December 2nd, 2010
10:54 AM ET
Ricky Skaggs knows that he'll always be associated with bluegrass, always be thought of as the new face of the genre after his hero Bill Monroe passed away. He loves playing it.
"The bluegrass boat was working," he said by phone recently. "The boat I was sailing around in was working ... and I've had such joy working with [the band] Kentucky Thunder playing some great bluegrass."
Skaggs first appeared on stage 50 years ago, playing his mandolin with Monroe. A year later he was on the Martha White show, picking with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
He won 16 Grammys playing bluegrass. But he had long felt there was something more.
"For years I had been believing, and trusting, that God was going to pour out a new sound that would go out into the markets, go out into the streets where hurting people, lost people, lonely people, that there would be a music that would touch people," he said.
He drew a comparison to the Beatles in this way - the music would be a new sound, and it would be recognizably different. He says his latest CD, "Mosaic," may not be the fulcrum of this change but it is part of a new wave.
"I do know that heaven is pouring out a new sound," he says.
Helping Skaggs with that new sound is veteran producer/songwriter Gordon Kennedy, who a few years ago heard Skaggs would like to listen to some of his songs and see if they could work together.
Kennedy sent over a CD with a diverse group of music. Three of the songs had a pop rock, Beatles kind of sound. The rest of the tunes on the CD were ones that could be "pulled into the bluegrass sound," Kennedy said, at the time expecting that Skaggs was making another bluegrass CD.
Skaggs' representative told Kennedy that Ricky would probably favor the second group of songs over the first three. Six months went by and word came back that Skaggs loved the first three.
"Then I knew what to gear the next batch of tunes toward," he said. "I couldn't even find the incentive to do anything else for about a year. This sort of consumed my time and concentration."
Kennedy said that he and Skaggs are walking parallel spiritual paths and that kinship meant he never had to try to tailor the songs to Ricky's voice and/or style. It was a walk of faith and each trusted in the other.
His favorite song is "Instead," a song of Jesus on the cross paying for the sins of others. Skaggs said it was difficult to record the song, because of the lyrics. He had heard the song a dozen times before, from the demo CD. So he'd heard Gordon sing it. When it came time for him to lay down the track, he kept having to stop.
"The spirit of God hit me so hard in the lyrics," Skaggs said. "He came and rescued me. Even if I was the only one who believed in Him, he would have gone to the cross and rescued me."
Skaggs' tour with Kentucky Thunder continues this weekend. Skaggs said they've tried to get churches interested in concerts, but only one has responded affirmatively so far.
"But I think that at the end of the day it's going to end up in the marketplace and it's going to end up exactly where God's heart is for the lost," he said.
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