Kenny Buttrey

'Transcendental' drummer for artists from Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan and Neil Young

Kenny Buttrey was an innovative drummer whose work as both arranger and performer made a vital contribution to thousands of recordings by artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, the Pointer Sisters and Kris Kristofferson.

Aaron Kenneth Buttrey, drummer: born Nashville, Tennessee 1 April 1945; twice married (one son, three daughters); died Nashville 12 September 2004.

Kenny Buttrey was an innovative drummer whose work as both arranger and performer made a vital contribution to thousands of recordings by artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young, the Pointer Sisters and Kris Kristofferson.

As a member of the instrumental groups Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry, Buttrey helped to spearhead a successful fusion of country and rock'n'roll that continues to exert a strong influence, whilst his contributions to Bob Dylan's seminal Nashville-based albums Blonde on Blonde (1966), John Wesley Harding (1968) and Nashville Skyline (1969) had a great impact on contemporary heroes of the drums such as Jim Keltner, who recently noted of Buttrey: "He was a great musician in that everything he ever played made such great sense."

Aaron Kenneth Buttrey was born in Nashville in 1945. Drawn to the drums as a youngster, he was anchoring rhythm sections in the city's clubs by the age of 14 and became a member of the harmonica virtuoso Charlie McCoy's band, the Escorts. His friendship with McCoy led to regular session work and by the time he recorded alongside Dylan, he had developed an enviable reputation as a leader-arranger.

In 1969 he became one of the founding members of Area Code 615, an instrumental supergroup featuring such stalwarts of the Nashville recording scene as the steel guitarist Weldon Myrick, the fiddle player Buddy Spicher and his old friend McCoy. Under the guidance of the producer Elliot Mazer, they recorded a pair of highly acclaimed albums, Area Code 615 (1969) and Trip in the Country (1970), and, most memorably, a dynamic collaboration between Buttrey and McCoy entitled "Stone Fox Chase" which later became the theme for the BBC's much-missed The Old Grey Whistle Test. Although the group eventually disbanded, several members, including both Buttrey and McCoy, later reunited as Barefoot Jerry and enjoyed a hit, in 1974, with "Boogie Woogie".

Over the next decade Buttrey recorded prolifically, playing on discs by, among others, Jimmy Buffett, Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. He developed a close friendship with the maverick rocker Neil Young, appearing on his albums After the Goldrush (1970), Harvest (1972) and Tonight's the Night (1975) and briefly joining his touring band.

His former colleague the guitarist Mac Gayden recently paid tribute to Buttrey's unique talent:

He could play any kind of music and he could take things to a level that is transcendental. He was born to play drums.

Paul Wadey

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