Alison Krauss Is No Cornball When It Comes to Fancy Fiddlin'

updated 08/11/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/11/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When Alison Krauss belts out a country ballad in a cool, clear voice tinted with a little Loretta Lynn Appalachian soul, listeners perk up, surprised to hear such assurance emanating from such a youngster. But when she tucks her violin under her chin and sets her bow arm flashing, teetering and bobbing on her high heels, audiences hoot and holler in sheer wonder.

She may have just turned 15, but Krauss is already a fiddlin' phenom. She won the fiddle division of the National Flat Picking Championships in 1984 and was voted the most promising fiddler in the Midwest by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America in both 1983 and 1984. This week Krauss is appearing with the band Union Station at the Newport Folk Festival. Later this year she will record her first album with Rounder Records. Is she satisfied? Hell, no. "I always want to do things better," she says. "Play better, sing better, eat better, do my hair better, burp better..."

Growing up in Champaign, Ill., a university town set in rich farm country, Krauss took up the fiddle with little prompting. To the chagrin of her parents, Fred, a realtor, and Louise, an illustrator and amateur guitarist, little "Al" hardly ever practiced. Not that you could tell. At 5 she began entering contests, and at 9, says Louise, Al reproduced a Bach partita after hearing it played once on TV. She has since spurned invitations from local ensembles to play classical music. "It's not me," she admits. "I can't practice a passage three million times."

Krauss is a prolific tunesmith, but despite her determination to do better, she never agonizes when she composes. "If a tune is burning in your head, you've got to do something about it," she says. Though she has devoted herself to bluegrass, she listens to Hall & Oates, Huey Lewis and Stevie Wonder and does not want to be seen as "a hick with no teeth. I don't wear plaid shirts and I don't plow," she says. Krauss, a sophomore at Central High School in Champaign, is equally eager to shed her whiz kid image. "I don't want people to say, 'Listen! She's 15!' " she explains. "I want them to just say, 'Listen!' "

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