December 29, 2020

Tony Rice, Bluegrass Guitarist, Dies at 69


Bluegrass Hall of Famer Tony Rice died on Christmas day at age 69. He was an influential acoustic guitar player in bluegrass, progressive bluegrass, newgrass and flattop acoustic jazz. 

Rice died at his home in Reidsville, North Carolina, according to International Bluegrass Music Association spokesperson Casey Campbell. He died while making his coffee, according to a statement from longtime friend and collaborator Ricky Skaggs. 

"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," Skaggs wrote on Facebook this weekend.

Many if not all of the Bluegrass guitar players of today would say that they cut their teeth on Tony Rice's music. He loved hearing the next generation players play his licks. I think that's where he got most of his joy as a player."

Over the course of his career, he played alongside J. D. Crowe and the New South, David Grisman (during the formation of "Dawg Music") and Jerry Garcia, led his own Tony Rice Unit, collaborated with Norman Blake, recorded with his brothers Wyatt, Ron, and Larry, and co-founded the Bluegrass Album Band. He recorded with drums, piano, soprano sax, as well as with traditional bluegrass instrumentation.

In 1994, Rice released an instrumental Christian album entitled Crossings. The twelve-song album features Rice tackling hymns such as "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus," "Holy Holy Holy," "Victory in Jesus," and many other favorites. 

A muscle disorder around his vocal cords left him unable to sing onstage, 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.

"I am not going to go back out into the public eye until I can be the musician that I was, where I left off or better," Rice told the Greensboro News & Record in 2015. "I have been blessed with a very devout audience all these years, and I am certainly not going to let anybody down."

Skaggs, in an official statement on behalf of Rice's family, reflected on Rice's enduring legacy. "Thank you for your great talent," he said, "and the music that will continue to inspire more and more generations to come."