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Local keyboardist remembered

From the first time he pulled himself onto a piano stool at the age of three and picked out a melody, Kris Skidmore was obsessed with keyboards.

When a car accident at the age of 15 left his hands partially paralyzed, he relearned how to play the piano by tying sticks to his hands so that they wouldn’t flop off the keyboard.

In his middle age, he jammed with friends, played at weddings and church services, and recorded his own compositions daily.



Last week, the Grass Valley musician and teacher died in his sleep after a recording session in his home studio. He was 51.

Skidmore’s friends will honor his memory at a jam session and memorial at the Miner’s Foundry on Nov. 15, and are planning another event at the Nevada City United Methodist Church later in the month.




Skidmore was born on Oct. 27, 1954, in Bakersfield. His father, Keith Skidmore, was an architect and his mother, Mary Alice Skidmore, was a violinist who had once played in professional orchestras. When Skidmore was in junior high school, his family moved to Sacramento.

In the early 1980s he relocated to Grass Valley and settled into the musical scene, playing at open microphone nights at places like the now-defunct Mad Dogs & Englishman’s Bar in Nevada City. On Sundays, he could be found on stage at the Nevada City United Methodist Church, riffing with the band during the contemporary service.

After his childhood accident, Skidmore could no longer play complex pieces that he had performed before, according to his brother, Erik Skidmore. However, he made up for lost dexterity with a positive attitude.

“He found other ways to play, even though the music was not as complex,” Erik Skidmore said.

Friends expressed their admiration for Skidmore’s pluck, both at and away from the keyboard.

“He always had a positive attitude despite his handicap,” said Tom Menig, who started playing music with Skidmore in 1985.

Bill Lewis, who helped Skidmore cart his substantial equipment to and from gigs, described his work as “ethereal.”

“He had a totally unique style,” Lewis said. “He’s got quite a following in this town.”

Besides his own recordings, Skidmore played keyboards on recordings by Hilary Stagg and the group Paul Kamm and Eleanor McDonald. He also scored a soundtrack for “Stories of the Yuba,” a film by Gregg Schiffner.

An obsessive collector of keyboards, Skidmore could not turn down an offer of a Hammond B3 organ, no matter what condition it was in. Menig said Skidmore’s collection totaled 20 electronic keyboards, 15 Hammond organs and a grand piano.

His prized organ had once belonged to Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland. In the early 1990s, Skidmore was mistakenly given permission by Mydland’s wife to record a CD of one of Mydland’s compositions called “When I Think Back,” which had not been recorded by the Dead.

Skidmore spent two years recording before he discovered that the band still owned the rights to the song. One thousand copies from the pressing ended up in boxes in his basement, unsellable.

Skidmore also collected ’60s psychedelic posters and rose quartz rocks. His fascination with mines and mining was one reason why he was attracted to Nevada County, his brother said.

On Monday, Skidmore was found dead in his home by his friend Randi Soule. He appeared to have died in his sleep after taking a break from a recording session, Soule said, because his recording machine was still on.

Skidmore’s cause of death is not yet known. A toxicology report from his autopsy is still pending from Hooper and Weaver Mortuary.

Skidmore is survived by his brother, Erik Skidmore, of Fresno.

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To contact Staff Writer Jill Bauerle, e-mail jillb@theunion.com or call 477-4219.

Skidmore memorial service

A memorial and musical performance for the late Kris Skidmore will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Miners Foundry, 325 Spring St., Nevada City. A potluck dinner will be served.


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