STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY/For 21st Century Media
A staple of the country and blue grass scene for decades, singer, musician, composer and producer Ricky Skaggs is one of American music’s most revered artists. A legend in the making, Skaggs has recorded more than 30 albums and garnered dozens of country and blue grass honors over the years, and he’s still going country strong.
Realizing a dream, Skaggs and his wife of 33 years, vocalist Sharon White (a member of the country-gospel family band “The Whites”), have finally released their long anticipated duet album, “Hearts Like Ours.”
Offering over a dozen joyous, toe tapping, heart felt love songs handpicked by Skaggs and White, the album features the work of some of country music’s top songwriters. Skaggs and White have created a blend of poetic harmonies and flawless musicianship, exemplifying their dedication to their craft and to their commitment to one of music’s storybook marriages.
“There’s no way I would sing these songs with any other female on this Earth,” said Ricky Skaggs from his Nashville, Tennessee home. “These are special songs. They’re songs we picked out together. But it means so much more because of the years we’ve had together and our relationship.”
“The way we cut it was with a little heavier beat and maybe a little more electric,” added Skaggs. “Nothing on here is really heavy electric, but we wanted to bring in the steel guitar and bring in some old elements and not make it a blue grass CD, something that I’ve been doing since ’97. We wanted to do something from our 80’s life that was more steel guitar, electric guitar, drums and piano. One of the songs on the album, “If I Needed You,” was a song we sang to each other at our wedding 33 years ago. It’s very special to us. The end result was fantastic, and Sharon did such a great job. We really feel so happy that we did this record together while we were still young enough to really enjoy it. We’re so proud of it.”
For Skaggs and White, the creation of this record was an exercise in patience and determination. After recording a hit single in 1987, “Love Can’t Get Any Better Than This,” which won CMA honors as “Vocal Duo of the Year,” the pair had aspirations of turning their success into a full-length album.
“We had a lot of really good success with that single,” said Skaggs. “It did real well. So we thought that was the perfect opportunity for Sharon and I to do a whole record. Everybody was doing duet records. So we thought this would be a really good time to do our thing. Our respective record labels didn’t want to share artists so, because of corporate decisions, it kept us from doing the record.”
“I was a pretty big name in those days,” added Skaggs. “I had just come off from CMA Entertainer of the Year, so you would have thought that I could have fought for that and probably could have won. Just because you win a battle doesn’t mean that it’s right. Maybe I could have gotten it made, maybe I couldn’t. I thought that, if people aren’t fired up and excited about something, why even take the time and the money and the energy to record something for labels that aren’t excited. So, we didn’t want that either. We didn’t want to fail just because we pushed to have it. I had pretty much given up that it was going to happen.”
You could say that Skaggs officially launched his musical journey at age 5 when his father gave him his first mandolin. By age 7 he had played and sang on stage with the legendary Bill Monroe and performed on a music variety TV show with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
As a teenager, Skaggs befriended fellow teen guitarist Keith Whitley. The two formed a group, playing shows and performing on radio. Opening for Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys in 1970, Skaggs and Whitley accepted an invitation to join the group. Skaggs went on to work with a variety of diverse artists that includes Emmylou Harris & the Hot Band, Bruce Hornsby, Barry Gibb (Bee Gee’s) and Phish.
Skaggs struck gold in the early 80’s, winning the 1982 CMA award for Male Vocalist of the Year and opening the door to decades of success. The recipient of Grammy (14), IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) (12), TNN/Music City News Country (8) and CMA awards (7), Skaggs has never taken his success for granted.
“I’m so thankful to be one of the names out there that’s playing this music,” said Skaggs. “Trying to allow it to grow, but yet always paying tribute to the fathers and honoring Bill Monroe, Flat and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers – people that gave so much to make this music.”
A master on the mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandocaster, Skaggs has spent the better of his career embracing his passion for blue grass music and carrying the torch to future generations of fans.
“I think it is really the only pure form of country music that’s left anymore,” said Skaggs. “I hear the country music that’s being recorded today, and it seems like it is such a far cry from the country music I grew-up listening to. There’s something about blue grass that continues to grow. Blue grass feels like an old friend. It feels like a pair of broken-in shoes that feel good on your feet. It’s just happy, wholesome, pure and joyous.”
Releasing his autobiography, “Kentucky Traveler,” in 2013, Skaggs gave fans the opportunity to experience the life and times of his iconic career, while embracing the history of country and bluegrass music.
“The awards and successes are all nice to have,” added Skaggs. “But that’s not who I am. It’s what I’ve accomplished. The scriptures tell us that a man’s gift will cause him to stand before kings and great men, and I’ve had a chance to do that. It’s part of what the call is and what God has asked me to and given me an opportunity to do and I continue to do. There’s a lot more music to make and shows to play. I’m excited for the future.”
IF YOU GO: Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder perform at the Sellersville Theatre; located at 24 West Temple Ave., Sellersville, on Sunday Jan. 11, for two shows, 3 and 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling (215) 257-5808 or online at www.st94.com.
To stay up to date with Ricky Skaggs, visit www.skaggsfamilyrecords.com.