JamGrass.net, as the tagline says, covers music “at the corner of bluegrass and everything else.” That means that sometimes I’ll cover music that is too traditionally bluegrass for some folks’ tastes and too progressive for others. My guitar instructor, slightly more advanced in experience (and age), would probably kick my ass and tell me to get a haircut if he found this site. There is some music that members of the old school will never embrace as bluegrass. Likewise, some members of the newer generation might struggle to enjoy the more traditional sounds that ultimately shape their preferences.
Then there is Tony Rice. Blending elements of bluegrass, jazz, and singer-songwriter stylings, Mr. Rice has been redefining bluegrass music for more than 40-years. The bluegrass community bestowed one of its greatest honors upon Tony, inducting him into the IBMA’s Hall of Fame earlier this year. I could go on and on about Mr. Rowan’s bluegrass chops but that has been covered many times over. Instead, I’ll focus on why he’s relevant to the JamGrass.net audience.
Mr. Rice’s exposure to the progressive side of bluegrass started early in his career as a member of J.D. Crowe’s New South, one of the first successful bluegrass groups to introduce drums and electric instrumentation into their performances. Nonetheless, it was Tony’s relationship with David Grisman that likely had the greatest influence on his explorations of the space of bluegrass. As a member of the David Grisman Quintet, Rice studied under John Carlini, learning music theory, jazz and principles of music improvisation.
After leaving David Grisman’s band, Rice truly began to show his range. His solo albums often seem to reflect his interest in singer-songwriter/almost country recordings, Bluegrass Album Band presented mostly interpretations on traditional bluegrass offerings, and the Tony Rice Unit seemed to be his vehicle for exploring the outer reaches of the genre.
Fast forward to 1993 and you’ll find what was my first introduction to Mr. Rice. It was during this time that Rice collaborated with the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, following an introduction by Grisman. The story goes that Rice and Grisman were at a studio recording when Grisman asked Garcia to join in. The raw, unpolished recordings became known as The Pizza Tapes after Garcia’s recording was stolen by a pizza delivery man and began showing up at Grateful Dead performances. Sadly, Garcia would pass in 1995, The Pizza Tapes being released posthumously.
Personally, some of my favorite recordings of the past decade have been those published with Peter Rowan. In particular 2007’s Quartet features some inspired playing from both Mr. Rice and Mr. Rowan. The whole album is a joy and a must-have.
Unfortunately, the latter years of Tony Rice’s career have not given his audience the opportunity to express the gratitude he most certainly deserves. In the 90’s a case of dysphonia took his voice. In 2011 a wicked case of pneumonia and its treatment weakened him to the point that performances were cancelled and his touring schedule has lessened significantly ever since. On Friday, December 6th, I read some of the most disturbing news I’d read in a while. It appears that arthritis has taken a toll on Mr. Rice to the point that he is unable to play his guitar.
“Tony Rice, perhaps the most influential acoustic musician of his generation, is facing hard times. Most everyone reading this will be aware that he lost the ability to sing some years ago, and those who have read his brilliant biography, Still Inside, know that he had expressed little concern, finding a sort of freedom in being able to focus solely on the guitar. But this past year or so has found arthritis robbing him of that as well, leaving this legendary guitarist unable to ply his trade. Not only is that a painful loss to music lovers world wide, it has stolen from Tony his means to earn a living. At first he attempted to soldier on, playing through pain, but as even that became difficult, he has had to cancel the shows that were booked.”
In a perfectly worded call-to-action, Mr. Lawless encourages the bluegrass community to rally around Tony Rice in an effort “to repay a debt we owe this great artist who has shared so much joy with us over a long and fruitful creative life.” The Tony Rice Foundation is accepting donations for Tony and his wife Pam, and Mr. Lawson suggests investing in the Tony Rice catalog, instructional DVDs, or official biography as additional ways to help. I ordered an autographed copy of the biography for myself.
Further, JamGrass.net will donate 100% of our proceeds from purchases made through our site via the Amazon.com Associate Program from now until the end of December 2013. You can explore Mr. Rice’s complete catalog, order from our recommended playlist, order material from any other artist we’ve covered, or simply do something Christmas shopping after linking from any of the Amazon links we’ve listed to date. Amazon is generous in that any item purchased from an affiliate link earns commission, so feel free to order this $30,000 watch from Armand Nicolet if you feel so inclined. Plus, Amazon is a great company and nearly always exceeds my expectations.
Whatever you decide to do, I hope you take the opportunity to enjoy some of the music from Mr. Rice’s catalog. He’s a musical blessing not to be missed.
How Can You Help?
Remember, all of JamGrass.net’s proceeds generated from the Amazon.com Associate Program from now to the end of December 2013 will be donated to The Tony Rice Foundation!
- Donate directly to The Tony Rice Foundation (recommended as this ensures your total investment gets to the Rice family)
- Order material from Tony Rice’s Catalog through Amazon.com’s Associate Program
- Order instructional videos through Amazon.com’s Associate Program
- Order Still Inside: The Tony Rice Story, the official biography
- Order tracks from the JamGrass.net Recommends – Tony Rice list through the Amazon.com Associate Program
- The fund is setup by Jeff and Terry Pinkham, friends of Mr. Rice. Bluegrass Today is helping publicize the venture.
- The Tony Rice Foundation is not a legal structure and donations are not tax deductible. It is strictly a PayPal account with all proceeds (less the PayPal fees) being transferred directly to Mr. Rice’s bank account.
- The fund has been a success. More than $17,000 has been contributed to date. Mr. Lawless has stated he would like to see it at $50,000 before the end of the year.
JamGrass.net is still committed to donating 100% of our proceeds in December 2013 from purchases made through links by our Amazon Associate Program account. We’ve had a few orders, keep ’em coming!