As Tony Sees It – A Conversation with Tony Rice

Jan Johansson, fiddler in the North Carolina Triangle region, has posted a lengthy interview with his friend, Tony Rice. Swedish born, Jan moved to the US in 1986, and has worked as a teacher and player there ever since.

Rice, of course, is the legendary bluegrass guitarist whose playing on stage and on records starting in the mid-1970s completely revolutionized the way our music is played on the instrument. His approach to both rhythm and lead acoustic guitar caused the sorts of gasps and disbelief in the ’70s that accompanied Earl Scruggs’ emergence in the late ’40s. 

Tony was as noted for his singing voice as much as his guitar, with a rich baritone that blended perfectly with his frequent singing partner Ricky Skaggs. If he was merely an average guitarist, his singing alone would have put him in the bluegrass Hall of Fame.

Continuing on, Rice also made a mark with David Grisman’s band in California, and later in the new acoustic jazz style with his own Tony Rice Unit. Then in the ’90s, Tony was back to bluegrass with the iconic Bluegrass Album Band, alongside fellow icons J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, Bobby Hicks, and Todd Phillips. He recorded six albums with this outfit that are still viewed as having set the bar for contemporary bluegrass. 

But by the mid-90s, issues with his voice began to plague Rice, who then focused on being the best instrumentalist he could be. In a most unkind cut, arthritis attacked his hands in the late aughts, and even his joy in the guitar was taken away.

In 2013, when Tony was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, he spoke on stage for the first time in years, saying that he was undergoing some new therapy on his voice, and even demonstrated how it sounded when he concentrated carefully. Again, gasps from the audience. That sound was back!

In this roughly 45 minute discussion with Johansson, that vintage sound of Tony Rice is clear and strong. They talk about a good many topics that will interest bluegrass fans, and guitarists in particular. Since he gives very few interviews these days, this one is sure to delight his fans. Some of the language is coarse, but every word is valuable.

For more information, consider Tony’s authorized biography, Still Inside – The Tony Rice Story.

Thanks to Jan for capturing this for posterity.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.