Kenny Applebee, 2023 Living Traditions Sustainer Fellow
Kenny Applebee, Mexico, Mo.
Old-time Rhythm Guitarist
Kenny Applebee is widely recognized as a mainstay of old-time music in Missouri. He has “backed” fiddlers on his rhythm guitar for decades at contests, jams, concerts, dances, and the Bethel Youth Fiddle Camp. Applebee picked up the guitar at age 14 and credits a regional flat picker for teaching “all the chords I needed to know.” As an adult, he got involved in Missouri’s vibrant old-time music community via the Montgomery City Old Threshers Reunion and Fiddle Contest.
In addition to a lifelong career in farming, over the years, Applebee has evolved as the “go-to” back-up guitarist for numerous fiddlers from multiple generations. His notable honors include invitations to perform in 1988 with Rhonda Vincent and the late Pete McMahan in Hannibal, as well was at the 1991 Smithsonian Folklife Festival (then called the Festival of American Folklife) and the 2010 Centrum Festival of American Fiddle Tunes.
Today, Applebee often accompanies master fiddler John P. Williams regularly for the Missouri State Museum and Old-time Music, Ozark Heritage Festival. Additionally, Applebee has taught three rhythm guitar apprentices in Missouri’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program between 2017 and 2021.
Amber Gaddy, who worked with David Cavins to nominate Applebee, shared the following story about the first time she met Kenny Applebee:
I first saw Kenny play at the 1997 Tebbetts, Missouri, old-time fiddle contest. Emcee Polly Burre was announcing, and, though I didn’t know them at the time, a slew of well-known fiddle players were on hand.
But well over half of those fiddlers played with a single guitar player. He played a Gibson Hummingbird and never missed a lick. In fact, he was so unflappable on stage, that, as the contest closed up, my Dad declared that he should be called “The Machine.”
I didn’t know much about fiddle music at the time, but was impressed. More than two decades later, after spending countless hours playing beside Kenny, I’m even more impressed with the breadth of his knowledge of fiddle music and his backup abilities.
John P. Williams and Kenny Applebee collaborated on an album recently. Check out their tune Norma Lou’s Waltz on YouTube here:
Our thanks to Gaddy and Cavins for nominating Kenny Applebee. If you know him, please congratulate him on this much-deserved honor.