Spotlight: Ricky Skaggs

Outdoor Stage, Waterloo Park, 8pm

Spotlight: Ricky Skaggs

Eight-time Grammy winner Ricky Skaggs is hard core about three things: his faith as a Christian, his dedication to his family, and the music he performs so beautifully because of his many blessings. The world-renowned country/ bluegrass, picker/ singer telephoned from his home in Hendersonville, Tenn., not far from his native Kentucky, on a chilly Tuesday morning and described himself as "alive and well with a cup of coffee." Busy recording a new album with his band Kentucky Thunder ("we have eight tracks already," he announced), Skaggs was about to be celebrated for his last release at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards.

Up for three statuettes this year, Skaggs was nominated twice for Big Mon, the collaborative tribute Skaggs led to the king of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, and won for his gospel album Soldiers of the Cross. Skaggs takes personal pride in having overseen the recording of Big Mon and its subsequent TV special, and elaborated on his love for the man and his music.

"A lot of people influenced me from the Stanley Brothers to Stephane Grappelli," explains Skaggs, "but Bill Monroe meant more to me than anyone. On his way to discovering bluegrass in about 1946, he was playing a kind of 'litmus test' music. He and his brother Charlie Monroe were successful as the Monroe Brothers in the Thirties with some 60-odd records for RCA Bluebird. He was trying a little of this, a little of that, on the way to creating a music he could put his heart into, sink his teeth into, and say 'that's mine.'

"Bill became a member of the Opry in 1939 and already had a substantial career. Around '42-45, he had his own band, with Clyde Moody, who played swing-style guitar, a girl on accordion, and a banjo player, and they played a song called 'The Rocky Road Blues.'

"Now, think about 1954 and Bill Haley's 'Rock Around the Clock,' and you're hearing almost a dead copy of Monroe's groove. Talking with people like Carl Perkins, they cited Mr. Monroe as an influence. He wasn't a sappy country singer; Bill Monroe played mandolin with a rock & roll attitude -- that reckless abandonment. He played with such fire."

So does Mr. Skaggs.

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