Legendary bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice passed away on Friday at the age of 69. Rice died sometime on Christmas morning while making his coffee, according to a statement from longtime friend and collaborator Ricky Scaggs.
Rice’s acclaimed 40+ year career began in 1970 after moving from Los Angeles, CA to Louisville, KY. In Louisville, Rice joined up with J.D. Crowe and his band, New South. Here, Rice played guitar and sang lead vocals, developing his otherworldly skills as a flatpicker. He spent his time in New South alongside Crowe (banjo), Jerry Douglas (dobro), and Scaggs (fiddle/mandolin) before joining up with David Grisman and his David Grisman Quintet.
By 1978, the bluegrass icon had left the David Grisman Quintet and recorded his first album as Tony Rice Unit, which included contributions from Richard Greene, Sam Bush, David Grisman, Mike Marshall, and Todd Phillips. His time spent studying jazz and other genres paid off with this Tony Rice Unit debut, Acoustics. The album merged jazz, bluegrass, and folk, highlighting Rice’s versatility as a musician. In 1980, Tony Rice Unit released Mar West, which his wiki classifies as “experimental spacegrass.” That same year, he joined up with Scaggs yet again and released Skaggs & Rice, an album of bluegrass duets. Throughout the rest of his career, Rice would collaborate with a variety of musicians including Béla Fleck, Jerry Garcia, Mark Johnson, and many others, in addition to releasing solo albums until 2008.
Rice’s influence on bluegrass and music in general cannot be overstated.
“Tony Rice was the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last 50 years. Many if not all of the Bluegrass guitar players of today would say that they cut their teeth on Tony Rice’s music,” noted Scaggs in his statement posted to social media.
He continued, “Not only was Tony a brilliant guitar player but he was also one of the most stylistic lead vocalists in Bluegrass music history. When I joined the group The New South in 1974, I knew I’d found a singing soul mate with Tony. Our voices blended like brothers.”
Sometime during Christmas morning while making his coffee, our dear friend and guitar hero Tony Rice passed from this…
Many other musicians came out to pay their respects on Saturday, including Jason Isbell and Billy Strings, both of whom were deeply influenced by Rice.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Strings wrote, “Cool, elegant, badass, classy.. always in the same mood as that old D-28. Thank you Tony ♥️ RIP legend.”
Cool, elegant, badass, classy.. always in the same mood as that old D-28. Thank you Tony ♥️ RIP legend pic.twitter.com/jGspkkZ13j
— Billy Strings (@BillyStrings) December 26, 2020
Said Isbell, “Tony Rice was the king of the flatpicked flattop guitar. His influence cannot possibly be overstated. If you aren’t familiar with his music, please look it up. I don’t know if a person can make anything more beautiful. #RIPTonyRice.”
Tony Rice was the king of the flatpicked flattop guitar. His influence cannot possibly be overstated. If you aren’t familiar with his music, please look it up. I don’t know if a person can make anything more beautiful. #RIPTonyRice
— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) December 27, 2020