Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder will bring a little bit of bluegrass to the Old Line State Friday night at The Great Frederick Fair when they take the grandstand stage at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $33 reserved track seating, $28 reserved grandstand.
The Bluegrass State native was, literally, raised on bluegrass music. His father, Hobert, gave him his first mandolin when he was 5, at age 6 he played a song with Bill Monroe, at 7 he stole the show when he played during Flatt and Scruggs concert, in his 20s, he was picking with Ralph Stanley’s band, and now, at age 62, he will be inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville in October for his mandolin, guitar and banjo pickin’.
“More than anything, just knowing it’s voted on totally by other musicians, it truly is colleagues and peers … I’m just thankful they offered it to me,” said Skaggs in a phone interview Thursday on his way to a show in Pennsylvania. Bus mechanical issues had Skaggs and his band about two hours behind schedule, but that’s life on the road, he said.
Skaggs credits his dad, Hobert Skaggs, with fueling his double-gift of musicianship and singing.
“My dad did a good job bringing me a small instrument, a mandolin, and not a big old guitar or long-necked banjo,” when Ricky was about 5 years old, he said. “I didn’t have to fight it like I would have a full-size instrument.” His mother told him he was singing harmony with her when he was 3.
Recognizing his boy had some raw talent, his dad introduced Ricky to the fiddle when he was about 14 and had him play with some with fiddlers in “the old mountain style of fiddling. I’m so glad he did, because unlike the bluegrass guys I was listening to, the old-time fiddlers have a completely different technique like cross tunings that sounded so ancient.
“I’ll probably play one (Friday) night, ‘Ol’ Cluck Hen.’ It’s got a nasty, old cross-tuning sound,” Skaggs said. It’s a song he recorded with Bruce Hornsby for the live album of the same name, released in 2013.
When he was in junior high school, the family moved from Kentucky to Ohio, where his dad took a job on a farm. Classmates called Ricky “Hillbilly.” His friends had been listening to Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and Ricky told them he could learn to play the guitar riffs of the song. One of the boys threw down the gauntlet and bet him $5 he couldn’t.
“I took the 45 (rpm record) home and listened to it that night on my sister’s little record player. I picked up my dad’s heavy Martin guitar and learned to play it. The next day I took my guitar to school and played it for him. He gave me the $5.”
Skaggs credits his double talent with giving him a career in music that spans five decades and, depending on when fans listened to his music, some may think of him as a singer, others as a musician. Skaggs said he, personally, thinks of himself as a musician, but being able to sing has made him a better musician. He’s got the Grammy (14) and other awards to prove it.
“I’ve been so blessed, honestly, that music has come to me quite easily,” he said.
His GFF show will be a bluegrass show. Most of his country hits from the 1980s don’t work with a bluegrass band, but he may play a few, like “Honey,” “Heartbroke” and “Uncle Pen” that are more bluegrass based.
“It’s hard to play (the country songs) without drums and a steel guitar,” he said.
Skaggs recently finished a couple of projects, like being the best man and music coordinator for the reception at his youngest son’s wedding in May, and producing Hillary Scott (Lady Antebellum) and the Scott family’s new faith-based album “Love Remains,” in which he is featured on one song. Scott asked him to produce the album because of his work with The Whites, with sisters Cheryl and Sharon (Ricky’s wife) and their father, Buck.
As for Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder, he says a live album is in the process.
“This band is so great live and in the studio,” said Skaggs, whose music is on Skaggs Family Records.
For more information on Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, visit rickyskaggs.com or Skaggsfamilyrecords.com.