Larry Rice’s mandolin on display at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame

Angel with mandolin photo by Mike Boulware

The unique and highly prized mandolin once used the late Larry Rice is now on display in the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Owensboro, KY, for all to see and reflect upon.

Carly Smith, curator of the Hall of Fame, said, “We are truly honored to have Larry Rice’s mandolin on display. It’s a beautiful instrument with an intricate inlay along the fretboard. We hope that bluegrass fans will make the journey to see all of the exhibits at the museum, including this mandolin which will be one of the first artifacts to greet visitors as they begin their tour.”

Born on April, 24, 1949 in Danville, VA, Larry Prentis Rice, the oldest of the four Rice Brothers, was born into a musical family. Best known for his stint with the Kentucky Mountain Boys and JD Crowe & The New South, plus his own group, the Larry Rice Band, he also performed with numerous other bands including various configurations with his famous siblings in The Tony Rice Unit, The Rice Brothers, and Rice, Rice, Hillman, & Pedersen. Larry wrote, played, recorded, and produced memorable music throughout his lifetime. He died on May 13, 2006, at age 57, from complications with mesothelioma due to his work in industrial power generating facilities.

Rice’s mandolin has a history of its own. Larry’s dad, Herb Rice, purchased two 1959 Gibson F-5 mandolins (sunburst finish) in 1961 from McCabe’s Music Store in Santa Monica, CA, giving one to his oldest son. Larry decided to have famed California luthier, R.L. Givens, design and create a vine of life inlay on his mandolin’s fingerboard. That intriguing inlay reveals one the highest levels of luthier artistry. Its body underwent several refinishings. The mandolinist also added a Dr. Larry “P” (P for Prentis) Rice label sticker on its peghead. It was his primary instrument throughout his entire career.

Larry’s uncle Frank Poindexter, dobroist with Deeper Shade of Blue, shared, “I am so happy that this iconic mandolin that Larry so loved has found its proper resting place and is being displayed for all the world to see. We are all blessed with the many decades of recordings left behind within Larry’s great legacy. What great memories of the love and times shared together. Thanks to our friend, Lee Kotick, and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame for giving this the attention it so deserves!”

Kotick of the Sharpflatpickers and a Mountain Fever Records recording artist, along with Mike Boulware, musician and music curator, worked together to facilitate the mandolin’s final resting place. He first met Larry in the late 1980 at a jam. 

“Thereafter we became friends and played many gigs together. When we played at Tillman’s Pickers Paradise Park in south Georgia, Larry appeared frail and ill. I shared Larry’s medical records with a neighbor who was an oncologist. He saw Larry the following Monday and confirmed the diagnosis of mesothelioma. With many musicians and friends, we produced the Larry Rice benefit concert (Legends and Locals For Larry) in Tallahassee, and raised funds to assist with his medical procedures and bills. Larry was a very brave man through his bout with cancer. I recall Larry telling me, ‘I’m not afraid to die. I just want my family to be alright.’ Those are words that are forever etched in my memory, like his metronomic mandolin chop.”

Ronnie Hatley, proprietor of Ron’s Pickin’ Parlor in North Carolina and a banjoist, explained his association with Larry starting in 2005. “I got the privilege of getting to be the banjo player in the Larry Rice Band. Their regular banjo player lived in an area that got hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, and had to stay home to deal with that. My favorite part of the whole time that I played shows with Larry, was not playing, but in the back seat of Larry’s big long Lincoln listening to Larry and Frank talk about the ‘good old days’ when he played with J.D. Crowe and others. Wish I had had a tape recorder. It was all so fascinating.”

Visit the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in Owensboro to see this legendary instrument and so much more.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.