Huntington, Ind.— Seven-time Grammy winner Ricky Skaggs brings his unique blend of bluegrass, pop, and country gospel to the Merillat Centre for the Arts on Friday, September 22, at 8 p.m.
The concert is presented by the Huntington College Community Arts Program and is sponsored by Geiger Developing Inc., The Rocky & Carol Strickler Endowment, and Shepherd's Ford Lincoln Mercury.
Admission is $20 for all seats. For ticket reservations or further information, call 260-359-4261 or email Margi Roush, director.
"Ricky Skaggs is one of the greatest popular musicians in America," said Dr. Joe Ricke, professor of English and bluegrass fan. "He has redefined popular music in some ways by his versatility in bluegrass, rock, country, and gospel."
It takes a lot of talent to be called a "recognized master" of one of America's most demanding art forms—bluegrass—before the age of 21. It takes even more to build that early success into a decades-long career of artistic success and public acclaim.
Born in Eastern Kentucky, Ricky was already an accomplished singer and mandolin player by the time he reached his teens. Mentored by the likes of Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs began to build a reputation for creativity and excitement through live appearances and recordings with such acts as J.D. Crowe & The New South. He performed on their 1975 debut for Rounder Records, which was widely acknowledged as one of the most influential bluegrass albums ever made.
In the late 1970s, Ricky turned his attention to country music. Though still in his twenties, the wealth of experience and talent he possessed served him well, first as a member of Emmylou Harris' Hot Band and then on his own. With the release of Waitin' For The Sun To Shine in 1981, Skaggs moved to the top of the country charts. He remained there through most of the 1980s—long enough to earn a spot in Billboard's Top 20 artists of the decade and top 100 of the past 50 years. Ricky's popularity (twenty-four singles in Billboard's Top 20, including twelve #1's) was matched by his esteem among critics and fellow musicians. The result: eight awards from the Country Music Association, including Entertainer Of The Year in 1985, seven Grammies, and dozens of other honors. Important as personal success, these achievements also placed him front and center in the neo-traditionalist movement, bringing renewed vitality and prominence to a sound that had been drowned out by bland efforts to cash in on the urban cowboy fad. Indeed, the renowned guitarist and producer, Chet Atkins, credited Skaggs with "single-handedly" saving country music.
With a record like that, and with the country music industry's increasingly crossover-hungry orientation in the 1990s, the way was paved for a return to country music's most down-to-earth form, bluegrass. From his position as host of the Monday Night Concerts at the Ryman series on The Nashville Network to his role as master of ceremonies at the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual awards show, Skaggs has become one of bluegrass' most talented and dynamic performers. With exposure spanning from Grand Ole Opry appearances to broadcasting on the Internet, he is one of bluegrass' most personable and effective ambassadors.
At the center of Skaggs' emergence as a bluegrass leader stands his album, Bluegrass Rules! A true labor of love, it joined Ricky's roots and experience with classic material from the first generation of bluegrass masters. It also puts the music in the hands of a carefully assembled team that shares his delight in creating a sound at once familiar and excitingly new. The album's all-star band, Kentucky Thunder, includes veteran fiddler Bobby Hicks (who performed on many of Bill Monroe's best-known recordings), Paul Brewster (tenor vocal, rhythm guitar), Mark Fain (bass), Jim Mills (banjo), Bryan Sutton (lead guitar), and Darrin Vincent (baritone vocal, rhythm guitar). A Kentucky Thunder appearance, with its non-stop, no-holds-barred energy reflecting both sincere enthusiasm and consummate professionalism, is an awesome experience, one that brings new and old audiences alike to their feet.
Beyond its artistic excellence, Bluegrass Rules! is significant as the first release of Ricky's new record label, Skaggs Family Records, Inc. Bluegrass Rules! quickly established the label as a success, setting new sales records in the genre of bluegrass music, winning Skaggs his seventh Grammy Award, and taking the International Bluegrass Music Association's Album of the Year Award. A second release, Ancient Tones, continued to set the pace for the groundbreaking label.
Part of Skaggs' vision in creating his own label was pursing a goal he had in mind for a number of years—recording his first gospel project. With the release of Soldier of the Cross in the fall of 1999, Skaggs sees the fulfillment of that dream.
"This is the first gospel album I've ever recorded," says Skaggs. "So far, my ministry has been to the world, but not of it—of the church, but not in it. We play places where Christians may not even show up. When we go into a club or casino, we're doing bluegrass songs and gospel songs. We're going to mention Him, and that may be the only word they ever hear about Christ."
"The calling that God has put on my life is that He is not ashamed to go anywhere I want to take him. His heart is for the lost, those that need the Savior. If we put God in a box that says, 'you have to come through these doors, and sit down on a pew to see God, or feel God,' were making Him have to play along with our rules."
Raised in a Christian home, Skaggs' first memories of singing are his mother holding him in church and singing to the Freewill Baptist congregation where he grew up. As he grew—singing at age three, getting his first mandolin from his father at age five—his talents and potential were quickly recognized.
"When I was six years old, I met Bill Monroe and he invited me on stage," he recalls. "Actually, I think there were so many people hounding him to have little Ricky Skaggs up on stage with him that he had to! He allowed me to play his instrument—a little boy with this huge mandolin around me. That was the first installment in my life from Bill Monroe. He did a lot of investing in me. As friends and as Christians, we had a lot to share and talk about."
"Bluegrass has never been ashamed of the gospel," relates Ricky. "Mr. Monroe was very adamant about making sure the gospel was sung. There's something about this music that's pure and holy, and I think God wants to use it. It's always been small and little in the eyes of the world, and that's the very kind of thing He's going to raise up for His glory."
In Soldier of the Cross, Skaggs draws upon faith and the music of his forefathers to share with his fans from all walks of life. Combining traditional songs, such as "Gone Home," written by Grand Ole Opry-favorite Bill Carlisle and recorded by Flatt & Scruggs in the 1950s, with such tunes as the recently penned "Joshua Generation" by noted contemporary Christian songwriter Geoff Thurman, Soldier of the Cross effectively communicates the gospel message.
"I was always afraid as a kid that if I was going to be a Christian, that God was going to call me into the church and I'd have to preach, and I wouldn't be able to play music," says Ricky Skaggs. "But sometimes a song can take you to a place that the preacher can't. Although I'm not a 'gospel singer,' and I'm not a 'Christian artist,' I can go and sing my songs and talk about what God has done for me. I'm in the place where God put me."
# # #