Guitarist Tony Rice Lifeless on the age of 69
Bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice, recognized as one of the greats of the genre, has died. He was 69 and passed away suddenly on December 25th, as his former label Rounder Records discovered.
As a soloist, contributor and head of the Tony Rice Unit, Rice was known for his inimitable flatpicker skills, a complicated, fast-paced, melodic way of playing the guitar. Rice’s distinctive style, heavily influenced by jazz, influenced numerous artists in the bluegrass world and beyond, including Jason Isbell and Steve Martin. His signature guitar, a Martin D-28, belonged to the Clarence White of the Byrds.
After growing up in California with a father who played guitar, Rice moved as an adult to Kentucky, where he played five nights a week with JD Crowe and the New South. Rice released his first album under his own name Guitar in 1973 and later released albums such as 1978’s Acoustics and 1980’s Mar West with the Tony Rice Unit. Rice co-founded and released several records with the Bluegrass Album Band. He also performed regularly with guitarist Norman Blake and mandolin player David Grisman. In 1993 he worked with Grisman and Jerry Garcia on The Pizza Tapes, a loose collection of folk songs that was released in 2000.
Rice had a flourishing career through the 1970s and 1980s, with albums such as the 1979 Manzanita and 1983 Church Street Blues lasting as landmark works in bluegrass. In 1994, Rice began to suffer from dysphonia, which prevented him from singing for the rest of his life. In 2013, Rice was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame, which included his last public guitar performance. His last album was Hartford Rice and Clements in 2011 with banjo player John Hartford and violinist Vassar Clements, a project that was recorded in 1988.