A very thankful country/bluegrass legend pays homage to those who guided his way.
By Steve Houk
If you’re Ricky Skaggs these days, well, you’re sittin’ pretty, you’re lovin’ life. Let’s look at just why.
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Not only is Skaggs a country and bluegrass legend with an incredible resume — 12 #1 hit singles, 15 Grammys, eight CMA awards, 12 consecutive Grammy-nominated records, and on and on – but because of that earlier success, he is also able to live in the now, playing whatever music he wants to at this stage in his career, and seeing the music that started his career off played enthusiastically by a younger generation.
“I was afforded the luxury of having success in the 80’s,” the kind and affable Skaggs said on a break from his current tour which brings him to the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa on June 22nd. “It kind of catapulted me, and I had some number ones and stuff. And that gave me the chance to now, years later, be able to go back and play and experience the music that got me here, that I learned on. And wow, these young rascal kids out on the road playing with me, these kids can just play, they play me under the table at 20 something years old. It’s fresh fire, fresh wind, a fresh vocabulary of the music that Mr. Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs and others started. It energizes me. It’s worked out that I can enjoy the roots music that got me started. I’m 62, and have a left foot in the past, and a right foot in the future.”
Skaggs has been playing music since he was in his mid-single digits, and when he looks back at that little kid playing that mandolin, he can see why he has been doing what he loves to do for so long.
“I was playing on TV with Bill Monroe when I was 7,” Skaggs said, “and there’s a You Tube clip of it that’s amazing [see below]. You can see the determination in my eyes, it blows my mind, the settledness of it all. There was something in him, that boy, a knowing. Whether the mind knew, or the spirit knew, there was destiny ahead.”
And thanks to his mentor/the king of bluegrass Mr. Monroe, as well as through his own unadulterated talent, Skaggs has thrived since those very early days. He recalls something he said to Monroe just before he died, a very special moment talking to his mentor and hero that he will never forget.
“One thing I told Mr. Monroe before he passed,” Skaggs fondly recalled, “I told him that I have been to many countries, places like Burma, India, Pakistan, Thailand, all over the world. And people would come up to me and talk about bluegrass. They’d even have their own bluegrass bands in those countries. It thrilled him to death to hear that.”
Among all the accolades Skaggs has received, being a 35-year member of the Grand Ole Opry stands out as a pinnacle. He was the youngest person ever asked to join the Opry, and being around the legendary Nashville stage for so long and learning from its legendary inhabitants has truly formed who he is today.
“Being in that Grand Ole Opry family, around those legends, wow, it has meant the world to me. The love of those elders, like Hank Snow, Jimmy C Newman, Billy Walker, so many others, they spoke life to me for the first time. Minnie Pearl was always so kind, had advice for me, helped me find my way. I am simply a messenger of their music.”
Skaggs recently came to Washington to play at Ford’s Theater with the President and First lady in attendance, and later was invited to the White House for a reception. A chance encounter with a stranger under that famous roof caused him to remember just what his mission as a musician really is.
“Even in that setting, strangers come up to you,” Skaggs remembered, “and this guy comes up to me, and after introducing ourselves, he says, ‘I’m a doctor, I’m in the healing business.’ He said, ‘So what do you do?’ And I said well, ‘I’m in the healing business too, I’m a musician.’ And he looked at me kinda sideways, and I said, ‘Yes, I heal people through music.’ And that is just so right.”
And as for his fame, Skaggs knows what success really comes down to.
“I am very thankful for every award, but I know success is more than that, like family and faith. Raising kids, loving my wife. Plus I used to kinda dread after show meet and greets, it felt like work. But when I started doing it more and loving it, I thought, what have I been missing? Now it’s so great meeting people and hearing how special this music is to them. It’s a very humbling time. That’s what success really is.”
Ricky Skaggs performs Thursday June 22nd at the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa, 4165 Mears Ave., Chesapeake Beach, MD 20732. For tickets, click here.