Tony Rice and the words “bluegrass guitar” are rarely, if ever, separated. Along with Doc Watson, Dan Crary, and Clarence White, Tony Rice has had more influence on modern flatpicking than anyone else. This new anthology from Rounder shows the breadth and scope of Tony’s remarkable technique and musicality.
Joined by a veritable who’s who of bluegrass greats including Darol Anger, Bobby Hicks, Rickie Simpkins, Richard Greene, Vassar Clements, Stuart Duncan and Sam Bush on fiddle, David Grisman, Larry Rice, Doyle Lawson, Norman Blake, Sam Bush, John Reischman, and Jimmy Gaudreau on mandolin, Todd Phillips, Mark Schatz, and Ronnie Simpkins on bass, J.D. Crowe on banjo, Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Doc Watson, Wyatt Rice, and Norman Blake on guitar, this all-instrumental album covers material from fourteen different albums. Although the sound quality varies from acceptable to excellent, the musicianship remains stellar throughout. Rice’s groups show that even on overexposed material such as “Blackberry Blossom” or “Bill Cheatham” great musicians have something fresh and new to say.
Much has been written about Tony Rice’s main axe, a 1935 Martin D-28 whose previous owner was none other than Clarence White. The CD’s cover features a close-up of the bullet hole in its top. Tony acquired the guitar in 1975, and has played it almost continuously ever since. He does not pamper it. The day after playing on Rockygrass’s rainy outdoor stage in Lyons, Colorado, I watched him spread cigarette ash on its top to absorb some of the moisture it picked up during his waterlogged set. I’ve played his guitar. The action is so low that only Tony can produce buzz free sound from its electric-like set-up. In the hands of mere mortals it sounds just like another poorly set up old guitar instead of the flattop holy grail.
The label “must have album” is often bandied about, but in the case of Tony Rice, The Bluegrass Guitar Collection it is anything but hyperbole. Every aficionado of flatpicked bluegrass-style guitar needs to have this disc in their collection.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s July ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.