Steel Guitarist Ben Keith Passes

Steel guitar great Ben Keith has died in Northern California at age 73. He reportedly suffered a heart attack. Born Bennett Keith Schaeufele, he grew up in Bowling Green, KY. He joined the Nashville Musicians Union at age 19 in 1956. A year later, he joined Faron Young’s band The Country Deputies. He rose to prominence as a Music Row session musician in the 1960s, notably playing the distinctive steel guitar lines in Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces.”

When Neil Young arrived in Nashville to be on Johnny Cash’s TV show in 1971, he lingered in the city to record his classic LP Harvest and its top-selling single “Heart of Gold.” Ben Keith played on both and was subsequently recruited to become a member of Young’s band. Ben Keith performed on such subsequent Young discs as Time Fades Away (1973), On the Beach (1974) and Tonight’s the Night (1975). He became Young’s co-producer on Comes a Time (1978) and Old Ways (1985). Keith’s steel guitar also backed such notables as Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Todd Rundgren, Ringo Starr, Linda Ronstadt and Crosby, Stills & Nash, among others. He produced Jewel’s million-selling breakthrough album Pieces of You in 1995.

Other Young albums on which Keith appeared include Harvest Moon, Greendale, Chrome Dreams II and Prairie Wind. He also worked on the solo CDs of the star’s singing wife, Pegi Young. At the time of his death on Monday, July 26, he and the Youngs
were still making music together.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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