How Did Tony Rice Get Into Bluegrass? – May 5, 2023 Trivia Question

Tony Rice – 2011 HVBA Concert

This Contest is Closed
The winners are Mike Kemsley and Fred Robbins

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Today’s trivia question is: Where the heck did Tony Rice come from? Meaning, how did he enter our world of bluegrass?

A. He came to bluegrass when David Grisman made him the first lead guitarist in The David Grisman Quintet, playing “Dawg music” (jazz), and incidentally turned Tony on to bluegrass, which David had been playing previously.

B. He came to bluegrass when JD Crowe hired him as guitarist in The New South, who eventually made the historic recording Rounder 0044, kicked off by “The Old Home Place.” In his early days in the band Tony was also the tenor singer! He claimed this wrecked his voice.

C. Tony came to bluegrass when the Santa Cruz Guitar Co. in California created a world-beating guitar that copied and improved on Tony’s old Martin, and marketed it extensively to the bluegrass market.

D. Tony came to bluegrass when he joined a Kentucky band called The Bluegrass Alliance, joining his new friend Sam Bush. They took over the band and renamed it The Newgrass Revival.

E. Young Tony got into bluegrass when living in California, where his dad and uncle were displaced Virginians who loved bluegrass, and Tony appeared on local tv with his kid brothers Larry (mandolin), Ron (bass fiddle), and other family members, going by the name The Rice Brothers.

F. Tony became famous in bluegrass when the IBMA brought from him obscurity and put him in the Hall of Fame. Tony’s acceptance speech stunned the crowd, first, because he had LOST the ability to speak and sing publicly for many years, and second, because he pleaded with the gathering to never lose sight of and love for the old original sound of bluegrass music.

G. Tony became known in the bluegrass world when he bought the late Clarence White’s 1934 Martin D-28. At first, people thought he must be a wealthy instrument collector.


Additional Bowden Comments

Glad to see a couple of newish participants as our winner this time.

I liked Fred’s story about his Accutron watch. I wear a 1970 Accutron Railroad “Railroad Approved” myself. It cost me a LOT to have it put in running order, but it keeps good time and looks cool. I first saw one back in 1970 while shopping for school clothes. It was $100 in 1970 and I wanted one BAD. Never pulled the trigger though.

As for our trivia question, yes, Tony and his brothers started off in bluegrass out in California on local tv and club dates. His older brother Larry developed a “name” in bluegrass first, playing mandolin with a California “hippie” band called Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party, before he moved to Kentucky to join JD Crowe’s Kentucky Mt. Boys. Tony followed to Kentucky a few years later.

A Tony was the initial guitarist with David Grisman’s “Dawg Music” Quintet, but they already knew each other from the bluegrass world.

B Tony first played with the Kentucky band The Bluegrass Alliance, before joining JD Crowe and the New South. Tony came to the Alliance to fill the shoes of the hot flatpicker Big Dan Crary. Sam Bush was also a member of the Alliance and he and Tony became buddies. The Alliance was reportedly a tough gig because of the overbearing band leader and fiddler Lonnie Peerce. Tony quit the Alliance and joined JD Crowe on the same weekend in 1971 at the Camp Springs NC festival! He played a set with the Alliance, and then appears on a set with JD Crowe before the weekend was over! So Tony was “known” in the Eastern bluegrass world from the Bluegrass Alliance, before JD Crowe. (There’s a great Newgrass Revival video where Sam Bush relates when the entire band of Bluegrass Alliance quit together, to form the famous Newgrass Alliance. Lonnie Peerce pulled a gun on them! Banjoist Courtney Johnson brought that to an abrupt halt!)

C Santa Cruz Guitars indeed made a Tony Rice model guitar, but this was well after Tony became widely known as THE #1 hot flat picker in bluegrass. In fact Tony worked with Santa Cruz to design the guitar to correct some “deficiencies” in the Martin D line of guitars. Yes, Martins have “issues”!

D As already explained, Tony did come to east from California to join The Bluegrass Alliance. But he left before Sam Bush and the rest of the band quit to form the Newgrass Alliance.

F IBMA did not bring Tony from obscurity. They brought him there as the King of bluegrass lead guitar, to put him in the Hall of Fame for his immense impact on bluegrass music. Believe it or not, there was a time before Tony when very few bluegrass songs had a lead guitar break! I was there, and his speech was AWESOME. He spoke mostly in a quiet “croak”, until he said he had been doing therapy and with enough concentration he could summon his real voice. WHICH HE THEN DID! He had to “hum” a bit first, and then he spoke, quietly, in his old voice through the end of his speech. His closing was a plea to always preserve the old, original, traditional bluegrass music. You could have heard a pin drop. The applause was thunderous and sustained.

G Tony was already well known from the Bluegrass Alliance and the New South before he bought Clarence White’s guitar from Clarence’s son. It was in pretty tough shape and needed quite a bit of work, and quite a bit of adjustment to Tony’s technique, to bring it to its glory. Heck, even Clarence White had stopped playing it! Nobody figured Tony as a wealthy instrument “collector” — more like a lucky picker, to find out where the guitar was and talk the family into letting it go.

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden recently retired after a 45 year career in the paper industry, and moved from Connecticut to Big Indian NY (Ulster County) where he ekes out a precarious existence as a groundskeeper. Dick has been performing bluegrass music on banjo and guitar since 1966 in his home state of Maine, throughout New England, and internationally with The Case Brothers - Martin & Gibson. He has performed for HVBA with the Old Time Bluegrass Singers, and also sent in a squadron of Dick Bowden's Flying Circus. Most recently Dick has played Dobro (tm) with the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Dick has written many articles for Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Today, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass magazine) and HVBA.

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