Eldridge has studied Rice’s entire career, including stints in J.D. Crowe & the New South, the David Grisman Quintet, the Tony Rice Unit and the Bluegrass Album Band, plus other incarnations. Seldom Scene banjo player Ben Eldridge, Chris’s father, played on Rice’s California Autumn album. (Rice often subbed for Seldom Scene’s John Starling when the doctor was on call, and at one point, Starling was planning to exit and give Rice his spot.) Listening to Rice, Eldridge says, helped his own musicianship click into place.
For Eldridge’s college winter-term project, they spent a week at Rice’s Reidsville, North Carolina home, listening to music and discussing goals, without playing a note. By the end, Eldridge no longer cared about being a top player. Instead, he says, he wanted to be a great musician and ensemble member, like Rice, who learned from his father while growing up in Los Angeles.
“The Punch Brothers wouldn’t exist if not for Tony Rice. A lot of modern acoustic music wouldn’t have happened without Tony,” Eldridge declares. “He brought this element of musicianship into bluegrass that didn’t exist before. It’s like the Heifetz factor. [Classical violinist Jascha] Heifetz is one of his heroes, and this incredible power, this graceful, amazing authority and power that Heifetz wielded, Tony really picked up on it and influenced a lot of the progressive bluegrass guys.
“He knows some deep truths about music. I can hear in one note that it’s Tony. Just the way he touches his instrument is unique. And the vocabulary that he created for bluegrass guitar playing is unique.”
Rice has never used set lists or preselected the number or timing of solos, he says. He listens... Sign In to Keep Reading