A Conversation with Ricky Skaggs

This interview was such an incredible experience. Coming from a family of guitar players, Bluegrass was always a real constant in my home – from my Grandparents to my mother and uncles, and so on. The music has been a part of my life since birth. Over the years as I got older, I have really learned to love and and appreciate the genre, from the incredible musicianship, to the lyrics and tones of the songs, to the beautiful harmonies that always accompany.

I got to speak with a legend of the genre this week – Ricky Skaggs. He will be returning to the **Cavendish Beach Music Festival to perform on their Main stage Saturday, July 9th. Please enjoy this interview. I know I sure did!

…This one is for you, Bubba <3

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SM: We’re awfully excited to hear that you’re returning to the East Coast. You’ve been here a few times, already.

RS: Yes, we played there about four, or five years ago. I think when we played there last time, I had brought the country band up with me. We played the hits like, “Heartbroke”, and “Honey.” Those are songs people love to hear, especially those Canadians that we’ve played for for so many years that just love the classic country stuff. We enjoyed that, and had a great time. My niece, Rachel who is married to my fiddle player, Andy Leftwich, and my daughter all grew up watching, “Anne of Green Gables,” and “Road to Avonlea.” They’re all about PEI, and the history up there. So, my niece is coming up there with Andy and they’re going to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary up there. They’ll be up there for a week.

SM: PEI has really great tourist attractions, with the Anne of Green Gables house, the Avonlea Village, both located right in Cavendish. In addition is also Anne of Green Gables: The Musical, in Charlottetown. So if they want to, they will be able to take in a lot of PEI-themed activities! So you’ve have some great experiences in the East Coast – you played in Cape Breton recently, too, didn’t you?

RS: Yes, we did, for the Celtic Colors festival. We’d been wanting to play that for years. There was a friend of ours that we met. Sharon, my wife, and I were in Scotland and our friend Jerry Douglas who had been producing what are called the “Trans-Atlantic Sessions” and it was a mixture of Country, Bluegrass, and some Pop artists that had a love for Celtic Music. This beautiful singer. She was probably in her 70s then and had told us, “Oh, you must go to the Celtic Colors festival in Cape Breton!” We had never been invited, or got to go before. So last year, they invited me and Kentucky Thunder to come, so I went up a day early and toured the Island a little bit. I love photography so I got lots of shots of the red foliage, which was beautiful. I wanted to do the whole Cabot Trail, but I just didn’t have the time to do it. Someday I will come back and do it all. Hopefully we get to come back. The crowd loved us and what we did.

SM: Getting back to Sharon for a minute, **”Hearts Like Ours” has been out almost two years at this point. What has the fan reception been for this record?

RS: It’s been wonderful! There’s something about when a husband and wife that’s been married going on 35 year now that its rally a solid, wonderful, scandal free marriage come together in song. It’s so beautiful. She’s such an incredible singer and so wonderful. She had a lot of input into this record. It’s something that we had wanted to do for a long time, and we finally got the chance to do it, the way we wanted to do it. We took our time, and found the musicians, and found the songs and everything and we walked through every process together with the mixes, and even towards the end. She was totally involved. The fans have loved this record. They love hearing her sing with me and of course her fans, with the White Family, they too were of course, ready for this record for so many years. In 1987 we were CMA Duo of the Year and we even wanted to do a record back then. But, I was on CBS Records, and she was on Warner Brothers Records and they just did not want to share each other’s artists. It kind of hurt our hearts. It was just one of those things where business got in the way of creativity. It was a sad thing. We finally got to do it on our own label all these years later, and so I think we were better off for waiting all this time.

SM: It’s a beautiful record! Do you have a particular favorite track(s)?

RS: I certainly love the one everyone refers to as the “King James Bible” song! It’s definitely the most popular song on the record. ** The actual song title is called “ When I’m Good and Gone.” ** I think Sharon usually sets it up when we do it together. She says, “The older I get, the more I wonder and the more I think about the legacy I’m going to leave behind and what I’m going to be known for and what people will say about me when I leave here.” The whole song just talks about, “I hope they find my King James Bible, that I was a Christian, that I was solid, that I was in the Word. That the Bible was worn, that it wasn’t just a good looking Bible. That it was really worn and falling apart. Charles Spurgeon once said, “A Bible that’s falling apart, usually belong to some who is not falling apart!” It’s a beautiful record. Of course, I love, “Home is Wherever You Are,”” It Takes Three” is such a beautiful song as well. I have have always loved Emmylou Harris and Don William’s version of “If I Needed You” but honestly, I love our cut of it so much. Sharon just sang it so beautifully. I love the feel of the track, the steel guitar. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful song.

SM: I’ve grown up listening to Bluegrass music my whole life. Almost everyone in my family are in fact, musicians. Being from Prince Edward Island, it’s a heavily concentrated Country/Bluegrass environment so it’s been around me my whole life. One important thing that I’ve come to realize about Bluegrass specifically is that it’s such a wonderful vessel in sharing the Gospel and the Word of God. Would you consider that your faith has shaped your approach to music in general?

RS: I think it has. I’ve always had a standard, or mantra that I would never record a song that I wouldn’t sing in front of my Mom and Dad. I know it might sound really “Old-time” or really “square,” But I wouldn’t sing a song if it had lyrics that’s I’d be ashamed to sing in front of my Mom and Dad. There is so much in Country music that deals and sheds on stories of cheating and drinking and partying and all that. I know it’s just a part of life as real as anything, but I would like to spend my time and efforts on trying to show someone the good side. That there is another way – the best way and encourage people. I’m not a Christian artist. I don’t go out and play that many churches, or Christian festivals, but I am an artist that’s a Christian. I feel like I am in the marketplace. I don’t even call it secular. The music I sing is not secular, it’s not hymns, and it’s not Gospel, but it’s faith-driven, it’s faith-based, it’s fun, it’s joyful. There’s definitely Christian messages in my songs. I don’t just come out on stage and start hitting people with the Gospel. I might have been a lot stronger in my early Country days in maybe being a little forthcoming with the Gospel message, and it really turned a lot of people off. So, I’ve realized that. I was trying to grow and trying to find my way. I was just trying to find the right way to do it but I feel like God has given me a much better way of presenting it by loving people, not being ashamed of the songs, and just telling people real life stories. So, when I wrote my book, **”Kentucky Traveler,” I think that really helped me a lot in getting a message out there without offense. You’re always going to offend somebody who doesn’t want to hear the Gospel. It’s just par for the course. I think there are a lot of people looking and wanting to hear the Gospel without having to go to a Church to hear it. I think they’re surprised sometimes when they hear the Gospel in a beer joint, or a casino or a festival, or center, or a more Liberal kind of place. They hear in a way that is so real where I don’t get the e-mail saying, “Oh, you offended me, etc”. I think my faith has been reshaped in the music I do.

SM: You’ve had so many opportunities to work with so many artists of varying genres. Do you have any particular favorites that come to mind, or perhaps a bucket list for future collaborations?

RS: I don’t really know about the future, It’s really strange you mention that though. I had a dream last night about Paul McCartney. I don’t think I even remembered that dream until right now. My wife and I recently got to work with Ry Cooder on a project called, “Cooder, White, Skaggs.” We did some touring last year, and in March of this year. We had a great time making music. It was a wonderful experience. Bruce Hornsby and I just recently did a few dates together, and we hadn’t played together in almost two years. It was so great to come back and play again with him. The music, when we play together really stretches us. It’s great, we just had a ball. I, of course love to work with Sharon. That’s always a wonderful experience. I am really not sure of anyone on the horizon right now. I am open to work with anybody. I’m getting ready to go to Ireland and work with Martin Hayes, a great fiddler. He really carries that really old ancient sound of Celtic Fiddling, and Dennis Cahill. They are in a group called, The Gloaming. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, but It will blow your mind if you love Celtic music. This guy, Iarla (referring to Iarla Ó Lionáird) sings in Gaelic and it is so beautiful and so powerful so check them out if you haven’t! it’s pretty phenomenal. I’ll be working with him in August. I’ll be working with some really deep guys that play this old music. I don’t have a clue what we’re going to get into, but I’m excited about it and I want to go deep with them and learn what I can. There’s something about the taproot of a tree. It’s the root that goes the deepest into the ground, that all the other roots come out of. I think Celtic music carries the ancient tones and the ancient sounds of the earth, and of real music. I think even Bluegrass was birthed out of Celtic music, and obviously had different ingredients blended in with it like the banjos from African-Americans coming up from Mississippi and Louisiana and the South bringing banjos into the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee and the Carolinas. I think the real foundation tones and foundation sounds of Bluegrass, and even Country music were birth out of Celtic music.

**You can purchase Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White’s Album, “Hearts Like Ours,” along with his many other wonderful albums on Ricky’s Website.

**Also on the website, you can purchase an autographed copy of Ricky’s Autobiography, “Kentucky Traveler: My Life In Music”

**For more information on Atlantic Canada’s largest outdoor music festival, artist lineup, and picking up your tickets and beach bands for the LOTTO MAX presents Cavendish Beach Music Festival, please visit www.cavendishbeachmusic.com

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