All of us at eTown were saddened by the death of Tony Rice, the legendary bluegrass guitar player, singer, and bandleader who died on Christmas Day. Tony changed the landscape for bluegrass and acoustic musicians around the world. He was a remarkable player and singer who got a unique, instantly recognizable sound from his guitar, perhaps the most famous Martin D-28 in the world, one that had belonged to his mentor, Clarence White, before him.
Tony had been recording and performing for years when I first saw him play live with the David Grisman Quintet in the late seventies. We were both in our twenties, I was in Hot Rize, he four years older than me. He was a perfect and irreplaceable member of that groundbreaking quintet. Then he recorded his solo record, “Manzanita,” shortly thereafter, and his true colors as a singer and player started coming out.
He was really focused, known for driving right up to the stage before a gig in his Ford Mustang or Lincoln Town Car, impeccably dressed in slacks and sport coat, shirt and tie. He was a master at repairing Bulova Accutron watches. We crossed paths often. His wife Pam called me Spiderman because of some antics in a motel parking lot. He was a true pioneer and I am, more than anything, happy that I got to spend time both around him and listening to his music.
We gave Tony and his wife, Pam, an e-Chievement award back in 1994 for stopping a polluting industry in rural North Carolina. He performed on eTown only once, in 1996, on a show that we recorded at the legendary Virginia Club, The Birchmere, along with Peter Rowan, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings. We recently checked the tapes from that show and found a “warm up tune,” one that wasn’t intended for the broadcast. It was just a stereo recording, not able to be remixed, really, of a song that I sang, one written by our friend Bob Amos called “Where the Wild River Rolls.” This version has never been released, and it’s kind of historic with Tony, Dave Rawlings, and me all playing acoustic guitars and David Grisman on mandolin, Helen singing harmony. Tony plays a classic “Tony” solo right after Grisman’s mandolin. Please enjoy, and then go and find some of Tony Rice’s many remarkable recordings.
Photo Credit: Steven Stone