Goshen News, Goshen, IN

December 5, 2013

A LIFETIME OF MUSIC

Ricky Skaggs to perform at Blue Gate Theater Saturday.

By SCOTT WEISSER scott.weisser@goshennews.com
Goshen News

---- — SHIPSHEWANA

He’s a multiple Grammy award winner, a bluegrass virtuoso and has been a Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year. Now he can add “author” to his resume.

Ricky Skaggs, who’s set to perform in Shipshewana this weekend, released his autobiography “Kentucky Traveler” in August.

“It was something I never thought I’d do,” Skaggs said of writing a book. “When I was a kid, me and books never got along very well. But now I have one in my name.

“It needed to be done,” he said of writing “Traveler.” “I feel like there was a lot I had to say.”

In “Kentucky Traveler,” Skaggs tells of the historic musical groups he’s been involved with, as well as his own roots and the music he listened to growing up.

“It’s about family, faith, friends and frets, I guess, if you want to put it that way,” Skaggs said of his book.

Family is key in Skaggs’ musical history. His father, Hobart, gave him his first mandolin when the younger Skaggs was just 5 years old. Skaggs soon proved to be adept at the instrument.

At age 6, he performed onstage with bluegrass icon Bill Monroe. By age 7, Skaggs had performed his debut at the Grand Old Opry and played with Flatt & Scruggs.

The “Kentucky Traveler” has been on the musical road ever since. The journey involved joining Ralph Stanley’s band in the early 1970s. Along for the ride was Skaggs’ friend, the late Keith Whitley. Skaggs recalled that Stanley had a job waiting for the two young musicians when they graduated high school.

“(Stanley) always stressed that he wanted us to finish school,” Skaggs said in a recent phone interview with The Goshen News. “He didn’t want us quitting and being delinquents following him around the country.

“It was a great time,” Skaggs said of that period. “It really was.”

Skaggs’ 50-plus years in music have included an acclaimed solo career and several notable collaborations. One of those partnerships yielded the live album “Cluck Ol’ Hen,” featuring Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby, that was released in August.

Skaggs said he and Hornsby first released a studio album in 2007. The two started touring, and they and the other musicians involved started to gel, getting to know one another.

“That’s so important about making music, is really knowing someone’s heart and knowing their abilities,” Skaggs said. “You get comfortable being around somebody as a player and as a person.”

Live recordings were made for posterity while the group was touring. When the tour was over, Hornsby started listening to them. He called Skaggs to inform him there was a treasure trove of great takes, and sent him a CD.

“Gosh, boy, he was right,” Skaggs said. Via “Cluck Ol’ Hen,” that treasure is being shared.

Skaggs delights in collaborating, and his cohorts can be far-flung from the bluegrass or country realms. He talked about plans to work with Barry Gibb, Peter Frampton and Brendan Benson.

“It keeps things exciting,” Skaggs said of working with others. He also views the music he’s been playing nearly a lifetime as vital.

“I think people look at bluegrass and think that it’s just one way, and it’s just real ancient,” Skaggs said. “And there are certainly elements of old in it. But bluegrass is new every day. It’s fresh. It’s new, it’s your perspective, it’s your attitude. It’s your heart. It’s your intention.

“I think some people in bluegrass, especially some of the old gatekeepers, I think they may have walked around with their hands pointed up, like ‘No. Don’t come in. Halt,’” Skaggs said. “...I’ve been one that walks around with my hands out, like ‘Hey, you want to play this music? Come on in. It’s fun.”

If you want to go

“Ricky Skaggs Family Christmas” performances are set for 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Blue Gate Theater along Van Buren Street (Ind. 5) in Shipshewana. For ticket and other information, call 260-768-4725 or 888-448-4725 or visit the website riegsecker.com/shipshewana/bluegatetheater.