Sit A Spell with Wyatt Rice

The good folks at the Mountains Of Music Homecoming who bring 9 days of music, culture, and culinary events to southwestern Virginia each June, have begun to publish short interviews with the various personalities associated with these ventures. They have also graciously allowed us to reprint some of them on our site that we feel would be of interest to our readers.

Such includes this interview with Wyatt Rice recently conducted by Ted Olson, professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University. Wyatt is the younger brother of the legendary Tony Rice, and performed alongside him for most of his career. Now that Tony has retired, Wyatt teaches individual guitar lessons in the Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program at ETSU and performs as a solo artist and with a number of groups.

You got your start as a musician playing with your brothers Tony, Larry, and Ronnie Rice.  What do you learn, specifically, from those master musicians?
Actually, our Dad taught us all how to play at an early age. I’ve learned different aspects of musicianship from all my brothers. From Larry and Ronnie, I’ve learned a lot about recording and playing. Larry and I were doing a duet record, and while recording Larry mentioned that the timing was speeding up, which made me aware of timing. At an early age, Ronnie and I were recording a tape one time, and Ronnie mentioned that I was playing too loud one second and too soft the next, on a song that required even dynamics; in other words, Ronnie taught me to smooth out the rhythm. Both of those lessons really stuck with me to this day. Being a guitar player, I learned so much from Tony. He gave me my first Martin Guitar, a D-18, and he showed me leads to John Hardy and Salt Creek, and, years later, he introduced me to New Acoustic Music.
Other than your brothers, who are two or three of the musicians that have most influenced you?

I’d have to say J.D. Crowe, David Grisman, and Clarence White. And I learned bass runs from Jimmy Martin.

Could you describe your preferred roles when playing the guitar? Do you enjoy playing lead and/or do you prefer playing rhythm?

I really enjoy both parts, but I would lean more towards being a good rhythm player.

You are best-known for playing flatpick guitar, but are there other techniques you enjoy playing?

I play the cross-picking style of rhythm guitar, which I learned from Tony and Clarence White. I often incorporate cross-picking in with my rhythm. 
In addition to being a respected guitar player, you are a sought-after record producer and engineer. Can you talk about one or two of the most interesting recording projects you have shepherded into existence in those roles? 

I learned a lot from my brother Ronnie. He set me up with my first computerized recording system. One of the first projects I worked on in my studio was a homemade album called Lessons and Tunes. Then I had the idea to do a Christmas album, so I called up Rickie Simpkins, and we recorded it with my equipment; that album turned out very well. Also, I oversaw the recording of four or five albums for the Pickin’ On Series put out by the CMH label. And as an engineer I worked on projects for Ronnie Bowman, the Steep Canyon Rangers, and Junior Sisk.  
You operate one of the more popular studios near The Crooked Road, and musicians travel for miles around to record there. What do those musicians say about Southwest Virginia and The Crooked Road after they have visited?  

Everyone loves it here—the creeks, the mountains. It is such a serene place!
Tell us about your most recent album, Something Out Of The Blue? What can people expect when they listen to the album?

They can expect to like it, I hope! To date as a producer I worked harder on this project than on any other. Dan {Menzone] and I really took our time. Our goal was to make it sound good. And it does.
Are there any musicians slated to perform at Mountains of Music Homecoming 2017 that you are particularly looking forward to hearing, and why?

I’ve known Sammy Shelor just about all my life as a great banjo player, but I always heard he can play the guitar.  It’ll be really interesting to hear Sammy playing only the guitar during the MoMH “Guitar Masters” concert in Marion.
In your opinion, what is the future of bluegrass and related music traditions?

Tony has always said keep it real. Back in the days of tape recording, everybody had to be on their game because they were recording together. I want to help bring back that live-in-the-studio sound. Recordings used to have dynamic ranges, but today everything is amped up. I want to help music get back to its roots.
Can you describe your current or your next project?

So many things are in the works. Claiborne Woodall and I have talked about doing a guitar duet album. Richard Bennett and I have a project in the works as well. Also, I want to record a New Acoustic music album with some ETSU students. And I hope to work on another Rice Brothers album. I have a tape with Larry, Ronnie, and me playing on it, never released. Someday, I hope that Tony will add some lead guitar lines to that tape and it will truly become a Rice Brothers album.

Visit the Mountains Of Music web site for more details about the dozens of music and cultural events scheduled across southwestern Virginia between June 9-17.

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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.