Tony Rice (born David Anthony Rice, June 8, 1951, Danville, Virginia) is an American guitarist and bluegrass musician. He is considered one of the most influential acoustic guitar players in bluegrass, progressive bluegrass, newgrass and acoustic jazz. He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2013.
Rice spans the range of acoustic music, from traditional bluegrass to jazz-influenced New Acoustic music, to songwriter-oriented folk. Over the course of his career, he has played alongside J. D. Crowe and the New South, David Grisman (during the formation of "Dawg Music") and Jerry Garcia, led his own Tony Rice Unit, collaborated with Norman Blake, recorded with his brothers Wyatt, Ron and Larry and co-founded the Bluegrass Album Band. He has recorded with drums, piano, soprano sax, as well as with traditional bluegrass instrumentation.
Rice was born in Danville, Virginia but grew up in Los Angeles, California, where he was introduced to bluegrass by his father, a semi-professional musician named Herb Rice. Tony and his brothers learned the fundamentals of bluegrass and country music from hot L.A. pickers like the Kentucky Colonels, led by Roland and Clarence White. Clarence White in particular became a huge influence on Tony Rice. Crossing paths with fellow enthusiasts like Ry Cooder, Herb Pedersen and Chris Hillman reinforced the strength of the music he had learned from his father.
In 1970, Rice had moved to Louisville, Kentucky where he played with the Bluegrass Alliance, and shortly thereafter, J.D. Crowe's New South. The New South was known as one of the best and most progressive bluegrass groups - eventually adding drums and electric instruments (to Rice's displeasure). But when Ricky Skaggs joined up in 1974, the band recorded "J. D. Crowe & the New South", an acoustic album that became Rounder's top-seller up to that time. At this point, the group consisted of Rice on guitar and lead vocals, Crowe on banjo and vocals, Jerry Douglas on Dobro, Skaggs on fiddle, mandolin, and tenor vocals, and Bobby Slone on bass and fiddle.
David Grisman Quintet:
Around this time, Rice met mandolinist David Grisman, who played with Red Allen during the '60s and was now working on some original material that blended jazz, bluegrass and classical styles. Rice left the New South and moved to California to join Grisman's all-instrumental group. As part of the David Grisman Quintet, In order to expand his horizons, as well as make himself more marketable, Rice began studying chord theory, learned to read charts and expanded the range of his playing beyond his first and foremost love, Bluegrass. Renowned guitarist John Carlini was brought in to teach Rice music theory, and Carlini helped him learn the intricacies of jazz playing and musical improvisation in general. The David Grisman Quintet's 1977 debut recording is considered a landmark of acoustic string band music.
Solo career and Bluegrass Album Band:
In 1979, Rice left Grisman's group to pursue his own brand of music. He recorded "Acoustics", a jazz-inspired acoustic record, and then Manzanita, a collection of vocals and instrumentals, mostly in the bluegrass, but also folk style. This album doesn't include the five-string banjo. In 1980, Rice, Crowe, Bobby Hicks, Doyle Lawson and Todd Phillips formed a highly successful coalition, attacking bluegrass standards under the name the Bluegrass Album Band. This group recorded six volumes of music from 1980 to 1996; recordings which have become as famous and as imitated as the originals.
Rice's solo career hit its stride with "Cold on the Shoulder", a collection of bluegrass-inspired vocals. With this album, "Native American" and "Me & My Guitar", Rice arrived at a formula that incorporated his disparate influences, combining bluegrass, the songwriting of folk artists like Ian Tyson, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Bob Dylan and especially Gordon Lightfoot, with nimble, jazz-inflected guitar work. Simultaneously, he pursued his jazz-infused, experimental "spacegrass" with the Tony Rice Unit on the albums "Mar West", "Still Inside", and "Backwaters". Rice developed a condition in his vocal chords in the 90s that made it difficult to near impossible to sing.
During the IBMA 2013 Award show, Rice demonstrated to the audience that his voice is gradually coming back.
In 1980 he recorded an album of bluegrass duets with Ricky Skaggs, called Skaggs & Rice. Two highly regarded albums with traditional instrumentalist and songwriter Norman Blake garnered a great deal of acclaim, as well as two Rice Brothers albums (1992 and 1994) that featured him teamed with his late elder brother, Larry and younger brothers, Wyatt and Ronnie. In 1993 he joined David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, to record The Pizza Tapes. Year after, Rice and Grisman recorded Tone Poems, an original collection of material, where they used historical vintage mandolins and guitars, different for each track. In 1995, Rice recorded folk album featuring just two guitars with John Carlini, who also worked for David Grisman Quintet. In 1997, Tony, his brother Larry, Chris Hillman (founder of Byrds) and banjoist Herb Pedersen, founded so-called "anti-supergroup" Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen and produced three volumes of music between 1997 and 2001.
The authorized biography of Tony Rice, titled "Still Inside: The Tony Rice Story," has been completed by Tim Stafford (a member of award-winning bluegrass ensemble Blue Highway) and Hawai`i journalist Caroline Wright, and was published by Word Of Mouth Press in Kingsport, TN, USA in 2010. The book's official release took place at Merlefest in North Carolina, USA.