One of the most influential bluegrass musicians of the 20th & 21st centuries, as well as one of the top guitarists of our time, Tony Rice has left an enormous impact on modern bluegrass music. As said by Alison Krauss, “There’s no way it can ever go back to what it was before him”. A member of the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame, Tony has influenced not only bluegrass, but folk, jazz, and helped pave the way for progressive and modern bluegrass musicians.
Born June 8th, 1951, Tony and his family soon left his infant home of Danville, Virginia to live in Los Angeles, California. There, Tony and his brother Wyatt learned how to play bluegrass and country music from their father, Herb. They would polish their skills listening and mimicking the local musicians of L.A. such as Clarence White, Ry Cooder and Chris Hillman. In the early 1970’s, Tony had moved to Louisville, Kentucky and played with several musicians until joining J.D. Crowe’s The New South. With the later addition of Ricky Skaggs, The New South became one of the most popular bands in the bluegrass/country circuit.
In the late 70’s, Tony met up with David Grisman and formed the David Grisman Quintet, who are considered one of the greatest acoustic string bands to have ever performed. Starting in the 80’s, Rice moved on to form the Bluegrass Album Band, which included his old bandmate J.D. Crowe, as well as Doyle Lawson, Bobby Hicks and Todd Phillips. He played with them as well as doing solo work and recording with David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, all the way through the 80’s, until the early 90’s when he developed a condition in his vocal chords, making it extremely difficult to sing. Since then, Tony has struggled with his failing vocal chords, arthritis, and a life of touring on the road. He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2013, and has won the I.B.M.A’s Guitarist of the Year Award six times, despite a dwindling album number and having had to cancel the majority of his performances due to health issues.
One of Tony’s most important aspects is his instrument, a 1935 D-28 Martin guitar, the instrument of his former bandmate and friend Clarence White. The deep, rich sound Tony has been able to produce with this instrument has led many to call it the “Holy Grail of Guitars”.
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Tony Rice & Clarence White were never bandmates.