A Few More Words About Tony Rice

This commentary is a contribution from Caroline Wright, in response to a number of comments to our previous articles about Tony Rice’s financial difficulties, which suggest that he was unworthy of such assistance.

Caroline Wright

Friends and neighbors and fellow guitar lovers, I’m Caroline Wright, Tony’s official biographer, and a friend of Tony and Pam Rice. In that capacity, and as somebody who knows them both about as well as anybody could, I’m writing this to tell you that their need is very real. If you’re on the fence about contributing, or if you think that this fundraising effort is exploitative or offensive in any way, please read on.

Tony Rice doesn’t have a bunch of fancy sports cars; he does not live in a mansion; he isn’t surrounded by luxury. Though I will not disrespect his privacy by sharing intimate details of his personal life, I will tell you that he lives in very, very humble circumstances.

Tony’s a man who has earned his living, all his life, making extraordinary, life-changing art with his hands and his voice, such fragile instruments. And because of a number of tragic events and situations in his life, any one of which would be devastating and career-halting, he is now in a place where he could really use a little help from the people whose lives have been touched by his music.

What happens to the aging typist with arthritis in his hands? It hurts to type, and it takes longer, but he can still do it, sitting at his desk in his private space.

But what happens to the aging musician, who makes his living with his body in a very public way? He begins to drop picks and drop notes, in a very public way. Audiences notice. Promoters notice. It is not something that is ignored or forgiven or forgotten. And it only gets worse with age. And that’s only the beginning.

This isn’t something a lot of people think about: the fates of aging and disabled musicians when they are unable, temporarily or permanently, to make music. Stephen Foster, Scott Joplin, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday, Townes van Zandt… all of them died penniless and early. Could any of us who know and appreciate their musical legacies have ignored an opportunity to help any one of them?

And I’d ask you this: Did Tony Rice’s music move you deeply? Did it inspire your own music, your own voice? Did it touch, or even save, your life?

Feel free to stop reading now, if you’ve answered these questions in the negative. This appeal will have no meaning for you. But if Tony’s music has been a big part of your life, as it has been for so many people, I’d ask you to imagine your hero – any hero, somebody you really care about — in a fairly grim, heartbreaking life situation, without the resources or physical ability to dig himself out. Again, as somebody who knows the Rices pretty well, I can assure you that their need is VERY real. If you knew them personally, if you only knew how private they are, and how proud, you’d understand how urgent their need has become, to compel them to reach out for help.

I went on the road with Tony Rice a couple of times. As he has done for years, he drove himself to all his gigs – long, punishing road trips with a few hours’ restless sleep in a motel here and there. So many intense and solitary miles, so much work and time and focus to get to that bit of spotlight before a curious and demanding audience. I saw firsthand what it cost him, physically and emotionally, to give you, and me, and all of us, that incredible, magical, unforgettable music.

As an aging artist with some very serious health and personal challenges, Tony is at a starkly critical place in his life, where his future – his so-called “golden years” – are in peril. Does that sound a little drastic? I want you to know that I intended it so. If he somehow touched your life with his music, please know that just a little bit of help will make a huge difference in the life of Tony Rice.

Thanks for listening.

P.S. Yep, Tony still has the Antique, the legendary 1935 Martin D-28 formerly owned by Clarence White. And if you think he should sell it, then I just don’t know what to say to you. It’s so much more than just wires and wood. You might as well ask him to sell his heart.


Editor’s note… anyone wishing to contribute to the Tony Rice fund can do so by clicking the button below, or by sending a check (made out to Tony Rice) to:

Tony Rice Foundation/Pinkham
PO Box 914
Odessa, FL 33556


  • William Walker

    Thank you so much for saying what is in my, and many peoples heart.
    I played in the band Geronimo at the Wheel back in the mid 70’s to early 80’s, and was greatly influenced by Tony Rice, and many others
    God bless you for your heartfelt words

  • Jeff Miller

    Thank you for your article.
    I generally ignore comments on posts, so I was thankfully unaware of this issue. Tony’s personal business, assets, etc. are his and his alone. If he wants/needs to liquidate things, that’s up to him. People who want to manage him/his situation are being very narrow, petty and will find their row very frustrating in the end, but they can be content in the rewards they currently possess and I wish them happiness wallowing in those possessions.

    However, Tony and Pam have given me much in my life even though they don’t know me. It is worth it to me to give a little back (wish I could give more). Glad that there’s an avenue for that.

    Thanks to you and to BT for awareness about this.

  • Emory Shover

    Thank you for the article. I’ve already said, in a previous post, what I think of the negative comments. These are the some folks who will lock their parents away in a nursing home and visit them on Christmas and think to themselves;”My what a good person I am.” I have learned many guitar licks and solos from Tony. I have met him twice where I could sit one-on-one and talk with him. He is a fine gentleman and is now in need of some financial help, NOT phony criticism. For God’s sake, if you chose to donate…then donate! If not, then keep your yap shut! FLAME OFF.

  • TimA

    I don’t doubt Tony’s needs. It’s happened to many a musicians who’s carer were on his level. The pay can be good for the day, but not good for the future. Tony never played half time at the Super Bowl!

    But an aging typist that can’t type fast enough for a job gets fired and finds themselves in much of the same position. Happened to a family member of mine.

    Wish I could give. Trying find money for the mortgage this month myself. But

    • ynotecir

      I don’t believe that you, Ms. Wright, have a right to write disrespectful comments about other people’s crippling arthritic conditions. When you just spoke about an “aging typist” as a means of earning a living, and crippling arthritis caused her or him to lose their job, you just belittled a lot of people. Is what you are saying that our professions, aging or not, are discounted? Professions coming to an end, people getting fired, not drawing any income due to tragic crippling arthritis is not as important as Mr. Rice’s arthritis? Shame on you for putting this disrespect in words right here on paper. I bought your book about Tony, I also received an autographed copy, I’ve paid to go to all the concerts and performances, and I know more than you know about the Rices. Don’t be so defensive. Of course we see where you have more of a stake in this money request, along with the Pinkhams, in regard to the results of people donating money – percentages, fees, royalties – call it what you want, I don’t care. What I do care about is you belittling some of us Tony Rice fans who have crippling arthritis and other diseases, as he says he does, and you stating our job losses and losing our homes, and everything we owned due to this is not as traumatic as Tony Rice needing money – possibly to pay back taxes and keeping his home. I know that other celebrities have sold items when their cash flow was effected. But to say that we are not as good as Mr. Rice – even though we are very diseased with arthritis, human beings who have lost everything and have very bad health and am in need of funding to pay major medical bills. We don’t get why he can’t sell items to gather cash and not act like he is a better human being than we are. I believe Tony Rice would agree that you should be ashamed of that statement. We’ve known the Rices on a personal level as you have and for a lot longer than you. So please don’t respond to this post about how you have all this personal information. Just start showing respect for other fans of Mr. Rice’s, and clean up your writing comments because you are going to turn off a lot of fans who may donate to this – even us who have arthritis in our hands, fingers, neck, knees and all over in different places on our weak bodies. And cannot afford medication to stay out of pain. And no home to live in, we lost those too. We have nothing left to sell. Does it still make you sick that Tony Rice would have to sell something to get money? Of course, it’s easier to ask us fans. Especially now. Rethink and pray to the Good Lord about spelling out clearly your disrespect for us as you compare us to Mr. Rice. Whoever we are, trust me, you have belittled thousands of people who would have donated, and you have hindered more than helped. “Friends” like you are plenty. Please start thinking before you write; you’ve said enough, we get where you are coming from. Our purchases for CD’s and payments for tickets to Mr. Rice’s performances, t-shirts and other collective Tony Rice items now has totaled into thousands of dollars. I had to sell some of my Tony Rice collections when I lost my job, my home and am now destitute with family at the moment. Most musicians make their money from what they receive from all the above and don’t ask their fans for more. We saved, and had to use our rainy day funds just to exist for a while. Mr. Rice could have saved money for this day, when he may need money for medical bills and whatever else he needs the money for. With his royalties, and his wife, Pam, working and adding to their income, and their is Social Security Disability to qualify for, Social Security, etc. Since you are asking for money, are you also disclosing his net worth to give people a chance to review and choose if this is a qualified request? Isn’t this what we do with our politicians even – all funds and net worths are displayed to the public. We are all in the dark on what is right here – especially since we learned that you disrespect the rest of us in the same condition or maybe even worse than Mr. Rice’s arthritis. We just saw where he is playing at UNC-Greensboro in February 2014 with Mr. Peter Rowan.

  • Joe Penland

    When I went to Tony’s Website the store was not functioning. I would love to purchase some things, but from Tony not Amazon or iTunes. Any help other than driving over?
    Tony Rice is one of the most humble and personable musicians I have had the pleasure of meeting. After being introduced to him and before I spoke a word, he stuck out his hand and said: ” I’m very pleased to meet you.”
    Hang in there Tony. So many of us love you.

  • Terry T. Pinkham

    Beautifully written Caroline. Thank you so much, for saying it in such a forthright manner. I think most of us are in complete agreement with you. And if I could only share the sound of Tony’s voice each day ( the CHANGE in his voice and tone) as I talk with him and inform him of HOW many people are rising to this occasion… The difference in his outlook and attitude, is a beautiful thing to hear. I could actually HEAR him smiling last night as we talked of performing and how he looks forward to being able to THANK everyone at all his upcoming performances when he is back up and about and doing what he loves best, playing bluegrass guitar. And a couple of weeks ago his tone was very different. Very low. Very sad. And VERY AFRAID. And he didn’t even think he would BE playing again.
    So, this article, so lovingly written, is just going to boost him even more. This article along with everyone who’s posted comments and sent their hard earned money…It’s as if each one of us are beside him, with a hand saying ” Come on Tony I’ll help you up” and as you mentioned in the article, he is taking our hand.
    THANK YOU, Caroline. And each and everyone of you, who’s heart has been moved to join in this effort. Friends, ITS WORKING, !!!

  • Beautifully stated Caroline… as always. LxoJ

  • brian hull

    In 1990, my now best friend gave me a cassette tape to listen to. We had just met and we some how started talking about guitars and acoustic music. I had played guitar as a kid in rock and roll and he was a banjo player who had worked as a professional musician working thru college. Being born in N.C. I grew up around bluegrass but had lost tract of the music. The cassette was a recording of Tony Rice. I listened to it and was blown away to say the least. That single moment changed my life and lead me to a 20 year love affair with the greatest music in the world! Numerous guitars, thousands of recordings, music camps, festivals etc.. and an opportunity to promote and produce live acoustic music. I got to see Tony and Norman at Merle Fest and at several other festivals and shows over the years. He has given so much and influenced so many musicians in the modern era of our music. It is sad to see his decline and I pray his health will stabilize. He has truly given his all and given us so much art. Peel back the layers of the onion and below all the hype and stories and choices in life you find a man. A man of unmatched talent and artistic vision who shaped, changed and entertained. We as fellow musicians and more importantly human beings, must come to his aid in any way possible. If everyone of us simply sent him $1.00 for every CD we purchased in the past or every great moment he gave us at a festival or a show, it would be I think a lot of money. I plan to give and will give from my heart and remember each note and shake of my head when he played something amazing. I will give from my heart from the feelings I got when driving late at night and listened to his beautiful voice…..I hope folks read this. Look inside indeed….”one Great Moment for Tony….Thanks Doc Hull

  • Melanie

    The gift Tony Rice has given me with his music is priceless. I remember being a little girl and wanting to listen to “Changes” over and over again on my mom’s old record player, I remember the playing “Nothing like a hundered miles” on repeat driving around in my first car, and I remember the first time I heard “Church Street Blues” and it just touched me like no other song ever has. So often when listening to his music I have wished there was some way to convey to him how much his music means to me. I don’t care if Tony made millions of dollars and spent it all on lawn ornaments, I am happy to give what I can with no questions asked. I can’t believe there are people who have the gall to even hint that he should think about selling his guitar-even typing that makes me feel sick.

  • Terry T. Pinkham

    I’m with you, Melanie!
    Thank you.

  • Brian Buckley

    I wonder if the great players Tony worked with over the years could put a tour together and use the funds to raise money for him. They could sell his merchandise and maybe make new shirts or hats for the show. I think a lot of people would like to hear a band like Sam Bush, Mark Schatz, Jerry Douglas, Josh Williams, and Ricky Skaggs playing his tunes. Have sets by the Grisman Quintet, Peter Rowan, and JD Crowe. I think people would love to attend. Maybe they can all figure out a way.

  • Herb Montgomery

    I donated because the first Grisman Quintet album was amazing to me, as was the first Tony Rice “Guitar” album, as was Tony himself when I first saw the Rounder 044 lineup at Randy Wood’s Old Tome Pickin’ Parlour in the late 70’s. Life changing. That being said, I think it would be neat to raise the action a bit on his old Herringbone and put out a guitar CD with Ron Stewart, Barry Bales, Adam Steffey, and Jerry Douglas as the ensemble, along with 12 of the best current flatpickers, each doing a tune with that group. Let’s see: Kenny Smith, Clay Hess, Chris Eldridge, Cody Kilby, Carl Miner, David Grier, Wyatt Rice, Tim Stafford, Clay Jones, Bryan Sutton, Russ Barenberg, and Bryan McDowell. Donate all sales to TR.

  • David Moultrup

    As this conversation evolves, it is becoming more obvious that people are reading things and hearing things from their own vantage point and personal circumstances. I did not see anything in Caroline’s note that remotely struck me as being disrespectful or a play to make money from the book. I saw a heartfelt attempt to try to neutralize some negativity from responses to the original article.

    Having spent more than a decade working to contribute to the wellness awareness and information in the bluegrass community, I am particularly tuned into the extent to which physical mental health ailments can harm and/or destroy a musician’s career. I brought to that project a lifetime of experience as a professional psychotherapist. Also, as an avid and lifelong musician myself, I am also aware of the delicacy of maintaining performance chops. On both angles, I can have a tiny sense of how it might feel to be in Tony’s place.

    And then pile on top of that the kind of conversation that has been triggered by this appeal. Here we have a person who has given the community immeasurable enjoyment and fulfillment. A person who has been a beacon for musicians on all instruments. And some voices in that community are unable to understand that the efforts are not compensated in proportion to the level the contribution. This is a fact of life in the entire musical universe, and particularly so in the bluegrass, folk, and acoustic music community.

    Health problems can destroy anyone’s financial foundation. Even without health problems, it’s easy to have feelings of frustration that the rent can’t get paid, or that food and gas prices are killing a weekly paycheck, or that it looks like somebody else is getting more money for their work.

    Unfotunately, by and large, we’re all in this together. The notion that 1% of the population has most of the wealth is probably pretty on target. I’ll avoid going off on a political tangent about this. But as far as the bluegrass community is concerned, for us to be able to support each other in a kind and understanding way, without getting confused by our own personal frustrations about money, continues to make the bluegrass community the special group that it is.

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