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Kenny Malone (1938–2021), drummer on Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’

by Linnea Crowther

Kenny Malone was a Nashville session drummer who played on classic hits including Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue.”

Legendary session drummer

Malone was sought after for his versatility and ability to add just the right rhythm that a future hit song needed. After serving in the U.S. Navy for 14 years, including playing in the Navy band, he began his career as a session drummer by recording with Carl Perkins (1932–1998). He went on to record with Nashville stars including Johnny Cash (1932–2003), Charley Pride (1934–2020), Kenny Rogers (1938–2020), Emmylou Harris, and many more. Malone’s drumming can be heard on “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray, “Sin Wagon” by the Dixie Chicks,” “Love at the Five and Dime” by Nanci Griffith (1953–2021), and a diverse range of other songs. Malone also invented percussion instruments, including a large clay hand drum he called the Og and a wood and metal shaker named the Shak-ka.

Notable quote

“I’ll bang around on everything you know ’cause that’s the fun of it, finding out what type of sound you have. When I first asked Jack Clement what he wanted me to play on something, he says, ‘I don’t care what you play as long as it sounds good.’ … I’ll play paint cans or anything that makes the sound of the record, you know, that makes it match the attitude of the record.” —from a 2009 interview with Bronson Herrmuth

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Tributes to Kenny Malone

Full obituary: The New York Times

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