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July 4, 2013

Ricky Skaggs' career began when he was a young child playing mandolin and singing in a general store near his home in Cordell, Ky.

Ricky Skaggs plays Stone Mountain on Saturday

By Ray Routhier
rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

When asked why he decided to write an autobiography after more than 40 years as a successful musician, Ricky Skaggs replied that he did it to prove a point.

"I wanted to show that musicians should stay musicians and not become book writers, and I think I proved my point," said Skaggs, 58, with a laugh from his home in Nashville. "As an author, I'm a great musician."

But being a great musician makes for great stories.

"Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music" is due in stores Aug. 13. Skaggs co-wrote it with Eddie Dean, who also helped bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley with his book in 2009.

"I wanted Eddie because he made Ralph sound like Ralph in his book," said Skaggs. "I wanted it to sound like me, not like a Harvard graduate with perfect English. I speak perfect hillbilly."

But Skaggs' musical journey is far from over. He continues to tour, and will be playing Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield on Saturday with his band, Kentucky Thunder. And he's got a new live album, "Cluck Ol' Hen" with Bruce Hornsby, coming out Aug. 20.

Skaggs' long, storied and varied career began when he was a young child playing mandolin and singing in a general store near his home in Cordell, Ky. By the time he was in his teens, he was playing in Ralph Stanley's band.

He went on to win a slew of awards, including 14 Grammys, for music that spanned the genres of bluegrass and contemporary country and has had a dozen No. 1 country singles.

Skaggs is happy to see the music he's long embraced -- Appalachian folk, string music, old bluegrass -- being brought back into the spotlight by popular bands such as Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers.

"I think this kind of music is always growing, always evolving. When I hear Mumford, I hear Irish roots but I hear bluegrass too," said Skaggs. "You hear bands like Carolina Chocolate Drops, and you realize that there is really a resurgence of string music, of old-time American music."

Skaggs can trace his own musical lineage pretty far back. His father and uncle played and sang bluegrass when they were both teens in Kentucky. Then Skaggs' uncle was killed in World War II, leaving his father without a musical partner and with a broken dream.

"My dad was devastated, and he made one of those inner vows that if he ever had a son who showed any musical talent, he'd buy him a mandolin and teach him to sing," said Skaggs. "So I've been singing harmony since I was 3 years old. My dad bought me a mandolin when I was 5. Then he bought himself a guitar and started playing (gigs) with me."

Skaggs was about 6 years old when he and his family saw bluegrass legend Bill Monroe in concert, and the local crowd started yelling for "little Ricky" to play with him. Years later, when he was in Stanley's band, Skaggs met Monroe and told him of their encounter.

"I told him I was 6 years old, and he couldn't believe it. He seemed like he couldn't believe he would have let a 6-year-old come up on stage with him, but he did," said Skaggs. "I sang 'Ruby' with him, and I went away from there after falling in love with a man who was so in love with music. His love for music and his personal graciousness have always inspired me."

Some of the things in Skaggs' book were hard for him to rehash, including his divorce from his first wife. But overall, he thought it was good to look back on his life and appreciate both what he's been through and the opportunities he's had.

"Those are all things who made me what I am," he said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com



Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder

Skaggs’ new memoir, “Kentucky Traveler,” is due out Aug. 16.

Skaggs’ new album with Bruce Hornsby, “Cluck Ol’ Men,” is due out Aug. 20.



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