James Stephen Kilby was born in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, into a musical family. His grandfather, Cranor Kilby, was a fine oldtime fiddler and banjoist, and his father, Clifford (Curly) Kilby, was a guitarist and tenor singer who played with the Carolina Playboys and L.W. Lambert and the Carolina Neighbors. Clifford Kilby died at the age of twenty-five when Steve was very young. Steve began playing the guitar at age twelve and was taught his first chords by his grandmother and his first tunes and songs by his grandfather.
In the late 1960s, Steve played guitar with the Green Valley Boys. That group included guitarist Harvey Baity, banjoist Morris Beshears, and bass fiddler James Kerley. A subsequent band called Bluegrass Times featured Kilby and Baity on guitars, Eric Ellis on banjo, Don Phillips on fiddle and Kerley on bass.
After trying his hand at five-string banjo for a few years, in 1975 Steve joined the bluegrass band Hoyt Herbert and the Strings of Five. Led by the banjo-playing Herbert, the band recorded the album Just Pickin’ in 1978 for the Atteiram label out of Georgia. Steve left the Strings of Five that same year.
In the early 1980s, Steve played with Blue Ridge Grass, the Sullivan Brothers and the Clarence Greene-John Hartley Band. From November 1985 to late 1991 Steve picked the guitar in Garland Shuping’s band, Wild Country. Shuping was a former banjoist with Jim and Jesse and a mandolinist for Jimmy Martin.
Steve has won many awards for his guitar playing, including the North Carolina state championship at Cool Springs School and first place at the 1970 and 1980 Galax Old Fiddlers’ Conventions. He was also the “best all-around performer” at Galax in 1980. Steve, later a resident of Piney Creek, North Carolina, can also play the mandolin, mandola, and banjo.
In the late 1990s Steve played in the Wilkes County-based bluegrass band Kingsberry Rund, with mandolin player John Akin, banjoist Ramona Taylor, fiddler Nathan Leath and bassist Bill Williams. Kilby also worked as a weekend recording engineer with Heritage Records in Galax, Virginia.
Steve is available for performances, lessons and workshops. See his website for more details.