Bluegrass musician and businessman Phil Leadbetter has died after contracting COVID-19. He was 59.
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, Leadbetter’s bluegrass career started at 14 with the founding of the Knoxville Newgrass Boys. The group would eventually be invited to perform at the White House during the bicentennial celebrations in 1976.
Leadbetter was hired on with Grandpa Jones in 1988, followed by a year with country singer Vern Gosdin. Beginning in 1990, he played resophonic guitar for J.D. Crowe and eventually took over booking for the group until 2001. Leadbetter recorded two album with Crowe–Flashback (1994) and Come On Down To My World (1999).
He served as a founding member of Wildfire with Robert Hale, Curt Chapman, Darrell Webb, and Barry Crabtree, later departing to start Grasstowne with Alan Bibey and Steve Gulley. He recorded three albums with Wildfire and two with Grasstowne.
As a solo artist, Leadbetter released three albums: Filibuster (1999), Slide Effects (2005), and The Next Move (2014). He released Swing For The Fences by Phil Leadbetter & The All-Stars of Bluegrass in 2020. The group had also played a number of shows in 2018-19 with a rotating cast of pickers and singers.
Leadbetter is a three-time recipient of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Resophonic Guitar Player of the Year award. Gibson released the Phil Leadbetter Signature Series Dobro guitar in 2003 in his honor. Two years later, he won the first of his IBMA Resophonic Guitar Player awards, while also garnering an Instrumental Recording of the Year trophy for his second solo album, Slide Effects. He was nominated for a Best Bluegrass Album Grammy in 1994 for his work with J. D. Crowe and the New South on the album Flashback.
In 2011, Leadbetter received his first of five Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnoses.
He is survived by his grandchildren and son, Matt Leadbetter, who also become a professional resophonic guitar, now working with Dale Ann Bradley.
Memorial arrangements have not yet been announced.
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