“One of the finest old-time musicians active today. His astonishing instrumental skill is always tempered with good taste, and his depth of knowledge and passion for the music lends a magical “old” quality to Kenny’s music.” ~Gail Gillespie, for The Old-Time Herald
“A fiddler’s fiddler whose playing has depth, nuance, and layers of subtlety along with fire. Only by giving one’s self completely and honestly to the music while taking great care to learn from the older players can this level of attunement to the legacy and living traditions of old-time music be realized.” ~Erynn Marshall
Kenny Jackson is a fiddler, multi-instrumentalist, singer, and tunesmith whose music is rooted in old-time Southern Appalachian styles. Music was often a part of family gatherings at his grandparents’ Kentucky home, and as a six-year-old, he picked up a few tunes “french harp” from his uncle Homer. At twelve he learned to play guitar, and by the time he was twenty, he had added mandolin and banjo to his instrumental chops. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kenny could be found picking and singing in various bluegrass configurations in and around the musically fertile community of Bloomington, Indiana. It was there that he was exposed to a world of traditional fiddle music, and he became hooked for life.
Around 1980, Kenny took up the fiddle and it became his signature instrument. One of his early fiddling influences was the Surry County, North Carolina master musician Tommy Jarrell. Kenny recalls one recording in particular, Jarrell’s solo fiddle record Sail Away Ladies, “I was completely transported by Jarrell’s fiddling on that record. It gave me chill bumps…it seemed the most ancient yet most immediate and living music I could ever want to hear.” Sadly, Jarrell died before Jackson had a chance to meet him, but what he learned about old-time music through visits with diverse elder masters including Melvin Wine (WV), Rafe Brady (NC), Bertie Dickens (NC), Lee Stoneking (MO), Violet Hensley (AR), and others profoundly influenced Kenny’s musical sensibility and style.
Over the years Kenny has also drawn from a wealth of archival recordings of Upper South fiddlers like John Salyer, William Stepp, Marcus Martin, and Ed Haley, to name a few. With these influences, and with countless hours of playing at fiddler’s conventions, on back porches, and in kitchen sessions, he developed his playing, rooted deep in tradition, but uniquely his own. Not content to simply re-enact historic performances, Kenny draws on a deep well for his own spirited interpretations of traditional tunes and songs, and also for his new compositions.
Since the early 1980s, Kenny has been a part of several outstanding string bands including Leftwich, Higginbotham, and Jackson; The Rhythm Rats (with Paula Bradley and Whitt Mead), and Big Medicine (with Joe Newberry, Jim Collier, LaNelle Davis, and Bobb Head), and the Bow Benders (with Erynn Marshall, Carl Jones, and Bobb Head).
He has performed at major festivals such as MerleFest, the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh, N. Ireland, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and the Wheatland Music Festival, and with his bands and solo he’s won a number of ribbons at festivals and fiddlers’ conventions. He’s also appeared on a number of broadcasts such as ABC-TV’s Good Morning America, BBC-Belfast Radio, the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, WPAQ’s Merry-Go-Round, and the WWVA Jamboree.
Through his teaching over many years, Kenny has had an influence on emerging old-time musicians around the country. He’s taught many private students as well as attendees at workshops and music camps, including Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camp, Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops, Mars Hill Blue Ridge Music Week, Alaska Fiddle Camp, Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp, and The Swannanoa Gathering.
Kenny can be heard on a number of recordings, including his “solo” albums The Shortest Day (2015) and Over the Mountain (2004); on the Big Medicine recordings Pine to Pine (2008), Fever in the South (2004) and Too Old to be Controlled (2002); and with the Rhythm Rats on I Believe I’ll Go Back Home (1997), and Pretty Crowing Chicken (1994).