|Tony Rice (Photo by Stephen A. Ide / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images, via Rolling Stone)|
“Sometime during Christmas morning while making his coffee, our dear friend and guitar hero Tony Rice passed from this life and made his swift journey to his heavenly home,” Ricky Skaggs wrote on Facebook. One of the many musicians who revered Rice and performed and recorded with him, Skaggs called him “the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last 50 years.”
"With an understated live presence that contrasted with the dynamism of his guitar, Rice had experienced health problems over the past quarter-century. A muscle disorder around his vocal cords left him unable to sing on stage, and tennis elbow limited his playing. His last live guitar performance was in 2013, when he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame," AP reports. "He played with everyone from Jerry Garcia to Dolly Parton and received many honors, notably a Grammy in 1993 for best country instrumental performance, and citations from the International Bluegrass Music Association as guitarist of the year."
Born David Anthony Rice in Danville, Va., Rice grew up in Los Angeles and learned about bluegrass from his father and his older brother Larry, who played mandolin. "When Tony was 20, he joined his sibling as a member of the New South, the bluegrass group led by banjoist J.D. Crowe. The band played throughout Kentucky and introduced Rice to Ricky Skaggs," Joseph Hudak of Rolling Stone reports. "His 1973 debut solo album was titled, simply, Guitar . . . That Rice also sang as well as he played made him even more of a pivotal figure in the genre."
Rice played with many partners and groups, including Norman Blake, Chris Hillman and Peter Rowan, "but it was with his own group, the Tony Rice Unit, that Rice made some of his most acclaimed and inventive work. The outfit’s 1979 album Manzanita is sacred text in bluegrass, with guests like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Skaggs, and Grisman making up Rice’s band."