Not too long before Bill Monroe passed away in September 1996, Ricky Skaggs made the “Father of Bluegrass” a promise — that he, along with acts such as Vince Gill and Alison Krauss would all do their part to keep bluegrass music alive.
Skaggs has done his part to live up to that word since then, and his latest album, “Music To My Ears,” out now, is another in a long line of releases that continues that tradition.
“I feel like it is a perpetuation of the old along with the new. I think that Bill Monroe was into that,” Skaggs told Billboard. “He was writing new lyrics and new sounds to what he was doing back in the 40s,” he said.
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One standout track on the album, “Soldier’s Son,” pairs him up with an unlikely music legend: Barry Gibb.
“It was a great time,” he said of recording the track. “We enjoyed each other’s company. He recorded a song and sent it to me as a demo to see if I wanted to record it. I told him I was going to be doing a new bluegrass record soon, and would he think about coming in and recording it with me. He said ‘I don’t have to think about it. Just tell me when you want me and I’m there. That was amazing to listen to someone I listened to a lot. The Bee Gees were a lot more than Saturday Night Fever.”
“Music To My Ears” contains several songs that hearken back to the roots of the music that Skaggs grew up listening to in Cordell, KY. One such cut is his cover of “Tennessee Stud,” in honor of Doc Watson.
“Doc’s passing was bittersweet,” he says of the instrumentalist, who died in May. “He knew where he was going once he passed away. He knew he was going to be in God’s presence very soon, but seeing another of our elders leave this world, there was a sadness to it. I loved Doc. We felt like we needed to do a song for him, and a song that everyone would know, where the listener could hear the respect we had for him.”
“Music To My Ears” marks the second straight album where Gordon Kennedy has co-produced with Skaggs — after years of Ricky serving as sole producer. How different is that for the singer?
“I love working with Gordon. At 58 — not that I’ve run out of ideas, but I can welcome someone else’s ideas and be happy with it, and not be a control freak and micromanaging everything. I think this is a time in my life where I want to get a little more free with the music — not someone else doing the music, but like an assistant coach, or something like that. To have his feedback – ‘You know you can do it better. Let’s cut another one,’ That really helps. It’s good to have someone encouraging like that.”