Country music superstar Ricky Skaggs is eager to return to Augusta next week with his Grammy Award-winning Kentucky Thunder band and perform songs from his brand new CD Music To My Ears.
The CD won't be released until Sept. 25, but Skaggs will have other albums for sale at his show at the Imperial Theater at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, and preorder information for the new CD will be available.
Tickets for the show launching the Morris Museum of Art’s 2012-2013 Budweiser Southern Soul & Song series are $13, $19 and $24. Series tickets are also available. Call the box office at (706) 722-8341 or buy online at imperialtheatre.com.
“This new record is something that really reflects a lot of the old and the new,” Skaggs said. “There are a couple of cuts with electric guitars but for the most part, as traditional bluegrass goes, it’s right straight down the middle.”
One special guest on the album is Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb, who sings a song that Gibb wrote called Soldier’s Son.
“I met Barry in 1997 when the Bee Gees were being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Skaggs said. “I was on that same show helping induct Bill Monroe. We talked some then.
“About six years ago when a tornado came through Hendersonville (Tenn.), a friend of mine got up a benefit show. She asked Barry if he would participate since he was a local land owner having bought (Johnny Cash and June Carter’s) house. He agreed to do it, and that’s when we became better acquainted.”
Gibb sent Skaggs his song Soldier’s Son and said that he wouldn’t be disappointed if Skaggs didn’t record it. But Skaggs loved it and asked Gibb to sing along on the recording.
Two other songs on the CD are especially meaningful to Skaggs as they were inspired by two of Skaggs’ musical heroes and late friends: Doc Watson and Bill Monroe.
Tennessee Stud – Tribute to Doc Watson honors the North Carolina singer and guitarist who died in May.
As for You Can’t Hurt Ham, Skaggs said the song co-authored by himself and producer Gordon Kennedy came about from a story he had been told about the Father of Bluegrass Music being on tour.
“I was told that Bill left out on the road late one night about 9 or 10 without having anything to eat for supper,” Skaggs related. “Everything had closed up. I was told he was complaining to (banjo player) Alan O’Bryant about being hungry, and Alan said that he had some day-old country ham biscuits on the bus in a sack.
“Bill told Alan that he’d like to have one and, after Alan got them, hungrily bit into one of the day-old biscuits. He made a happy sound and told Alan, ‘You can’t hurt ham!’ ”
When Skaggs was five years old his parents took him to Martha, Ky., to see Bill Monroe in person.
The crowd at the venue in 1959 already knew how well the boy could play a mandolin and began urging Monroe to let Skaggs play something.
Monroe allowed the child to play his cherished mandolin that he let few other people even touch. Skaggs played the classic song Ruby and apparently pleased Monroe, who became a life-long friend and supporter.
“For Bill to lend me his mandolin then was like King Arthur letting Sir Lancelot use his sword Excalibur,” Skaggs said.
Flash forward to 1985, when Monroe guest-starred in Skaggs’ popular music video (I’m Just A) Country Boy with Monroe portraying Skaggs’ “Uncle Pen” who unexpectedly shows up in Skaggs’ New York City office to tell him that he was getting above his raisin’.
Skaggs protests that he’s still a country boy at heart, and they launch into playing and singing all over downtown New York City with Monroe dancing a lively jig on a real NYC subway car.
New York Mayor Ed Koch and Tennessee-born actor David Keith (An Officer and a Gentleman) had cameo roles in the video.
“That video probably got more press than any other of my music videos,” Skaggs recalled. “It was the second video to be played on VH1 when that music cable network came on the air. Bill couldn’t believe how we had filmed it in New York City. He just really loved it.”
Skaggs said he never was given any of Monroe’s musical instruments in Monroe’s lifetime, but that Monroe’s son, James, gave Skaggs’ one of his father’s ties after the bluegrass music giant died in 1996.
“I never really got anything of real monetary value from Bill Monroe,” Skaggs said, “but I did get his blessings.”