David Anthony Rice known affectionately by legions of fans worldwide as Tony Rice, passed away on Christmas Day.
Story by Ritchie Ritchison for Country Music News International
Tony was a great frontman and singer and a guitar stylist.
Tony played in the Bluegrass Alliance, The New South with banjo legend J.D. Crowe, The David Grisman Quintet, The Bluegrass Album Band, and of course The Tony Rice Unit.
He collaborated with a list of acoustic and bluegrass legends and pioneers that is staggering releasing some incredible music that has literally become the canon of modern bluegrass.
One of Tony’s greatest strengths was to be able to reinterpret Gordon Lightfoot’s incredible songs into the bluegrass repertoire with his wonderful arrangements. Cold on the Shoulder, Did She Mention My Name, Early Morning Rain, That’s What You Get for Lovin’ Me, Home From the Forest ( my personal favorite), Ten Degrees and Getting Colder and many more have become part of the bluegrass catalog thanks to Tony’s wonderful performances.
I was first introduced to Tony’s playing by my first guitar teacher, Lance Lubin. We had a very lively discussion over which break was more intricate on Salt Creek from Tony’s album “Guitar”
After which my next guitar lesson was of course the opening break to Salt Creek and I wore that album out trying to keep up with Tony’s picking.
Of course after that I had to have everything he released and that included the collaborations with Ricky Skaggs and then Jerry Garcia on the Pizza Tapes and with the Rice Brothers and Norman Blake.
Tony was an innovator in the bluegrass field and in the jazz world as well. All of the space grass and straight up jazz was very adventurous for me both as a listener and a guitarist. I applaud Tony for stretching the boundaries of acoustic guitar music but the biggest contribution Tony Rice made was creating the ultimate Frontman/Guitarist/Lead Singer in bluegrass. Just the records he made with the New South, The Bluegrass Album Band, and a couple of his solo records would be more than enough to earn him a rightful place in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame
He was inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame in 2013 and that was his last public appearance.
Tony suffered from muscle tension dysphonia which forced him to quit singing and lateral epicondylitis which forced him to quit playing guitar in public in 2014.
Tony left his mark on bluegrass in a way few have ever done since Bill Monroe coined the phrase and named his band the Bluegrass Boys.
2020 has taken many many musicians and loved ones from us and Tony’s passing will be sorely felt especially in bluegrass circles. Lucky for us his music will live “Til the end of the world rolls ‘round.