As a young boy, how could I forget the summer of 1983. My Dad, an oilman working in the heart of Texas, had my rag tag behind shadowing him around the oilfields of small towns like Ballinger, Coleman and Paint Rock, Texas. There was nothing glamorous about it, but it didn’t matter because all I could remember was the music Dad was playing as we cruised down the road. I was a little guy, barely 5 years old at the time, but the beat of that song was hypnotic to me. Instantly I was drawn to the sound of the banjo, asking my Dad, ‘what is that instrument,’ and proceeding to tell him I was going to play that one day (more about that later). The artist ringing through the speakers of Dad’s Ford F-150 was none other than Ricky Skaggs and the song was Highway 40 Blues, which Skaggs had just released earlier that year.
Fast forward to this past spring and the chance meeting of a lifetime. I was in my office on a call and my wife happened to walk by and give me that look of wonder because she could tell I was up to something! On the other end of the phone was Ricky’s Publicist telling me that Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder had a scheduled performance at Gruene Hall, just 45 minutes from my house. Instantly I thought ‘pinch me.’ Not only was I going to meet and interview one of my favorite artists of all time, but he would be performing in the oldest dance hall in Texas. The best part yet – I’d get to take my Dad, who introduced me to Ricky’s music 34 years earlier. Of course I jumped at the opportunity and we made arrangements for the meeting and interview.
Now, if you’ve ever had the chance to meet someone you admire, then you must admit it’s a bit of an out of body experience. There’s naturally a nervousness and anxious spirit that says ‘hey man, don’t mess this up.’ What I found was that my hero was a humble, gentle man who was more than accommodating and pleased to meet us. The interview took place right next to Gruene Hall, where a series of cool old cabins right out of a movie scene perch over the lawn behind Gruene Hall, with the faintest whisper of the bands at the other honky tonks filling the evening air.
Sitting on the back porch, Ricky talked about his legacy as an artist and how he enjoys taking care of his band members and keeping them busy with a very full performance schedule. “I love the opportunity to be with the guys. I feel like a Papa, like I’m responsible for their well being and to keep them working,” says Skaggs. “These boys are keeping me young. In the past, I was so tired after a 2-hour show, I used to not like doing autographs. But after getting my health in check and losing over 75 pounds, I have an entirely new love and respect for people and our fans. I’m grateful and thankful for what I get to do,” he says.
Ricky talked so much about his admiration for The Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, and how much he honors the man who taught him so much. “Back in 2007 I had a deal with Gibson, as they produced a limited run on a mandolin modeled after the worn and torn mandolin Bill Monroe played for so many years,” says Skaggs. “This model I’m holding now is pretty close to Bill Monroe’s mandolin that’s now in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. We went back and studied pictures from the 1950’s and I feel this mandolin is pretty close to what he played,” continues Skaggs.
LEFT TO RIGHT: Ricky Skaggs with Living Well Magazine Publisher & Founder Joshua Cates.
Later that evening, as my Dad and I enjoyed a front-row seat at the concert, I was in awe of the talent displayed by Ricky Skaggs and his entire band. Being that close to my hero playing Highway 40 Blues and so many other favorites, I was instantly transported back to that day as a 5 year old boy when I first fell in love with Bluegrass music. Ricky Skaggs struck his first chords over 50 years ago, and as a 15-time Grammy Award winner, he has more than left his mark on the music charts and those of us who love his music.
Now about that banjo - almost 20 years ago I stumbled across an old banjo and started learning to play. However, it wasn’t until my mid-30’s that I truly realized how special it is to play an instrument and allow the soul of that instrument to resonate through your entire body. Today I have the privilege of owning a beautiful banjo, a 2006 Sonny Osborne Chief - and wouldn’t you know, Ricky was kind enough to pen his signature on the inside of my banjo during our interview. What a treasured signature and one I’ll cherish for years to come.
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