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Ricky Skaggs: A Bluegrass Musician Returns To Roots

Bluegrass and country musician Ricky Skaggs performs in Central Park.
Jason Kempin
Getty Images
Bluegrass and country musician Ricky Skaggs performs in Central Park.

Bluegrass singer Ricky Skaggs was considered a musical prodigy as a child, sitting in with Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe and performing the mandolin on country-music variety shows.

At 15, Skaggs joined Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys and performed with both The Country Gentlemen and J.D. Crowe & The New South before forming his own group, Boone Creek.

In the early 1980s, Skaggs changed directions and became one of the most successful artists in country music. His first No. 1 single was "Crying My Heart Out Over You" in 1981, and he continued to sing hits throughout the decade. In 1985, the Country Music Association named him its entertainer of the year.

Though Skaggs kept a low profile throughout the 1990s, he made a comeback with the album Bluegrass Rules! and then again on The High Notes, on which he played bluegrass versions of his own country hits.

In 2003, he joined Fresh Air host Terry Gross for a discussion about bluegrass revival, his long partnership with Scruggs and Monroe, and his bluegrass album Three Pickers.

This interview was originally broadcast on July 21, 2003.

Interview Highlights

On Playing With Earl Scruggs When He Was 7

"[My father and I] had met the backstage guard ... at the Grand Ole Opry. ... And [the guard] said, 'Okay, I'll let you all backstage but, you know, you've got to be nice and, you know, don't be bothering people, don't bug 'em and that kind of thing.' And my dad was always trying to get me noticed, you know, by influential people. And so Earl Scruggs just happened to walk by, and I was standing there playing the mandolin. And he heard me play, and he got to talking to my dad and said, 'Well, bring this little boy down next week for an audition on our television show, the Martha White television show.' And so we did and I got the audition, won that, and they set a date for me to come to the studio and they record it, you know, the next time they were going to be recording. I mean, it was as simple as that. It's pretty amazing to think that it was that simple, but it really, really was. It was just one of those magic moments in time that really did happen."

On Listening Back To His Early Recordings

"I've got tapes that I'm so thankful that my father made — old reel-to-reel tapes. I've got a ton of those things at home. He kept those like fine diamonds, I mean he kept them, you know, in a box and was very, very careful of them, you know. And I've got a bunch of those things at home, and it's amazing now as I go through and listen to them how well I could play when I was 6, 7, 8 years old. I mean, I wasn't what Chris Thile was when he was, you know, 8 or 9 or 10. But, you know, mandolin playing hadn't advanced like it has now, you know. But it's pretty amazing to hear me and my mom and dad sing harmony together and hear me play the mandolin. I mean, I could tell that I really had ... a precious gift. And I'm so glad that I have followed through with it and really used that gift and nurtured it, honed it, made it sharp and tried to use it as a tool now to make music and to make a living for my family."

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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