Bluegrass singer Skaggs honors founding fathers

Fri Apr 4, 2008 8:24pm EDT
 
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By Ken Tucker

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder are introducing the music of the founding fathers of bluegrass to their fans and, hopefully, a new generation.

"Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: A Tribute to 1946 and 1947" (Skaggs Family Records) finds Skaggs and his band covering a dozen classic songs first recorded by Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys in 1946-47.

The period represents an important snapshot because Monroe's band of that era included singer/guitarist Lester Flatts, banjo player Earl Scruggs -- who wowed audiences with his three-finger picking style -- fiddler Chubby Wise and bassist Howard Watts. This lineup, which recorded 28 songs for Columbia Records, has been dubbed the "Original Bluegrass Band."

"I felt it was important to remind the new generation of Internet, iPod and iPhone listeners just who started the sound," Skaggs says of the new project. "There's a lot of young listeners--and I'm saying 'young' (as in) 35 -- that have never taken that journey back to listen to the original five guys that created what we now know as bluegrass."

The album, which sold 3,300 units in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan, debuted at No. 1 on Top Bluegrass Albums this week and at No. 28 on Top Country Albums.

Scruggs, the only surviving member of the pioneering band, guests on "Goin' Back to Old Kentucky." "It was such an honor to have the guy that was right there at the inception of this music, when it was born, in the studio with us," Skaggs says.

Meanwhile, Skaggs hasn't ruled out recording more tribute records. "I've thought about doing a 'foundation stone' series where we focus on guys like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs that really built on the foundation that they laid with Monroe," he says, citing the Stanley Brothers, Jimmy Martin and the Osborne Brothers as other potential subjects.

Reuters/Billboard

 
<p>Ricky Skaggs accepts the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album for "Instrumentals" at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles February 11, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello</p>