Kenny Hall and the Sweet Mills String Band in 1972. Of course, he had been playing since 1937, on mandolin, fiddle and guitar, but it wasn’t until this LP came out that music fans outside of California heard much about his music.
Hall was born blind, and educated at the California School For the Blind where music was a major part of the curriculum. Piano lessons started for Kenny when he was only 6 (in 1929) but he never really took to music until the mid-1930s when he was introduced to traditional American fiddle music, and his lifelong fascination with the music, and the string instruments which played them, was born.
The one aspect of his musicianship most remarked-upon by his peers has been his repertoire, with estimates ranging over 1,000 tunes at his command – many of them obscure, or featuring distinctive Hall twists.
A book of tunes was published by Mel Bay in 2000, Kenny Hall’s Music Book, which featured a variety of tunes from that library, along with anecdotes from Kenny about how and where he learned the tunes, and interesting insights into the community of blind musicians where he served his apprenticeship in the 1940s.
After being unavailable for a while, Mel Bay has recently re-issued the book, which is available wherever old time and bluegrass instructional materials are sold.
The book was co-authored by Vykki Mende Gray, and you can read her lengthy reminiscences about working with Kenny in a piece she published in The Old Time Herald upon the book’s initial publication.
Kenny tells his stories in the characteristic manner of that world–describing what people say rather than what they do. And he doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story at once–sometimes it takes hearing about an event several times before Kenny lets us figure out that it wasn’t as innocent as he led us to believe at first, or before aspects of the story that appear perfectly clearly to the blind story teller suddenly are revealed to the sighted listener!
And Kenny warns those of us who would like to follow in his footsteps and learn 1,100 pieces of music: “I never pushed myself to learn all those tunes. I learned ’em slowly–havin’ fun at learning. It took me 40 years, I guess, to learn them 1,100 tunes. But I know more now, I don’t know how many, ’cause, of course, I didn’t stop learning tunes back then when he [Terry Barrett] counted ’em.”
Kenny Hall’s Music Book runs to 284 pages and is presented in standard notation for $35.00.