Photo courtesy Keith Case Management
Most music fans could walk right by Tony Rice on the street and not even notice the aging gentleman with the thin ponytail and gaunt face. But bluegrass lovers would likely do a double-take, and maybe even sneak a photo (or politely request one). In their world, Rice is a bona-fide deity.
The All Music Guide To Country pegs him as “maybe the finest acoustic guitar picker on the planet.” He doesn’t agree. But there’s no disputing his status as one of the most brilliant and influential flatpicking guitarists the genre has ever produced — right up there with his original hero, the late Clarence White, of Kentucky Colonels and Byrds fame. Influenced by Doc Watson, White was among the first players to elevate bluegrass guitar from rhythm to lead status; Rice went even further, heading into areas unmapped by fellow explorers Django Reinhardt, John Coltrane, former David Grisman Quintet guitarist John Carlini and even the man he calls “[his] favorite guitarist since 1970”: George Benson. (Rice credits a high-school teacher with igniting another passion: Gordon Lightfoot lyrics.)
Rice’s trusty companion for most of that journey has been a 1935 Martin D-28 guitar that’s considered as legendary as he is. Punch Brothers guitarist Chris “Critter” Eldridge says there’s something “weird and spooky” about its deep resonance that grabs him emotionally.
Former owner White, who once ran over it, had sold it before his too-early death. Rice tracked it down — then rescued it again after his Florida home flooded. Sadly,... Sign In to Keep Reading