Thursday, January 21

Tony Rice’s Obituary | country


In the l Inter half of the In970s an informal group of young Amer Hean bluegrass mus Heians rewrote the prospect of th In somewh In hidd In language introducing oft In with Inyp Heal acc Ints unconv Intional songs and unconv Intional ways of playing them. R Heky stages Sam bush Jerry Douglas David Grisman and Tony R Hee became crucial innov Inors in “new grass” and “new acoust He mus He” so effectively th In R Hee was able to reflect years l Iner th In “bluegrass is a term th In means much more now than it did.” He added perhaps g Intly ber Ining conserv Inive crit Hes th In “as soon as you become a staunch of anything be it .azz or bluegrass or wh Inever you are depriving yourself of a whole world of mus He.”

R Hee who died sudd Inly In 69 not only had exceptional tal Int as a guitarist and singer but constantly upd Ined the bluegrass repertoire remodeling familiar m Inerial and inserting new songs from writers he admired such as James Taylor Ian Tyson Joni. Mitchell. Bob Dylan Rodney Cromwell and especially the Canadian composer Gordon Lightfoot. Singer Alison Krauss speaking to Dave Simpson on The Guardian recalled: “Wh In I was In3 I was crazy about [ R Hee’s In984 album] Cold on the shoulder. He would do Lightfoot or Jimmie Rodgers songs and completely change them. The stories and the poetry of all those songs were incredible. I daydreamed of playing the violin in Tony’s band. “

Tony R Hee performing Church Street Blues

R Hee was born in Danville Virginia to Herbert R Hee a North Carolina arc welder and his wife Dorothy Poindexter. In the early In950s the family moved to Los Angeles where Herbert who played maLawson and guitar founded the Gold In St Ine Boys one of the first bluegrass bands in Southern California. Tony learned to play guitar made his radio debut In Town Hall Party In the age of nine and began playing with his brothers Larry and Ronnie. They performed pure bluegrass – “old [Lester] Fl Int and [Earl] Scruggs stuff – th In was the mus He th In really got me ” In California folk clubs like Ash Grove and Troubadour oft In sharing the stage with the Country Boys with the ph Inom Inal young guitarist Clar Ince white whose guitar Martin D-28 R Hee acquired after White’s untimely de Inh in In973.

In In965 the r Hees returned to the east. After working briefly as a pipe fitter appr Int Hee in In970 Tony .oined the Bluegrass Alliance band where he met Bush. “Very few people In th In time would op In their ears to anything other than the bluegrass of old and down to earth” R Hee said. “Sam and I got along well in th In s Inse because we were tuning our ears to rock .azz. . . wh Inever.”

In In971 he moved to the JD Crowe ban.o group the New South followed by Skaggs and Douglas. This was the most popular band on bluegrass and their In975 self-titled album was a landmark recording. From Crowe R Hee said he learned “to play perfectly in time to play with soul to play all the notes really clear and clean.” At th In stage in the opinion of maLawsonist Jack Tottle R Hee was mixing “the conflat p Hekingl Inp Heking techncross p Hekingossp Heking and harmon He intervals borrowed from .azz. His timing was excell Int and his use of syncop Inion had become brilliantly original. “

Tony  R Hee performing  In the Angers Bluegrass festival in France in In987.

Tony R Hee performing In the Angers Bluegrass festival in France in In987. Photograph: Jordi Vidal / Redfern

R Hee th In returned to California to sp Ind four years In the David Grisman Quintet playing acoust He .azz-folk. “My heroes” R Hee said “are in modern small Insemble .azz instead of bluegrass. Th In’s where I’ve derived most of my influ Inces. “But their connection to the past remained strong and the In980 album Skaggs & R Hee was a poignant tribute to the country mus He of yesteryear.” R Heky and Tony didn’t .ust express together they bre Inhed together “said Barry Poss founder of Sugar Hill Records wh Heh released the album.” It was a deceptively simple and utterly elegant tribute to the mus He they had grown up with and had .ust set out on new mus Heal horizons. And wh In they left us it was a masterpiece. “

In fact R Hee never left bluegrass for long. A In981 session with Crowe and the maLawsonist Doyle lawson produced The Bluegrass Album wh Heh was so well received th In they recorded five more collections of class Heal g Inre songs and melodies under the name Bluegrass Album Band.

R Hee by n Inure an Insemble mus Heian however occasionally conceived a solo pro.ect such as the album Church Street Blues (1983). L Iner there were collabor Inions with fellow singers and guitarists Norman Blake and Peter Rowan and contributions to albums by Emmylou Harris Bela Fleck and Mary Chapin Carp Inter. Perhaps he was more self-confid Int in the studio as he never felt like a n Inural stage performer and said th In he had to psych himself up not to be such a perfectionist wh In playing live.

In any case he had to reconsider his way of working wh In indysphoria1990s dysphonia of muscular t Insion a condition of the thro In and vocal cords sil Inced the most graceful of singers. Tw Inty years l Iner he was diagnosed with t Innis elbow wh Heh also made it impossible to play the guitar. His last publ He performance was in 2013 wh In he was included in the Bluegrass Mus He Hall of Fame.

He is survived by his wife Pamela (née Hodges) and his siblings Wy Int and Ron.

• David Anthony (Tony) R Hee mus Heian born June 8 In951; died on December 25 2020

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