Skaggs puts new spin on country hits

Mon Jul 7, 2008 3:19pm EDT
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By Ken Tucker

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Everything old is new again for Ricky Skaggs, whose latest set, "The High Notes," is a collection of some of his biggest country hits, rerecorded "from a bluegrass perspective," as the album cover states.

Besides such No. 1 singles as "Cajun Moon," "Honey (Open That Door)," "Uncle Pen," "Country Boy" and "Lovin' Only Me," the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store exclusive features Skaggs' version of "Cat's in the Cradle" and his own "Somebody's Prayin'."

"It really works," Skaggs says of the new arrangements, citing "Cryin' My Heart Out Over You" as an example. "It's a different sound from the original, but yet it still has the integrity of the arrangement that we had in the '80s."

Skaggs, who typically performs more than 200 shows per year, will begin playing some of the old songs from the album on the road for the first time in years. "I am looking forward to singing 'Heartbroke' and 'Honey (Open That Door)' now," he says.

Cracker Barrel vice president of marketing Peter Kaiser says the company, which has released past sets by Alison Krauss + Union Station, Merle Haggard, Josh Turner, Amy Grant and Alabama, among other acts, looks for certain things in the artists with which it partners. "We look at the artist as a person and how they conduct themselves in their public. We want to make sure as a spokesperson for our brand that they're an appropriate reflection," he says.

It also looks for a connection to the brand. "Ricky is a huge fan of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store," Kaiser says, noting that Cracker Barrel is also a major sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry, of which Skaggs is a member. "He has an emotional connection to the brand."

Skaggs says the move makes sense on a number of levels. "They have so much traffic -- so many people that come into those stores every day. It's something that we have wanted to do for a long time," he says. The fact that the chain has more than 575 locations doesn't hurt either. "In a way, it's like, 'Why not?"' Skaggs says. "It doesn't interfere with anything that we have going on with Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target. It is totally exclusive to them."

While CDs are just one of many product lines the company sells, they're an important piece of the lifestyle puzzle. "Over 36 percent of our guests are heavy country music listeners," Kaiser says, adding that 80 percent to 90 percent of its patrons are country music listeners on some level.


<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>