Ricky Skaggs, considered by Fred Bartenstein to be a third generation artist, was born in Cordell, Kentucky on July 18, 1954. His father purchased a mandolin for him after he was heard harmonizing with his mother when he was only five years old. When he was six, he was invited to play onstage with Bill Monroe at a concert in Martha, Kentucky per the audience’s request. Ricky had become quite popular with people in his community and by the age of seven he earned his first paycheck after playing on a television show with Flatt and Scruggs. He also played in a band with his parents called the Skaggs Family.
Years later in 1971 (when he was 15), Ricky and friend Keith Whitley were invited by Ralph Stanley to join his band, the Clinch Mountain Boys. After playing with Stanley for three years, Skaggs started playing with the Country Gentlemen (in 1973) and J.D. Crowe and the New South (in 1974). In 1976 he formed his own band, called Boone Creek, which was of the newgrass genre. In 1977, he started playing with Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band.
(above: Ricky Skaggs on the mandolin)
Skaggs’ first solo album, called Sweet Temptation, was released in 1979, which led to a contract with Epic Records in 1981 where he released his single “Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine.” CMT.com states, “By the end of the year Skaggs had become a star and, in the process, brought rootsy traditional country back into the consciousness of the country audience.”
Following several number one singles, Skaggs became the youngest member of the Grand Ole Opry. According to David Vinopal (CMT.com), Skaggs “helped spark the entire new traditionalist movement, opening the doors for performers like George Strait and Randy Travis.” Skaggs has won multiple awards throughout his career including CMA’s “Entertainer of the Year,” IMBA’s Album of the Year, fourteen Grammy Awards and many others.
Ricky Skaggs was dropped from Colombia Records in 1992 when the rise of contemporary country diminished his record sales. However, he still performed regularly and released several albums including Solid Ground, Life Is a Journey, and Soldier of the Cross. After Bill Monroe’s death in 1996, Skaggs moved away from country and vowed, “I’m going to play bluegrass. I may do some country dates, but I’m going to do bluegrass from now on” (Goldsmith).
Skaggs released an album in 2011 called Country Hits: Bluegrass Style, which “saw Skaggs returning to some of his country hits and reshaping them as bluegrass pieces” (CMT.com). His latest album, Hearts Like Ours released in 2014, features Skaggs and his wife, Sharon White, “dueting on handpicked country love songs” (rickyskaggs.com).
According to an article by David Vinopal on CMT.com:
“Skaggs is largely responsible for a back-to-basics movement in country music. He showed many that a bluegrass tenor with impeccable taste and enormous talent could sell traditional country in the ‘80s, a time when pop music had invaded the land of rural rhythm.”
Thomas Goldsmith’s The Bluegrass Reader
Fred Bartenstein’s Bluegrass Generations Summary Table