Ricky Skaggs: Insider View of the Grammys

Bluegrass Picker Hangs Out in L.A. With Nancy Sinatra, Sting and Ry Cooder

Ricky Skaggs captured his ninth Grammy on Sunday night (Feb. 8) — for best country performance by a duo or group — though he says he didn’t think he had a “snowball’s chance” of beating the No. 1 records from Brooks & Dunn, Lonestar or Diamond Rio.

However, “A Simple Life” spent three months at No. 1 on the Bluegrass Unlimited chart — not bad for a song he’d only learned the night before he and his band, Kentucky Thunder, recorded the album, Live at the Charleston Music Hall. Skaggs called from his office to talk about meeting his heroes, what he thought of the awards ceremony and one of his favorite nuts, Alison Krauss.

CMT: Did you get to meet anybody famous this year?

Skaggs: Well, the night before I had gone to the Clive Davis party and met a whole lot of folks over there. I sat beside Nancy Sinatra, which was pretty cool. I was telling her a story about her dad and Bill Monroe meeting for the first time at the White House. She thought that was a real hoot. And she was a big fan. She wanted to know if I still sang “Life’s Too Long To Live Like This.” And I said, “Well I’m playing bluegrass now full-time.” She said, “Well, you can do that bluegrass.” And I said, “Well, yeah, I could probably.” I said, “Probably ought to just do that.” I told her that on one of the songs that we cut on the History of the Future album we used “Boots Are Made For Walkin'” bass lick. We used that thing and so she thought that was pretty cool.

And then Sunday at the Grammys, I met a lot of folks. I met Sting and talked to him for a little bit. I told him I really liked his music, and he said he really liked mine. I got to meet Tony Bennett. That was really great because … talk about inspiration of longevity. Just how he’s reinvented himself by doing the same thing he’s done all his life and just got people turned on to him, a whole new age group, a whole new crowd, the VH1 crowd and MTV crowd. I sat behind Shirley Caesar, and that was pretty nice, getting to hang with her and talk with her a bunch through the night. I had a really, really good time.

What did you think of the show, overall?

I would have like to have seen more variety in the show. I just think that there’s a lot more to life than R&B and rap. There just wasn’t as much variety. It’s great to have Sting on, and it’s great to have Beyonce. I think it’s wonderful that they can be on, but to have them on two or three times during the show when someone else deserves to be on there as well. … I just think that’s not cool, ’cause there are a lot of artists. No Doubt didn’t even play, but they did win an award. Coldplay didn’t play either, and they won an award. And of course the comment [lead singer Chris Martin] made was pretty stupid, to be Brits coming into this country and talking about who we need to elect. That’s like me going over there and saying I think the Royal Family stinks. I would never think about doing something like that.

It was an OK show. I can’t believe Norah Jones had five Grammys last year, and she didn’t even perform on the show this year, and she’s got a new album coming out. What’s up with all that? Who chooses that stuff?

I talked to [show producer] Walter Miller when we got our five nominations because they wanted to give Doc [Watson] a lifetime achievement award, and Earl [Scruggs] just turned 80. And what an awesome thing to get two nominations for The Three Pickers and three nominations for Live at the Charleston Music Hall. I thought, “How about if we kind of put those two things together and actually do something with Doc and Earl?” And do it in a way where it honors them, and then it kicks into us doing something like “Simple Life” or “Get Up John,” one of the instrumentals that we got nominated for. So I ran that by Walter Miller and he said, “Well, you know Ricky I love ya.” And, “Yeah, Walt I understand.” He said, “CBS chooses all this stuff now. We have to sit around a board, and they tell us who we can put on.”

You gotta put P-Funk on there instead.

That’s right.

That was weird.

Yeah, it really was.

Do your kids listen to Beyonce a lot? Do you know her music through them?

Not really. I couldn’t distinguish her if she came on the radio. I wouldn’t know her sound. Norah Jones, when I hear her open her mouth, I know it’s her. And I just think that’s really cool. Sarah McLachlan is another one that’s got a very unique voice. Some of these people, I know their music. I mean Train, I know their music when I hear it, but there’s just so many of them they all sound alike to me. I wouldn’t know OutKast from Black Eyed Peas, just hearing them. Seeing them I can kind of tell, because Black Eyed Peas has got one girl that sings with them, and that kind of sets them out. OutKast, they’re the ones with the weird outfits.

Was there anybody at the Grammys that you’d like to collaborate with?

Yeah. Somebody that I had been wanting to meet for a long, long time — that I’m a tremendous fan of — is Ry Cooder. I went up to him, and he looked at me before I came up to him. We knew each other, but we’d never met. So I went up and stuck my hand out and I said, “Man, I really want to meet you. I’m such a fan of your music.” And he started singing “Don’t Get Above Your Raising.” He said, “Man, I’ve listened to you since you came out, too.” And I said, “Your album Bop ’Til You Drop got me through Europe when I first started working with Emmylou.” That was the longest trip I had ever made away from home. When I went with Emmylou the first time, we stayed in Europe for six weeks. I said, “That record kept me sane through all the flights and bus rides and early load-ins and late nights. It’s great memories that I have. I really love your music, and I love what you’re doing with honoring these old guys from Cuba and Brazil and places like that.” I just think that’s a very honorable thing that he’s doing with his music.

Speaking of collaborations, the Louvin Brothers tribute album won the Grammy for best country album. What did you think of that record?

I thought that it was a really good record. I thought [producer] Carl [Jackson] did a great job, and he really deserved to win that. I thought the cut that James [Taylor] and Alison [Krauss] did is just superb, and I was glad to see that win as well. Carl asked me to come and be on that, for Del McCoury and me to do a duet. I had three projects going at the same time, and I couldn’t do it. Then Terri Clark called me and said, “I’m going to do this Louvin Brothers thing. Would you come and do ’If I Could Only Win Your Love’ like you and Emmylou used to sing?” I said, “Oh God, Terri, I’d love to do that, but I’ve still got these projects that I don’t have finished yet, and I’ve got to get them done.” I would have loved to be a part of that album, but I just couldn’t do it. It was just the worst time in the world for me to try to do that. But I thought it was a real good album.

Alison Krauss picked up three more Grammys, with a career total of 17 now. What is it about her music that makes it so popular?

She’s so unique and she’s such a great singer. She’s the type of artist: “Yeah, she’s bluegrass; no she’s not. Yeah, she’s country; no she’s not. Yeah, she can sing pop.” She can do everything. Her voice is just the type of voice that goes with all kinds of music. I think people love the purity and innocence in her voice. She crosses so many boundary lines, and she’s a great person. She’s a real giving individual. She loves people. She’s very shy and sees herself as not worthy to have all this glory and praise said about her, but that’s what we love about her. If she ever gets a big head, I’m gonna crack her jaw with something. She’s just a very, very sweet individual that’s nuts. She is a nut case. We love her for that, but she’s a nut.

What’s on the books for you this year? What’s coming up?

I’ve got a new studio album that I’m working on. I don’t really have a working title yet, but it’s a really, really great bunch of songs. Probably the best songs that I’ve ever recorded on an album, especially since I’ve come back to bluegrass, but maybe ever. I just love these songs that we’ve found. That’s coming out probably in June or July. We’re starting a Christmas album this morning … with my wife and Molly and Luke, our children, and Cheryl’s daughter Rachel. … It will be in the stores for Christmastime. I’m looking to do a Christmas concert somewhere for a DVD. Possibly PBS might take that. So I’ve got those two things going on for me personally.

We’re probably going to start a Whites and Friends album this year. It’s time for another Whites record here at the record company, and I just think that since Down From the Mountain there are so many people that would really love to come in and sing with them. We’re pretty excited about the guest list that we’re going to be sending out to folks … that I know would love to sing with them and people that they would love to sing with. So I think it’s going to be a really, really cool record.

Any plans for a video from you?

Probably so. I’m thinking that we will. There are two or three really, really good songs on this record. More than two or three, but there are two or three that would really lend themselves to be a great video, so we’ll just see after we get everything done. I haven’t had a video since we started playing bluegrass. We’ve got a bunch of young, good-looking guys and a great band, so it’d be fun to really try and do a good one.