Tony Rice Dies: Influential Flatpicking Bluegrass Giant Was 69

Bruce Haring
·2 min read

Tony Rice, a flatpicking guitarist considered one of the giants of bluegrass, has died at 69 on December 25, according to a Facebook post by his former label, Rounder Records.

“We were all deeply saddened by the news of Tony Rice’s sudden passing on Christmas Day, and we offer our deepest condolences to his loved ones and his many fans. May he Rest In Peace,” said the Rounder note.

Rice was known for his skill as a flatpicker, an intricate, fast-paced, melodic style of guitar playing. His work was an influence on his genre, and extended to the likes of Jason Isbell and Steve Martin.

Born in California in1951, he relocated to Kentucky as an adult. There he became immersed in bluegrass, playing five nights a week with J.D. Crowe and the New South. His first album came in 1973, simply titled Guitar.

There followed 1978’s Acoustics and 1980’s Mar West with the Tony Rice Unit. Along with that, he became a noted collaborator in bluegrass, performing with guitarist Norman Blake and mandolin player David Grisman. In 1993, he worked with Grisman and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia on The Pizza Tapes, a loose collection of folk songs released in 2000.

As the ’70s closed, he came out with 1979’s Manzanita, then 1983’s Church Street Blues.

However, in 1994, he began suffering from dysphonia, a disorder which causes difficulty in speaking and affects the mouth, tongue, throat, and vocal cords. This prevented him from singing for the rest of his career.

In 2013, Rice was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame, making his final public guitar performance. His last album was 2011’s Hartford Rice and Clements with banjo player John Hartford and fiddler Vassar Clements, a project recorded in 1988.

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Information on survivors or a memorial was not immediately available.

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