7 Legendary Fiddle Players Who Redefined Music Genres

Whether you’re listening to Patti Smith’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or versions of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath,” it’s not all that uncommon to hear fiddle, especially in later versions of the songs. The fiddle was once mainly heard in country and bluegrass music, but the last few decades have brought a new appreciation to the instrument and the players who are expanding the genre. Here are some of our favorites.

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Charlie Daniels

When music fans think of Charlie Daniels, they likely recall the rousing song that features his fiddle playing on “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” It’s not hyperbole to say the song, which pits the fiddler against the fiddle-playing devil, is a beloved cultural touchstone. The song was written and performed by the Charlie Daniels Band and released as a single from its 1979 album Million Mile Reflections.

But Daniels’ playing was more than a flourish for catchy tunes. His high-energy fiddle work melded together country, rock, bluegrass, and other musical genres, gaining more and more fans thanks to crossover appeal. Although Daniels was modest about his fiddle-playing abilities, many music critics regard him as a virtuoso who serves as a role model for other fiddlers.

Alison Krauss

Alison Krauss is rightly regarded as a phenomenal singer and bluegrass musician, but she’s also an expert fiddle player. Her performances often include songs in which she balances her singing with fiddle playing, adding new dimensions to songs such as “Sawing on the Strings,” which she plays with her band Union Station. She collaborates on that song and other tracks with fiddle players including Sam Bush and Natalie MacMaster.

On stage, she seamlessly moves between singing and fiddle playing. Her artistry has added new dimensions to bluegrass music and opened the genre to new fans. She has won 27 Grammy Awards for her work, which is the most of any female artist besides Beyoncé.

Eileen Ivers

Fans come to the Irish-American music of Eileen Ivers through her live recordings, solo tours, collaborations with other artists (including Patti Smith and Hall & Oates), and as part of orchestral or theatrical performances such as Riverdance.

Ivers is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who explores folk, classical, jazz, and other genres with equal finesse. The way she elevates the music brings fans to many less familiar genres they would never have discovered otherwise. She has won many awards, including a 1998 Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album for her work on the album Appalachian Journey with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and double bassist Edgar Meyer. The album fuses folk, bluegrass, and classical music.

[RELATED: Top 5 Fiddle Tunes Every Music Enthusiast Should Know]

Stuart Duncan

Fans of Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson, Robert Plant, Reba McEntire, and other world-renowned artists may not know the name Stuart Duncan, but they’ve likely heard his fiddling on those artists’ popular country and bluegrass songs. Duncan often punctuates his fiddle work with bits of jazz, folk, and other elements, both in sessions with recording artists and in his work on film and television soundtracks, including the 2003 film Cold Mountain.

His virtuoso playing has earned him one Grammy among other awards. Duncan is often credited with helping shape the sound of modern bluegrass and country music.

Eddie Jobson

Those who have seen Eddie Jobson play fiddle likely haven’t forgotten the experience. The classically trained artist was a teenager when he became one of the first electric fiddle players in rock. He quickly made a name for himself by using unusual musical techniques and tools on the fiddle, including the whammy bar, foot pedals, tapping, and synthesizers. Those unique choices broadened the sounds and textures he created.

Jobson has worked with dozens of artists, including Frank Zappa, Roxy Music, Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, King Crimson, and Yes. He was widely hailed for his energetic playing and rapport with audiences.

Jason Carter

Jason Carter’s journey as a fiddle star began when he joined the Del McCoury band in 1992. He has since gained a national reputation for his precision, speed, and traditional playing (not surprising when you consider McCoury is the most awarded bluegrass artist in history).

Carter is renowned for his virtuosity, and is credited with furthering the bluegrass music scene while still preserving its classic sound. He collaborates with many other artists, including Steve Earle and Jim Lauderdale.

Chris Leslie and Ric Sanders

It’s only fitting to combine Chris Leslie and Ric Sanders into the same entry on our list; they are both virtuoso fiddlers who play with the renowned British folk group Fairport Convention. Sanders joined the band to fill the role left open by master fiddler Dave Swarbrick, who himself was known for adding rock elements to British folk music. Leslie later joined as a fiddler but quickly expanded his role to mandolin, guitar, and other instruments.

Ric Sanders’ fiddle playing pumped rock, jazz, and other influences into Fairport’s music. He also experimented with different sounds and effects that helped the band’s music—and its genre—evolve. Leslie also infuses folk music with rock elements, and is known for other styles, too, including jigs, reels, and ballads. He’s also great at improv and often takes center stage at shows. Both Sanders and Leslie work with various other artists in the U.S. and UK.

Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images

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