As the first out of the gate in what is often called country music’s “neo-traditionalist movement” in 1981, Ricky Skaggs helped bring bluegrass and honky-tonk songs back into country’s mainstream. His instrumental virtuosity and pure, Kentucky-bred tenor vocals won the ardent approval of masters including Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, and his greatest hero, father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. In 2018, he joined those legends as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Peter on Episode 4: Ricky Skaggs
If you want to go see Ricky Skaggs’s childhood home . . . well, you really have to want to see Ricky Skaggs’s childhood home. You’re not going to get there by accident. You have to travel winding Kentucky roads, way past what most of us recognize as civilization. And then you have to pray that your cell phone reception somehow holds out long enough for you to text Ricky Skaggs four or five times at various points, to get detailed instructions along the way. Then, if you’re lucky — and, friends, I was lucky — you can reach the holler (no one from around there has ever called it a “hollow”) of Cordell, Kentucky, and you can pass a little Freewill Baptist Church (basically, a Freewill Baptist Church makes Southern Baptists seem quite Presbyterian), and you can see a clear Kentucky stream next to a little house with an enclosed porch. Hobert Skaggs, Ricky’s daddy, enclosed that porch, most likely so that it could be used for picking parties in the winter time. Trust me, there’s a lot of winter time in Eastern Kentucky. Hobert is buried on a hill that overlooks that house and that porch. He’s the one who inspired Ricky’s love of music. When Ricky was five (and still spelled his name “Rickie”), Hobert pulled his son’s destiny off the wall of a little store in Lima, Ohio. He drove through the night with that destiny — in the form of a little mandolin — and placed it on a bed, next to his sleeping boy. When the kid awoke, he had a new best friend that would take him far from the holler, to places a barefoot boy could never have imagined. A year after getting that mandolin, he played a local schoolhouse with his hero, Bill Monroe. Not long after that, he was a guest on Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’s television show. And when he was a teenager, he left home and joined Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys, a band that included future country star Keith Whitley, who spent many an evening playing with Ricky on that enclosed porch. Ricky changed music, as is evidenced by his place in the Country Music Hall of Fame. His plaque is in the Hall of Fame Rotunda with those of Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, and so many others who had or have great respect for Ricky’s tradition-based brand of country and bluegrass music. In this edition of Voices in the Hall, Ricky takes us back to his childhood days and brings us up to the present day. For most of you, this conversation will be as close as you’ll ever get to Cordell, Kentucky.
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