Ricky Skaggs

Ricky Skaggs
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A life full of music.  That's the story of Ricky Skaggs.  By age 21, he was already considered a "recognized master" of one of America's most demanding art forms, but his career took him in other directions, catapulting him to popularity and success in the mainstream of country music.  His life's path has taken him to various musical genres, from where it all began in bluegrass music, to striking out on new musical journeys, while still leaving his musical roots intact.

2009 marks Ricky's 38th year as a professional musician, and this fourteen-time Grammy Award winner continues to do his part to lead the recent roots revival in music.  Known affectionately today as bluegrass music's official ambassador, Ricky has brought the genre to greater levels of popularity in the past few years than the father of bluegrass music, the legendary Bill Monroe, could ever have imagined.  With eight consecutive Grammy-nominated classics behind him, all from his own Skaggs Family Records label (Bluegrass Rules! in 1998, Ancient Tones in 1999, both Soldier of the Cross and Big Mon: The Songs of Bill Monroe in 2000, History of the Future in 2001, Live at the Charleston Music Hall in 2003, Brand New Strings in 2005, and Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder Instrumentals in 2007), bluegrass music continues to be in good hands, with the masterful Skaggs at the helm.
Ricky was born on July 18, 1954 in Cordell, Kentucky, and was already an accomplished singer and mandolin player by the time he reached his teens.  In 1971, he entered the world of professional music with his friend, the late country singer, Keith Whitley, when the two young musicians were invited to join the band of bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley.  Ricky soon began to build a reputation for creativity and excitement through live appearances and recordings with acts such as J.D. Crowe & the New South.  He performed on the band's 1975 debut album for Rounder Records, which is widely regarded as one of the most influential bluegrass albums ever made.  A stint as a bandleader with Boone Creek followed, bringing the challenges of leadership while giving him further recording and performing experience.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Ricky turned his attention to country music.  Though still in his 20s, the wealth of experience and talent he possessed served him well, first as a member of Emmylou Harris' Hot Band and later as an individual recording artist on his own.  With the release of Waitin' for the Sun to Shine in 1981, Skaggs reached the top of the country charts and remained there throughout most of the 1980s.  As his popularity soared, he garnered eight awards from the Country Music Association (CMA), including "Entertainer of the Year" in 1985, four Grammy Awards, and dozens of other honors.  These achievements also placed him front and center in the neo-traditionalist movement, bringing renewed vitality and prominence to a sound that had been somewhat subdued by the commercialization of the 'Urban Cowboy' fad.  Renowned guitarist and producer, Chet Atkins, credited Skaggs with "single-handedly" saving country music.
In 1997, after Ricky's then-current recording contract was coming to an end, he decided to establish his own record label - Skaggs Family Records.  Since then, Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder have released an amazing 8 consecutive Grammy-nominated classics, (6 of which went on to earn the revered award) while also opening the label to a variety of other musical artists, all the time keeping emphasis on bluegrass and other forms of roots music.  Ricky and Skaggs Family Records have had the privilege of working with many musical talents including The Del McCoury Band, Jerry and Tammy Sullivan, Blue Highway, The Whites, Mountain Heart, Melonie Cannon, Ryan Holladay, Keith Sewell, Cherryholmes, and Cadillac Sky.
Ricky's first release for Skaggs Family Records, Bluegrass Rules!, set a new standard for bluegrass, breaking new sales records in the genre, winning Skaggs his sixth Grammy Award, and earning the International Bluegrass Music Association's (IBMA) Album of the Year Award.  In 1999, his second all-bluegrass album, Ancient Tones, won a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album - his second consecutive Grammy in that same category.  Just one year later, Ricky won his eighth Grammy Award in the Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album category for Soldier of the Cross, his first all-gospel recording project.
Ricky made further progress with the release of his fourth bluegrass album in 2000, Big Mon.  This project injected new fire and energy into the fertile fields of bluegrass, celebrating the music and the life of Ricky's mentor, Bill Monroe.  By assembling an all-star cast of musicians ranging from The Dixie Chicks and Travis Tritt to Joan Osborne and Bruce Hornsby, Big Mon received much critical acclaim, including a Grammy nomination for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.  The album was re-released by Lyric Street Records in 2002 under a new name, Ricky Skaggs and Friends Sing the Songs of Bill Monroe.
The fifth consecutive bluegrass album for Ricky and Kentucky Thunder came in 2001, with the release of History of the Future - a timeless collection of both traditional bluegrass standards and newly conceived acoustic gems that paid tribute to not only bluegrass music's original founders, but also introduced some of the genre's best new songwriters, sounds, and styles.  Not surprisingly, the album received rave reviews and industry accolades including a Grammy nomination in the Best Bluegrass Album category and an IBMA nomination for Album of the Year once again placing Skaggs among the leading innovators in the genre.
Skaggs' first all-live album with Kentucky Thunder, Live at the Charleston Music Hall, helped the band net the award for the IBMA's Instrumental Group of the Year - an award Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder has taken home 8 times in the last decade.  The decision to record a live album was an obvious one for Skaggs.  The current configuration of Kentucky Thunder ranks among the best group of musicians he has ever worked with.
"This group of guys meets my approval every night," Ricky says.  "Each and every one of the pickers in Kentucky Thunder totally amazes me in every show...and that, to me, outweighs any award we could ever win."  The all-star lineup of Kentucky Thunder includes Andy Leftwich (fiddle), Cody Kilby (lead guitar), Mark Fain (bass), Paul Brewster (tenor vocals, rhythm guitar), Eddie Faris (baritone vocals, rhythm guitar), and Justin Moses (banjo).  Live at the Charleston Music Hall was honored in 2004 with a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for the Harley Allen-penned track, "A Simple Life."
In 2005, Ricky earned his 10th career Grammy (Best Bluegrass Album) for Brand New Strings - a beautiful collection of music featuring four Skaggs originals as well as several tunes by some of his most admired contemporaries, including Harley Allen, Guy Clark, and Shawn Camp.
His next Grammy trophy came by way of Mister Rogers.  In 2006, Skaggs was honored for his contribution to Songs from the Neighborhood: the Music of Mister Rogers with a Grammy Award for Best Musical Album for Children.
Greater success followed with the release of Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder Instrumentals - an album of all-original, all-instrumental material in Fall 2006.  Praised by fans and critics alike as a landmark album for Skaggs, Instrumentals debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's bluegrass album chart and earned Ricky his 12th career Grammy (Best Bluegrass Album).
Beyond his award-winning recordings, Ricky continues to lead the charge in bringing renewed vitality to country music's most down-to-earth art form.  From a string of high-profile tour dates with the Dixie Chicks in 2000, to his position as host of the unprecedented "All*Star Bluegrass Celebration" which aired nationwide on PBS in 2002, to his participation in the wildly successful 41-city 'Down from the Mountain' tour - Ricky has become one of bluegrass' most talented and dynamic performers.
Cross-pollination has been a mainstay throughout Ricky's career.  From his weekly collaborations with various artists as host of The Nashville Network's Monday Night Concerts in the 1990's to his most recent pairing with renowned pianist and songwriter (not to mention Virginia native) Bruce Hornsby.  Backed by Kentucky Thunder and a few special guests, Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby (Sony/Legacy) draw from deep roots in mountain music - adding piano and Hornsby's inimitable songwriting to the core bluegrass lineup of mandolin, guitar, bass, fiddle, and banjo.  A major CMT Crossroads Special accompanied the album, released in March of 2007.
His next recorded project, released in September of 2007 on Skaggs Family Records, was a literal family affair.  After years of blending their voices from the living room to the stage, Ricky Skaggs and The Whites have teamed up for their first collaborative gospel album entitled Salt of the Earth.  Ricky, wife Sharon, sister-in-law Cheryl, and father-in-law Buck each share lead vocals on the album with Skaggs' award winning band Kentucky Thunder laying the foundation for their tight family harmony.  Traditional hymns, a few familiar tunes, and brand new treasures flow throughout the album providing an intimate look into the heart of one of music's most beloved families.  Salt of the Earth also earned Ricky his 13th career Grammy Award for Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album in February 2008.
As one of bluegrass music's most recognized ambassadors, Ricky Skaggs has always felt compelled to educate today's listener about the genre's rich history. 

In 2008, Skaggs paid tribute to the man he has often referred to as his "musical father", Bill Monroe, and the original lineup of the Bluegrass Boys (Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Howard Watts) with the release of Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947, earning a 14th career Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album.   A musical father in his own right, Skaggs continues on the full circle path with the addition of a ReIssue Series of his groundbreaking country music masterworks to the Skaggs Family Records catalog in 2009.  Beginning with 1982's Highways & Heartaches, and followed by 1981's Waitin' for the Sun to Shine and 1983's Don't Cheat in Our Hometown, the ReIssue Series will include nine albums total and includes bonus retrospectives with each release, which feature Ricky, in his own words, sharing never-before-told stories about the making of each project.  

Skaggs' first-ever solo album, Ricky Skaggs Solo Songs My Dad Loved, celebrates the man that caused him to fall in love with music - his father, Hobert Skaggs.  He elaborates, "If I could've gotten my dad into the studio, this is how I would've wanted him to sound."  Playing every instrument and singing every note on the album, Ricky brings raw, emotional honesty to the songs.  By coming home to the music that meant so much to him as a child, Ricky has tapped into a wellspring of passion that he channels into every tune.  It's as though he willed himself back to his family's house in Kentucky.

Ricky Skaggs' new album, Mosaic, is a return to a full band sound that mixes elements of Country music with Beatles-esque melody and lyrics that speak to Skaggs' faith, making "music that is in my head and in my heart," as Ricky says.  Grammy winning songwriter/producer Gordon Kennedy, who co-wrote Eric Clapton's "Change the World," is instrumental as co-producer and writer.  This most special album hooks the heart, as the sounds invite you in to take notice and come closer.  They have blended their talents and love of music with their love for the Lord to create a distinctive collaboration of writing and talent that is unparalleled in strength of genius.

Ricky Skaggs has often said that he is "just trying to make a living" playing the music he loves.  But it's clear that his passion for it puts him in the position to bring his lively, distinctively American form of music out of isolation and into the ears and hearts of audiences across the country and around the world.  Ricky Skaggs is always forging ahead with cross-cultural, genre-bending musical ideas and inspirations.
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