Ricky Skaggs could be president of the fan club for guitar master Ry Cooder.
“Ry is a creative genius,” said Skaggs, a mandolin hero for the country and bluegrass crowds. “And he loves being a band member, I love that. He kind of likes to just back up and let someone else go in front.”
Ricky, Ry and Sharon White of The Whites will be up front Sunday when they take the stage with a bunch of musical friends at The Egg in Albany’s Empire State Plaza.
The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and blues, gospel and bluegrass will be the main subjects. Country, too.
Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White & Friends
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: The Egg, Empire State Plaza
HOW MUCH: $45-$55
MORE INFO: 473-1845, www.theegg.org
“And it’s real country music from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s,” Skaggs said in a telephone interview from Nashville, Tennessee.
“It’s gospel, it’s bluegrass, some rockabilly. Ry took an old Jimmy Martin classic called ‘Hold Watcha Got’ and just kind of made a rockabilly groove out of it. We do everything from duets to trios to quartets. With Cheryl, Sharon’s sister, being on the road with us, we’re able to do gospel quartets.”
The show is a family affair in more than one way. Ricky and Sharon White have been married for 34 years now; Cooder’s son Joachim Cooder plays percussion in the traveling band, which also includes bass player Mark Fain and pianist Buck White, Sharon and Cheryl’s father.
Skaggs, who at 61 has already been performing for more than 50 years, gets to spend quality time with Sharon.
“It’s great to be able to hear Sharon sing these country songs she grew up loving and listening to as a kid, but not really doing them with The Whites,” Skaggs said. “What she’s singing, it’s really her heart, it’s totally separate from The Whites’ music.
“We get to do a song from our duet CD, ‘Hearts Like Ours,’ ” Skaggs added, “we do ‘No Doubt About It,’ which is an old Flatt and Scruggs tune that we took and kind of made a husband-wife duet out of it, which is kind of cool.”
People will learn about family connections on stage. They’ll also learn about connections behind the songs.
“It’s honoring the mothers and fathers of this old music,” Skaggs said, “and it’s a history lesson in country music. We tell people who had these songs and who wrote them and try to give a little history as well.”
There will be respect. Maybe a little fooling around, too. “If you’re going to be around Ry,” Skaggs said, “you’re going to paint outside the lines just a little bit.”
Skaggs has had a busy year. The Cooder-Ricky-Sharon team-up is on a 35-show schedule. Skaggs also has played 65 dates with his bluegrass outfit, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. The band is an eight-time winner of the “Instrumental Group of the Year” award from the International Bluegrass Music Association, and that means there’s a little pressure every time Thunder sounds off on stage.
“But I think it’s healthy pressure,” Skaggs said. “If there’s pressure, these guys put it on me. We all inspire each other and throw the gauntlet down to each other every night. It’s like, who can play the cleanest, fastest solo, that kind of stuff. They’re an amazing bunch of guys to be with.”
One of Skaggs’ earliest gigs was with a couple of other amazing guys — Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Ricky made a television appearance with the duo in 1961, at age 7. The clip is on Youtube.
“I was marked for life,” Skaggs said. “At 7 years old, there was something in me, I don’t know if it was just my parents, they had kind of helped build some confidence in me. You can look at the Youtube thing and I go back and look at it sometimes, and I just say, ‘How in the world was I not nervous?’
“I’ve got this little twitch that I do and I swear I still do it where I bite the side of my lip inside my mouth,” Skaggs added. “I look and I see that, but I see the focus in my eyes. I am so focused right there.”
Fans of Skaggs will notice something different about the musician this year. He has recently slimmed down, losing more than 70 pounds on a diet low in sugar and flour.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.
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