Tony Rice RIP


Something quite amazing that happens when a legend like Tony passes on is the wave of appreciation and discovery/rediscovery of their work for those who either had never heard or hadn’t listened to them in some time. They themselves have moved on, but their gift lives on for us to enjoy.
Absolutely true. I've been listening to a bunch of his albums and collaborations since this weekend, having not listened to most of them for years.
It's timeless music to me and it was so easy to reconnect, even if I have transitioned more to electric guitar playing and listening over the years.

I even pulled out my old Martin D-28 to flat pick a little. Something I haven't done in a long time.


Silver Supporting Member
My list is

Dan Crary
David Grier
Grier is a big one for me as well. Really appreciate Dan's playing, but it's something I never was able to get into much for some reason. Grier's "Got the Whole House to Myself" album is one of my favorites, his version of Ookpik Waltz floors me every time I hear it.
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Silver Supporting Member
Listened a lot to Tony when I was heavily into bluegrass 15-20 years ago, but after a while I found his solos a little too predictable as he was very licks based. I was more into people like Russ Barenberg, who is much more melodic player. However, Tony's clean execution was just amazing, and so was his rhythm playing. A great inspiration, and he'll be missed. RIP.


Silver Supporting Member
I always felt like he did a great job of alternating between licks and exploration, and aside from the beautiful playing, he had an excellent vision of the broader view of what he could offer as a musician - singing, song selection, writing, the sound and style of the band. A huge talent, a pioneer, and tremendous influence has left us.
Rest In Peace, Tony Rice, and condolences to his family.


Fully Intonatable
Silver Supporting Member

"The Haphazards sometimes shared local bills with the Kentucky Colonels, a band whose dazzling guitarist, Clarence White — a future member of the rock band the Byrds — had a profound influence on Mr. Rice’s early development as a musician.

(Mr. White was killed by a drunken driver while loading equipment after a show in 1973. Afterward, Mr. Rice tracked down Mr. White’s 1935 Martin D-28 herringbone guitar, which he purchased from its new owner in 1975 for $550. Restoring the guitar, he started performing with it, affectionately calling it the “Antique.”)"


Gold Supporting Member
I only ever owned one Tony Rice record. Tony Rice sings and plays Bluegrass. That was enough. Sheer genius. I heard plenty others though.


Gold Supporting Member
I was there for this, just to the left of Tony at the front of the stage. This was right before Vassar Clemments passed away. I loved Bryn & Sharon in this format. RIP Tony, the best!
That was wonderful. I was wanting to kill the sound engineer though.


Gold Supporting Member
Its crazy how impossible it is to copy this man. Ive been trying for years and i can play the same notes and all, but it just doesnt sound like Tony Rice. Tony Rice belongs on the mt. rushmore of guitar without a doubt.


It was the early 80s and I was living in Johnson City, TN. I was going to work and the radio was tuned to the public radio station where a bluegrass program was playing. I was more into jazz than bluegrass and was getting ready to change frequencies when on came an acoustic version of "My Favorite Things". The guitar was just blazing all over the fretboard and every note was clean and pure. I'd never heard anything like it on acoustic guitar. I desperately hoped that the station would identify the artist because it was the no cell phone 80s and I didn't have time to stop and try to find a phone and call the station. There was no such thing as posting a play list either. The station did not ID the artist.

I never forgot that song though. Fast forward nine or so years and it's the late 80s. I had moved to Knoxville, TN and was invited to go with some friends to see a group called the New Grass Revival at the TN Theatre. I was still not all that into bluegrass but they said the this band was not your daddy's bluegrass so I went. We arrived a little late and the opening band had started. We were talking at first and not paying much attention but I noted in the back of my head that the guitarist was a player. Then they broke into "My Favorite Things" and off goes Tony. I ran into the lobby and asked the CD sales person to give me the CD that the song they are playing right now is on. She sold me "Backwaters" which is my favorite acoustic guitar CD to this day.

Thanks for the memories, Tony.


Silver Supporting Member
That was wonderful. I was wanting to kill the sound engineer though.
If I remember correctly, the weather was nasty that day. Just a normal central Florida downpour. They couldn't use the two outdoor stages for any of the shows that day. The hall where they performed was a small hall that was used for small acts. The officials at the Stephen Foster park had to move all the Saturday acts indoors & alternated between two stages on either end of the hall. Sound has never been good in that hall & Tony had a few comments to the monitor guy during the set. Considering what they had to do to pull this off...

Thanks for posting the video, lots of good memories of Tony at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park!


While the praise that Tony Rice received over his long career and life will continue, it’s a sad event to so many of us to see it end like this.

I used to tell myself that I couldn’t even think as fast and clean as his playing, ok I still do. What a marvelous player Tony was. Most times while listening to him I would smile, sometimes ever laugh at how he played such amazing stuff.

I saw him live only once, but the memory of the event lives on.

R.I.P. Tony, and my condolences to his family and the music world.


I'm very sorry to hear this. I'm not very familiar with him and will have to check out his work. Thoughts and prayers for his friends and family.


Silver Supporting Member
Darol Anger posted this on Facebook. It is by Richard Hoover of Santa Cruz guitars and is, IMO, one of the best eulogies for a musician I've ever read. It's long but worth the time.

"Prodigious at four, incredible at 12 and ripping pretension away from tradition before 20, Tony Rice, like Coltrane playing a barn dance, he upstaged a staid musical genre and changed the way guitars have been played ever since. A big Dreadnought guitar served as the drums in early country combos keeping time while a fiddle or mandolin wove the single line melodies that gave the tunes their personality. Tony Rice changed all that.

Young Anthony Rice grew up in the Bluegrass tradition with a father and brothers all dedicated to the cooperative parameters of this family-oriented genre. All fit nicely within the context of the post war, working class culture of 1950’s Southern California. This timeless influence may have stayed its course for generations save an irresistible undercurrent that would change everything. The ‘60’s were coming.

Populating the musical family tree, from roots in Africa, the Far East, or the dust of Mesopotamia, can be done in retrospect. We witnessed first-hand the cultural upheaval of the early 1960’s which fostered an unprecedented trans-ethnic exchange of ideas thanks to a common tongue, the universal language of music. We see the direct link from an ancient Celtic culture fleeing yet another oppressor in the British Isles to Appalachia. Their music influences Clarence White in the Kentucky Colonels and reaches the ear of Chris Hillman and the Byrds and on into the heart and the hands of Tony Rice.

Maestro Rice didn’t just pioneer new arrangements of old tunes, he had the courage to introduce an unheard-of timing and tone which he channeled through dedicated study of the music’s indigenous roots and the modern phrasing of its devotees.

With the strength in numbers from contemporaries like Doc Watson, Dan Crary and Norman Blake, Rice forced the acoustic guitar to the front of the stage. This soulful honesty revitalized one of the most white-washed of folk-idioms. The “ah shucks” de-colorization of the genre may have worked for a TV show, but a long overdue ass kicking was being welcomed on the ground.

The mastery of Rice’s work stands alone, not because of the accuracy of a perfectly timed mathematical recitation, practice and providence will allow the reasonably gifted to accomplish that. The substance of his playing is born of his soul-felt drive to tell the story in the mother tongue. This is the language learned from his mentors taught to them in an unbroken line since the musical dawn of time. Most of us don’t recognize the original dialects, though we’ll catch it here and there in the works of Tony’s contemporary influences. Our modern ears will find it in the RCA solos of Jerry Reed, and the tracks where Clarence White was allowed his own voice. Tony translated the more obscure code for us which he mined from thousands of hours studying rare recordings of horn, guitar, and violin riffs from masters of jump, jive, Jazz, and Bebop.

What makes it possible to identify a favorite guitar player after only hearing the first two, or three notes? There are an infinite number of variables in a recording studio, the room set up, instrument, strings, and microphone choices to manipulate our aural impressions. So, what is the constant that allows you to know the player? Tony’s sound signature is consistent. His tone is achieved by the controlled direction of attack of pick to string, the angle of approach from above, or below, the density and resistance of the material the string is struck with, and, to a lesser degree, the same with the composition of strings and of the guitar itself. This control of tone, a major part of Tony’s technique, is a hard-won result from studying the influence of Clarence White’s rock steady foundation and Jerry Reed’s standard of “consistency under fire”.

The second component of Rice’s inimitable sound? Well, timing is everything…the dude can swing!

Billie Holiday’s gravity defying ability to slide off and on the beat is gawdawfully arousing. Her imitators use a heroin slur that might sound similar, but it doesn’t make us squirm in our seat like Billie could. Herein lies the reason that one can distinguish between those who sound just like Tony and Tony’s real thing, you feel it.

He wasn’t an Audiophile because he was a gearhead, he wanted gear that could reproduce what ordinary sound systems missed. In an all-night listening session where Tony riffed on each solo and its context within the artists career, I asked if all his analog audio technology was of any advantage. He said, “Man…you gotta hear the shape of the notes, digital don’t do that. All this is to hear what’s behind the note…the man’s intent”.

Who knows what God’s plan B was for this writer and the Santa Cruz Guitar Company? But for the path illuminated for us by Tony Rice you may never have heard of us at all.

Darol Anger, the internationally celebrated violinist, introduced us when we were all 25 years old. Darol got the fiddle part in the David Grisman Quintet right after Tony was recruited as guitar player for the genre busting combo of stringed instrument greats. It was 1976 when Darol left our mandolin making cooperative and an unpromising career as a pizza pub act. I had just joined with two partners to launch the Santa Cruz Guitar Company to upend the industrialization of acoustic guitar making.

Darol brought Tony to my house to meet me and play the fourth guitar under the Santa Cruz label. Tony was looking for a replacement guitar to allow him to leave Clarence White’s fragile old 1934 D-28 at home while he toured in support of the Quintet’s first album. Rice’s antique Martin herringbone guitar, though a legacy of the late great Clarence White, lacked substance in the mid-range and treble frequencies which Tony needed to showcase the solo jazz phrasing of Grisman’s compositions. By design, the original Dreadnought size Guitar was meant for holding down rhythm, and not for articulate solo work. Nonetheless Tony wanted his new guitar to look just like the old, but with updated qualities of sound.

The resulting Santa Cruz Tony Rice Model was never intended to copy the venerable old 1934 Martin, rather it was to be a Trojan Horse. That is, a friendly and familiar package disguising the danger within. Bracing, neck weight and sound hole size were all modified to achieve an appropriate EQ, clarity of tone, and projection to compliment the “New Acoustic Music”.

The Quintet ushered in a new day for acoustic music to a public recently flogged by disco and electronic Midi Interface that made performing musicians irrelevant. Santa Cruz Guitar Company was pioneering the boutique custom guitar market at a time when people didn’t make guitars, factories did. Santa Cruz’ Tony Rice Model was setting new standards while the Baby boom was having babies and paying off student loans. Behind this bucolic setting a crippling economic recession was preparing to kill us all.

Hard times make good friends. Tony and I shared the angst of girl troubles and a world not ready to appreciate our talents. As our audience caught up, we celebrated occasional success. People speculate that our sessions were rich in ideas for the perfect acoustic guitar. Do donut shop owners drink together to share affordable pastry epiphanies? I don’t think so, likewise we didn’t talk about making guitars so much as the reasons we played the guitar.

It was the real-life scenarios like addictions and recoveries, near death experience and spiritual awakenings that were more important than the business of guitars. Guitar designs were not unimportant, they were just a nice side benefit from our practice of looking after each other’s best interests. We worked together to design and build about a dozen personal custom guitars for him between 1978 and 2015, always evolving specifications to meet his changing physical and tonal needs.

Most of the later innovations were not designed to set the world on fire, they were more about reducing tension and facilitating reach for tendons and joints never designed for 60 years of repetitive motion. Tony’s God given purpose was to speak truth to the world through his music While he lost his voice and then his hands, he began to lose his sense of purpose. It hadn’t crossed his mind that someone might love him without his guitar.

During my last visit we did an all-nighter in front of his glowing analog wall of vacuum tubes, I asked if I could get him something to eat. He pointed his remote at the turntable to switch to a Chet Baker, or Coltrane solo. As the riff began, he said, “This is food man”. We only stopped the music to run to the drugstore and try to have him eat some French fries. He asked me to drive, telling me, “Don’t worry, the law won’t touch you here if I’m in the car.” At dawn I took him to the hospital and called his pastor.

He looked for relief through restoring old Bulova Watches. This isn’t a non-sequitur; it’s analogous to the Tony Rice story. Their innovative design didn’t rely on a finite release of captive spring tension. At its heart was a beating crystal, like a tiny tuning fork. “It’s not busy counting hours on earth, Tony told me, its clocking infinity”.

What Tony needed most was to value himself as much we did, with compassion and acceptance as a fallible fellow traveler doing the next right thing one step at a time. A regular guy appreciated for his inherent goodness and not just for his exceptionalism. We were there, but I don’t believe that he could really hear us over a parallel universe of fame and fortune in random orbits of welcoming noise and eventually, an equally unbearable silence.

Aw Tony, I thought I could help fix you, my bad. Just because of what we shared, I presumed I understood. That was my selfish perspective. My lens was too small.

If you love someone, don’t wait until tomorrow, tell them now."

Richard Hoover.
Santa Cruz, California.
Christmas 2020

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