Tony Rice, Bluegrass Innovator With a Guitar Pick, Dies at 69

Tony Rice, an immensely influential singer and guitarist in bluegrass and within the new acoustic music circles that grew up round it, died on Saturday at his residence in Reidsville, N.C. He was 69.

The Worldwide Bluegrass Music Affiliation confirmed his loss of life. No trigger was specified.

“Tony Rice was the king of the flatpicked flattop guitar,” the singer-songwriter Jason Isbell said on Twitter. “His affect can not presumably be overstated.”

Mr. Isbell was referring to what’s generally often known as flatpicking, a method that entails hanging a guitar’s strings with a choose or plectrum as a substitute of with the fingers. Impressed by the forceful fretwork of the pioneering bluegrass bandleader Jimmy Martin, Mr. Rice’s flatpicking was singularly nimble and expressive.

“I don’t know if an individual could make something extra stunning,” Mr. Isbell went on to say in his tweet, describing Mr. Rice’s fluid, percussive enjoying, through which feeling, whether or not expressed harmonically or melodically, took priority over flash.

Mr. Rice left his mark on a bunch of outstanding musicians, together with his fellow newgrass innovators Mark O’Connor and Béla Fleck, acoustic music inheritors like Chris Thile and Alison Krauss, and his flat-picking disciples Bryan Sutton and Josh Williams.

“There’s no means it may ever return to what it was earlier than him,” Ms. Krauss stated of bluegrass in an interview with The New York Instances Journal for a profile of Mr. Rice in 2014. She was barely an adolescent when Mr. Rice first invited her onstage to play with him.

Beginning within the 1970s together with his work with the group J.D. Crowe and the New South, Mr. Rice constructed bridges that spanned conventional bluegrass, ’60s folks songs, jazz improvisation, classical music and singer-songwriter pop.

He was a catalyst for the newgrass motion, through which bands broke with bluegrass custom by drawing on pop and rock sources for inspiration, using a extra improvisational strategy to performing and incorporating beforehand untapped instrumentation like electrical guitar and drums.

The bluegrass affiliation named him instrumental performer of the 12 months six instances, and in 1983 he obtained a Grammy Award for greatest nation instrumental efficiency for “Fireball,” a observe recorded with J.D. Crowe and the New South.

Not solely a virtuoso guitarist, Mr. Rice was additionally a gifted singer and grasp of phrasing. His wealthy, supple baritone was as equally at residence singing lead in three-part bluegrass concord preparations because it was adapting the troubadour ballads of Gordon Lightfoot beneath the newgrass banner.

However his performing profession was abruptly minimize brief starting in 1994, when he discovered he had muscle rigidity dysphonia, a extreme vocal dysfunction that robbed him of the power to sing in public and compromised his talking voice. He wouldn’t sing onstage or handle an viewers once more till 2013, when the bluegrass affiliation inducted him into the Worldwide Bluegrass Corridor of Fame.

Not lengthy after that prognosis, Mr. Rice discovered that he additionally had lateral epicondylitis, generally often known as tennis elbow, which made it too painful for him to play the guitar in public anymore as properly.

David Anthony Rice was born on June 8, 1951, in Danville, Va., considered one of 4 boys of Herbert Hoover Rice and Dorothy (Poindexter) Rice, who was often known as Louise. His father was a welder and an newbie musician, his mom a millworker and a homemaker. It was her thought to name her son Tony, after her favourite actor, Tony Curtis. Everybody within the Rice family performed or sang bluegrass music.

After the household moved to the Los Angeles space within the mid-1950s, Mr. Rice’s father shaped a bluegrass band referred to as the Golden State Boys. The group, which recorded a number of singles, included two of his mom’s brothers in addition to a younger Del McCoury at one level, earlier than he turned a bluegrass grasp in his personal proper. The band impressed Mr. Rice and his brothers to kind a bluegrass outfit of their very own, the Haphazards.

The Haphazards generally shared native payments with the Kentucky Colonels, a band whose dazzling guitarist, Clarence White — a future member of the rock band the Byrds — had a profound affect on Mr. Rice’s early growth as a musician.

(Mr. White was killed by a drunken driver whereas loading tools after a present in 1973. Afterward, Mr. Rice tracked down Mr. White’s 1935 Martin D-28 herringbone guitar, which he bought from its new proprietor in 1975 for $550. Restoring the guitar, he began performing with it, affectionately calling it the “Vintage.”)

The Rice household moved from California to Florida in 1965 after which to numerous cities within the Southeast, the place Mr. Rice’s father pursued one welding alternative after one other.

He additionally drank, making a tumultuous residence life that pressured Mr. Rice to maneuver out when he was 17. Tony Rice struggled with alcohol himself however, by his account, had been sober since 2001.

Dropping out of highschool, Mr. Rice bounced amongst relations’ properties earlier than transferring to Louisville in 1970 to hitch the Bluegrass Alliance. The band’s members, together with the mandolinist Sam Bush, went on to kind a lot of the founding nucleus of the progressive bluegrass band New Grass Revival.

Mr. Rice joined J.D. Crowe and the New South in 1971. Three years later, Mr. Skaggs signed on as properly, changing Mr. Rice’s brother Larry within the group. The dobro participant Jerry Douglas additionally develop into a member of the New South presently. In 1975, the band launched an album titled merely “J.D. Crowe and the New South” (however generally recognized by its first observe, “Outdated House Place”), which modernized bluegrass in ways in which formed the music into the 21st century.

Mr. Rice, Mr. Douglas and Mr. Skaggs left the group in August 1975. Mr. Rice then moved to San Francisco and helped discovered the David Grisman Quartet, a trailblazing ensemble that includes bluegrass instrumentation that fused classical and jazz sensibilities to create what Mr. Grisman referred to as “dawg music.”

“The music specified by entrance of me was like nothing I’d ever seen,” Mr. Rice instructed The Instances Journal in 2014. “At first I believed I couldn’t study it. The one factor that saved me was that I all the time liked the sound of acoustic, small-group, trendy jazz.”

After 4 years with Mr. Grisman, Mr. Rice established his personal group, the Tony Rice Unit, which was acclaimed for its experimental, jazz-steeped strategy to bluegrass as heard on albums like “Manzanita” (1979) and “Mar West” (1980).

Mr. Rice additionally recorded extra mainstream and conventional materials for quite a few different initiatives, together with a six-volume collection of albums that paid tribute to the formative bluegrass of the 1950s.

“Skaggs & Rice” (1980), one other history-conscious album, featured Mr. Skaggs and Mr. Rice singing seamless, soulful harmonies in homage to the brother duos prevalent within the pre-bluegrass period.

Most of Ms. Rice’s releases after 1994, the 12 months he acquired his vocal dysfunction prognosis, had been instrumental initiatives or collaborations, like “The Pizza Tapes,” a 2000 studio album with Mr. Grisman and Jerry Garcia of Grateful Lifeless fame; Mr. Rice contributed acoustic guitar.

His survivors embody his spouse of 30 years, Pamela Hodges Rice, and his brothers Ron and Wyatt. His brother Larry died in 2006.

Mr. Rice minimize a dashing determine onstage, full with finely tailor-made fits and a dignified bearing, as if to gainsay the dearth of respect bluegrass has generally obtained outdoors the South, owing to its hardscrabble rural beginnings.

Mr. Rice was as aware of those cultural dynamics as he was of the limitless prospects he noticed in bluegrass music.

“Possibly the rationale I gown like I do goes again to the day the place, in case you went out on the road, except you had some type of ditch-digging job to do, you made an effort to not appear like a slob,” he instructed his biographers, Tim Stafford and Caroline Wright, for “Nonetheless Inside: The Tony Rice Story” (2010).

“Again within the heyday of Miles Davis’s most well-known bands, you wouldn’t have seen Miles and not using a tailor-made swimsuit on,” he went on. “My musical heroes put on fits.”

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