Spotlight Artist: Ricky Skaggs
October 1, 2012
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Randy Travis is usually credited with kicking off the New Traditionalist movement of the mid-1980s, but that movement’s origins actually preceded Travis’ 1986 breakthrough by a good five years when both George Strait and Ricky Skaggs made their major label debuts. Skaggs, in particular, was an unlikely success story, having paid his dues on the bluegrass scene for a decade before joining Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band and then eventually striking out on his own. A native of Cordell, Kentucky, and a former child prodigy, he took country music by surprise when his blend of bluegrass and traditional country took him to the top of the charts at the peak of the Urban Cowboy era.
Skaggs was born on July 18, 1954. He was playing the mandolin at the age of five, and made his Grand Ole Opry debut at age seven. During that time, he also performed with the legendary Flatt and Scruggs. In 1971 he teamed up with another up-and-coming Kentuckian named Keith Whitley and joined Ralph Stanley’s band. He later went on to become the bandleader of Boone Creek before turning his attention to mainstream country. He joined Emmlyou Harris on the road, and writing the arrangements for her 1980 bluegrass-flavored masterpiece Roses In The Snow. He had released his first solo album That’s It in 1975 and in 1979, Sweet Temptation, which he produced himself, was released by Sugar Hill Records.
By 1981 Ricky was ready for the big leagues. Epic Records signed him to a record deal and granted him permission to produce his records himself — a most unusual concession for a still unproven 27-year-old newcomer. Waitin’ For The Sun To Shine was released later that year and produced four hit singles, including his first #1 hits, “Crying My Heart Out Over You” and “I Don’t Care.” In 1982 he became the youngest artist up to that time to be inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry and in 1985 he was named the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year.
Skaggs scored ten #1 hits between 1981 and 1987. After that, his chart success began to taper off, though he continued to enjoy some success for a few more years. In 1989 Dolly Parton asked him to produce her back-to-basics album White Limozeen. Later that year he scored his final #1 “Lovin’ Only Me” from his Kentucky Thunder album. 1989’s “Let It Be Me” was his final Top 10 hit. In 1995 he signed with Atlantic Records and released two more albums which enjoyed only moderate success.
During the first decade of the new millennium, Skaggs founded his own record label and returned to his bluegrass roots, releasing a string of critically acclaimed albums and winning nine Grammy Awards in the process. His latest effort, Music To My Ears, was released on September 25th. We hope you enjoy our look back at the career highlights of one of the most talented musicians in the history of bluegrass and country music, throughout the month of October.