Musician, Author Ricky Skaggs: A Bluegrass Life Comes Full Circle

Wednesday, 14 Aug 2013 11:08 PM

By Todd Beamon and John Bachman

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Despite the accolades and joys of a career in bluegrass music spanning nearly five decades, Ricky Skaggs tells Newsmax TV that one of his toughest moments was in 1986 when he saw his 7-year-old son in a Virginia hospital with a gunshot wound to the face from a road rage incident.

"That was one of the hardest times in my life," Skaggs, now 59, tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview. "I thought my world had just come to an end."

"I just thought at first when his mother, my ex-wife, called to let me know about the accident, I thought it was like a family shooting or something like that — an accidental thing, like they were out hunting. But when I found out it was a road rage-kind of shooting, oh man, it just freaked me out."

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"I caught a plane, flew to Roanoke, Va., and spent hours and days there with him," Skaggs says. "But just seeing my son in the hospital with a bullet hole right here at his face, that was one of the hardest things I'd ever gone through in my life. But thank God, he came through it."

His son, Andrew Lee Skaggs, is now 35 and has two children. "I'm so proud of him," his father says.

Ricky Skaggs, whose primary instrument is the mandolin, is the author of the widely anticipated memoir "Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music," with music journalist Eddie Dean. In it, he recalls the importance of bluegrass and the mandolin on his childhood, to a full career as a popular country musician, and the eventual journey back to the bluegrass of his youth. But he's not slowing down.

A live CD with singer and keyboardist Bruce Hornsby is scheduled to be released next week, and the pair will be on tour later this year.

Born in Cordell, Ky., Skaggs started playing music at age 5 after his father, Hobert, gave him a mandolin. The next year, he played mandolin and sang on stage with country legend Bill Monroe — and at age 7, he appeared on television playing with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

He wanted to audition for the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville but was told he was too young.

In his mid-teens, Skaggs met a fellow teen prodigy, guitarist Keith Whitley, and they started playing together with Whitley's banjo-playing brother, Dwight, on radio shows. By 1970, they had earned a spot opening for Ralph Stanley, who invited Skaggs and Whitley to join his band, the Clinch Mountain Boys.

Skaggs later joined The Country Gentlemen in Washington and played with J.D. Crowe's New South. He also played with Emmylou Harris' Hot Band and wrote arrangements for her 1980 bluegrass-roots album, "Roses in the Snow." He also sang harmony and played mandolin and fiddle in the Hot Band.

Skaggs has received 14 Grammy awards and seven Country Music Association awards. He also has been honored for his music by the International Bluegrass Music Association.
In 2008, Skaggs recorded a bluegrass version of "Old Enough" by the Raconteurs with Ashley Monroe and the Raconteurs. He played mandolin and shared vocals with Monroe, Jack White, and Brendan Benson.

He says in his book that his collaboration with White was one of those "staying open to God moments."

"If we're just open to God's direction in our life, he'll take us places that we never dreamed that we'd get a chance to go to, and I've always been real open about my faith. I've always been open about music. Music is just a great way to express my faith, and I love being able to do collaborations with people."

Skaggs, who's been married since 1981 to Sharon White of The Whites country music group — they have a daughter and a son — tells Newsmax that he is even more heartened to see the bluegrass tradition being carried on and expanded by such groups as Mumford & Sons and the Abbott Brothers.

"They are really taking the music to a completely different audience. It's very rewarding," he says. "When I see a banjo up there, even right along with their kick drum, there's something cool about that.

"I started playing bluegrass when I was just a kid," Skaggs adds. "Then I went into more commercial country music, but I always tried to bring my bluegrass sound even to country music, and that's one of the things that made me successful in the early '80s, was trying to bring and bridge those two music genres.

"Really, bluegrass music and traditional music are the oldest pure forms, and even today they are some of the most pure forms of country music."

And even though modern country music is far different from the tunes he played growing up in Kentucky, Skaggs says "music has got to always develop and always keep pushing boundaries.

"I try to do the same thing with the bluegrass music — but these kids, they're very respectful when I'm around.

"When I see Keith Urban at the Grand Ole Opry, he comes up and says, 'Man, I love you. You're a great inspiration to me, your early records.' That good seed fell on good soil somewhere in my career, and it makes me feel good to see that these people are out playing good music, but that they're also paying tribute and honoring the past and honoring people that inspired people.

"I've always been about that with Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers," Skaggs adds. "I've always tried to pay tribute and pay honor to those guys."


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