Bluegrass Corner

Tony Rice: An Appreciation

Tony Rice

Tony Rice died in December at the age of 69. He is considered by many to have been the greatest and most influential guitar player in bluegrass history. From his obituary in the New York Times:

Mr. Rice left his mark on a host of prominent musicians, including his fellow newgrass innovators Mark O’Connor and Béla Fleck, acoustic music inheritors like Chris Thile and Alison Krauss, and his flat-picking disciples Bryan Sutton and Josh Williams.

“There’s no way it can ever go back to what it was before him,” Ms. Krauss said of bluegrass in an interview with the New York Times Magazine for a profile of Mr. Rice in 2014. She was barely a teenager when Mr. Rice first invited her onstage to play with him. Read the full obit here:

From Rolling Stone:

Rice was a guitar-playing force of nature, dazzling bluegrass fans with his nimble flatpicking and his mastery of the Martin D-28 acoustic guitar. His 1973 debut solo album was titled, simply, Guitar, and featured Rice’s interpretations of Merle Travis’ “Nine Pound Hammer,” Bob Wills’ “Faded Love,” and one of his signatures, “Freeborn Man.” That Rice also sang as well as he played made him even more of a pivotal figure in the genre. “Even if Tony Rice had never played a lick, his voice alone was a singular force, and the songs he sang upped the game for songwriting in bluegrass and beyond,” Charlie Worsham, a Rice acolyte, wrote on Twitter.

Read the Rolling Stone Article here:

There have been many influential bluegrass guitar players though bluegrass history beginning in the 1940s when Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys started it all. First was Lester Flatt whose strong rhythm guitar and signature G run represented the guitar for Bill Monroe. Dan Crary followed as one of the first to flat-pick lead melodies on the guitar. Doc Watson perfected this style and also showed rhythm and backup styles that moved the guitar forward. Clarence White, arguably the most influential of all time along with Tony Rice, played from the 1950s to his untimely death in the early 1970s. Clarence was acknowledged by Tony Rice as a major influence on him, and Tony ultimately acquired the coveted Martin herringbone D-28 that was owned and played by Clarence.

Tony Rice took all these influences who preceded him and added his own unique style of playing, both rhythm and lead. Virtually every flat-pick guitar player to follow Tony carries his influences in his or her playing. Beyond that, Tony distinguished himself as a singer and song writer and is credited with some of the most important and influential recordings of bluegrass music ever made. Take a listen to his Manzanita album, Church Street Blues, or to his duet with Ricky Skaggs called simply Skaggs and Rice. These are recordings that showcase Tony’s stunning guitar work as well as his songwriting and beautiful voice. His music represents “desert island” recordings for many bluegrass fans

On a personal level, Tony suffered the tragic loss of a son in a motorcycle accident and experienced traumatic voice loss late in his career. A bit of a recluse, he kept to himself and spent many hours in his home workshop, working on electronic Accutron watches. Tony will be missed, but the many marks on our music will endure.

Poway bluegrass jam in action.

Bluegrass Jam in Poway. While bluegrass concerts and jam session are mainly closed due to the corona virus, we note the glow of an ember in Poway. There is a small, limited attendance, regular group meeting. These jam sessions are outdoors and follow safety protocols. It gives us hope that soon we may see more of these kinds of gatherings returning as our region as we roll out the corona virus vaccine and start to control the corona virus pandemic. In the meantime, stay safe!