06 September 2022

Steve Arkin, 1 May 1944-24 Aug. 2022

The BIB learns with regret of the death of Steve Arkin at the age of 78. Already in his teens an active member of the New York bluegrass scene, he became a friend of Bill Keith and an exponent of Keith's new 'melodic' style of banjo playing; served two months as a Blue Grass Boy in the summer of 1964; and in later life played not only in bluegrass bands but in a succession of old-time combinations. Richard Thompson's obituary on Bluegrass Today includes five videos, illustrating this versatility. In the YouTube video, shot in 2011, of him playing with Paul Brown (fiddle), Arkin plays 'Sally in the turnip patch' in clawhammer style, then puts on his picks to play Fiddlin' Arthur Smith's 'Fiddler's reel' in three-finger style. The photo above shows him as a member of the New Cut Road String Band. Music was by no means his only interest, as Richard Thompson's admirable obituary shows.

Arkin was well qualified to write 'Banjo playing: Reno, Thompson, Scruggs, Keith style and beyond', a solid and entertaining article, first published in Pickin' magazine in October 1974. Part of it appeared two years later as an appendix to Tony Trischka's Melodic banjo (Oak Publications, New York, 1976), and the whole has been reprinted in Thomas Goldsmith (ed.), The bluegrass reader (University of Illinois Press, 2004). It was particularly important as a response to what Arkin considered an 'inane argument' about whether Bill Keith or Bobby Thompson (1937-2005) originated the melodic style; for it described an occasion at which he introduced Keith and Thompson to one another in Converse, SC, in the summer of 1964. As far as the BIB is aware, this view has not been successfully challenged.

© Richard Hawkins

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