Barry Waldrep and Friends Celebrate Tony Rice

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Barry Waldrep and Friends Celebrate Tony Rice

by Susan Marquez

He was born in Danville, Virginia, but Tony Rice grew up in Los Angeles, where his father, Herb Rice, introduced Tony and his brothers to bluegrass music. He learned from some of the West Coast’s most talented bluegrass and country artists, including Roland and Clarence White of the Kentucky Colonels. By 1970, Tony spread his musical wings and moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he played with the Bluegrass Alliance and J.D. Crowe’s New South. More musical endeavors ensued over the next decade, which led him on a path of experimentation with material that blended jazz, bluegrass, and classical styles. He studied chord theory and learned to read charts, although he enjoyed musical improvisation. He had a strong solo career and collaborated with artists Ricky Skaggs, Bela Fleck, David Grisman, and Jerry Garcia.

By his 2013 Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame induction, Tony had developed a disorder that forced him to stop singing, and his induction performance was the last time he played guitar in public. In 2014 he was diagnosed with lateral epicondylitis, or “tennis elbow,” which made playing the guitar painful. At that point, he retired from performing altogether. Tony Rice died in his home in Reidsville, North Carolina, on December 25, 2020.

As a musician, Tony developed into an expert guitarist, leaving a lasting imprint on the bluegrass genre. After Tony’s death, Ricky Skaggs stated that Tony Rice was the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last fifty years. Tony was undoubtedly one of the most influential, inventive, and beloved musicians in all of bluegrass and Americana music.

This year, on the first anniversary of Tony’s passing, bluegrass instrumentalist and producer Barry Waldrep will be releasing a 21-song tribute album called Barry Waldrep and Friends Celebrate Tony Rice. And what a list of friends. Americana greats Rodney Crowell and Jim Lauderdale make appearances on the album and jam band artists Warren Haynes and Oteil Burbridge. The tribute album also includes Country superstars Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Spooner Oldham and Patrick Simmons. Tony’s music reached beyond just bluegrass. The variety of artists on the LP are a testament to the wide range of music Tony influenced. Barry says the artists on the album all knew the music of Tony Rice very well. Also included on the album are many well-known musicians and harmony singers, all influenced by Tony.

As a musician, Tony developed into an expert guitarist, leaving a lasting imprint on the bluegrass genre. After Tony’s death, Ricky Skaggs stated that Tony Rice was the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last fifty years. Tony was undoubtedly one of the most influential, inventive, and beloved musicians in all of bluegrass and Americana music.

This year, on the first anniversary of Tony’s passing, bluegrass instrumentalist and producer Barry Waldrep will be releasing a 21-song tribute album called Barry Waldrep and Friends Celebrate Tony Rice. And what a list of friends. Americana greats Rodney Crowell and Jim Lauderdale make appearances on the album and jam band artists Warren Haynes and Oteil Burbridge. The tribute album also includes Country superstars Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Spooner Oldham and Patrick Simmons. Tony’s music reached beyond just bluegrass. The variety of artists on the LP are a testament to the wide range of music Tony influenced. Barry says the artists on the album all knew the music of Tony Rice very well. Also included on the album are many well-known musicians and harmony singers, all influenced by Tony.

The album includes thirty-seven featured artists, and on it, Tony’s songs and stylings will continue to live on through the musicians he inspired. “All of these artists knew the music of Tony Rice very well,” Barry says. “Artists from classic and Southern rock royalty to heavy metal, Americana, country and roots Gospel. “Tony Rice has always been more than an influential guitar player to me,” says Barry. “He moved me emotionally with everything he played. It all came from the heart through his fingers on the strings of the guitar. He influenced guitar players, but he also inspired so many singer-songwriters in many different genres with a voice that was unmistakably Tony Rice.”

In 2011, Barry and Tony were traveling together for a show. “He told me a lot about what inspired him as a musician,” says Barry.  Several years later, Barry participated in a project to benefit Tony. “We went into the studio and cut our song, but the album was never completed. In February 2021, my manager, Brian Smith, suggested we release the song we had recorded as a single in tribute to Tony. As I listened to the song over and over, I began thinking of the conversation I had with Tony back in 2011. I called Brian and told him I thought we should do an album instead of one song.”

Waldrep-Rice tribute

Every song on the album is a standout. “Song for Life” featuring Rodney Crowell is special because the song was written by Rodney and recorded by Tony. Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris provide harmony vocals on the cut. The song that got the whole thing started, Me and My Guitar, is the actual recording from seven years ago, featuring John Cowan. The bassist for the Doobie Brothers, John, has an incredible vocal range. John and Barry are joined on the recording by Oteil Burbridge and Benji Shanks. Visit barrywaldrep.com for a list of contributors and more information.