Personalities | Ricky Skaggs | New Country & The Neo-Traditionalists

Ricky Skaggs was born on 18 July 1954, in Cordell, Kentucky, and from the age of five Skaggs and his trusty mandolin have been almost inseparable. A child prodigy, he was invited on stage to play a tune at a Bill Monroe concert at the age of six, and a year later, he appeared on the Flatt And Scruggs’ television show. 

He then met Keith Whitley, another Kentuckian, who played guitar, and the two teenagers formed a band with Whitley’s brother, Dwight. Ralph Stanley was so impressed when he heard them that he invited both Skaggs and Whitley to join his band, The Clinch Mountain Boys, in 1970. The teenagers were confident enough even then to make their own duet album, Second Generation, in 1971.

A Country Gentleman

In 1974, Skaggs moved to Washington, D.C., and joined The Country Gentlemen, a long-established traditional bluegrass band. This was quickly followed by a move to a more contemporary bluegrass combo, J.D. Crowe And The New South. After leaving The New South, Skaggs helped form Boone Creek, with whom he made the albums Boone Creek (1977) and One Way Track (1978).

In 1978, he replaced Rodney Crowell in Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band. He had already worked as a session musician on Harris’s albums, playing fiddle and mandolin on Pieces Of The Sky (1975) and Luxury Liner (1977). On formally joining the band, he appeared on Blue Kentucky Girl (1979), Light Of The Stable and Roses In The Snow (both 1980) and Evangeline and Cimarron (both 1981). In 1980, Skaggs also released Skaggs & Rice with Tony Rice. Sharon White (whom he later married) and her father, Buck White (of the bluegrass/gospel group, The Whites) also appear on several Emmylou Harris albums and Skaggs has both played on and produced their albums.

Twenty-First Century Success

From humble beginnings with such early solo albums as That’s It (1975), Sweet Temptation (1980) and Family And Friends (1981), his career swiftly blossomed, and he signed to Columbia/Epic, where his albums, Waitin’ For The Sun To Shine (1981) and Highways And Heartaches (1982), set the ball rolling. Over a five-year period, he topped the Billboard country chart on no less than 10 occasions. ‘Crying My Heart Out Over You’ (1982) opened the floodgates for ‘I Don’t Care’, ‘Heartbroke’, ‘Highway 40 Blues’ and a wonderful remake of the Bill Monroe classic ‘Uncle Pen’– all of which resulted in him becoming one of the great saviours of country music. Skaggs helped steer it back on track, encouraging the new traditionalists, who were waiting patiently in the wings for a bright new dawn to break.

His albums Don’t Cheat In Our Hometown (1983) and Country Boy (1984) may not have included as many chart-topping singles as he had grown used to, but during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the music continued to flow. He found his second wind after signing with Atlantic Records and more recently has launched his own Skaggs...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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