Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 18 July 1954, Cordell KY) Country singer and musician with roots in traditional styles who dominated the country charts in the 1980s and is becoming an elder statesman. He was a prodigy, both religion and music playing vital parts in his early life; he played the mandolin at age five and also learned banjo, fiddle and guitars. He performed with his family at church socials etc and played ‘Ruby’ at a Bill Monroe gig in 1959; appeared on a Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs TV show in 1961, joined Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys in 1970 as vocalist and mandolinist. He left music in 1973 but came back on fiddle with the Country Gentlemen the next year, meeting young musicians who were cross-breeding country music and bluegrass with jazz and folk. He replaced Rodney Crowell in Emmylou Harris's Hot Band in 1977, playing guitar, fiddle, and mandolin, and singing harmony vocals; he wrote arrangements for her Roses In The Snow album in 1980, and went solo on the North Carolina label Sugar Hill with Emmylou, Sweet Temptation, Jerry Douglas, Bobby Hicks and Albert Lee all featured; he also recorded as Skaggs And Rice with Tony Rice on Sugar Hill and Family And Friends on Rounder.

He switched to Epic in 1981 and made his Billboard country chart debut with ‘Don't Get Above Your Raising’, followed by number one hits ‘Crying My Heart Out Over You’ and ‘I Don't Care’, winning awards such as CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, ACM New Male Vocalist, Music City News Bluegrass Act of the Year. Further chart toppers were ‘Heartbroke’, ‘I Wouldn't Change You If I Could’, ‘Highway 40 Blues’, ‘Don't Cheat In Our Home Town’, ‘Honey (Open That Door)’, ‘Uncle Pen’, ‘Country Boy’, and ‘You Make Me Feel Like A Man’, all 1982-5. Meanwhile he had married Sharon White of The Whites in 1981 and produced their records as well as his own.

His band won CMA Instrumental Group of the Year in 1983-4-5, he was Entertainer of the Year '85 and won a Grammy for Best Instrumental (‘Wheel Hoss’ from Country Boy). He toured the UK, appeared on Terry Wogan's TV show, and made the five-part series Hit It Boys for BBC2 in 1986. He produced Dolly Parton's 1989 album White Limozeen, which brought her back to the country charts; he was named Artist of the Decade in a BBC2 Radio listeners' poll in 1990. As country music absorbed a soft-rock sound and once again wandered from its roots Skaggs's chart hits dropped off in the early 1990s; he moved to the Atlantic label in 1994, still a popular Opry performer, record producer, songwriter, and in-demand session player.

His hit albums were mostly named after hit singles, as the custom long was in country music; they included Waitin' For The Sun To Shine '81, Highways And Heartaches '82, Don't Cheat In Our Hometown '83, Country Boy '84, Favorite Country Songs '85, Live In London '85, Love's Gonna Get Ya! '86, Comin' Home To Stay '88, Kentucky Thunder '89, and My Father's Son '91 all on Epic; and On Solid Ground '95 on Atlantic. His later albums included Life Is A Journey on Atlantic and Bluegrass Rules! On Rounder, both in 1997; then he formed his Skaggs Family label for Ancient Tones and Soldier Of The Cross '99, Big Man: The Songs Of Bill Monroe 2000, Live At The Charleston Music Hall and Brand New Strings 2003-4, and A Skaggs Family Christmas in 2005. Honoring The Fathers Of Bluegrass in 2008 was followed by Solo (Songs My Dad Loved) in 2009, on which he played and sang all the parts.

Then Mosaic in 2010 was something completely different: no bluegrass or country standards, but an overtly Christian album, wrapped 'in accessible country pop', wrote Jim Fusilli in the Wall Street Journal. Sidemen on various tracks included Gordon Kennedy on electric guitar and lap steel, Mike Lawler on organ, Shane Keister on piano, Peter Frampton adding a guitar solo on one track; the Nashville String Machine 'adds a touch of Aaron Copland' to one song which is introduced by 101-year-old gospel singer George Beverly Shea intoning 'All rise.'