Tim Stafford & Caroline Wright
Still Inside: The Tony Rice Story
Word of Mouth Press
5 stars (out of 5)
Several years ago, when the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass week was still held at Louisville’s delightfully seedy Galt House hotel, I was heading toward the elevators on the ground floor when Tony Rice walked through the door leading down to the parking garage. He was tall, gaunt and looked a little frail, but had a regal bearing and was dressed impeccably, suit and tie as usual. He was alone and carrying his guitar and no one else seemed to notice him.
Though I usually disdain going out of my way to meet famous people, especially for an autograph, which seems so contrived and invasive, I had to do something. This was Tony Rice. So, making an exception I have since made for baseball heroes Johnny Bench and Eric Davis, I simply asked to shake his hand. He offered that hand—the right hand known for its peerless picking technique—barely smiled, shook, said thanks and kept moving.
Until this remarkable book by Tim Stafford (a great guitarist, singer and songwriter in his own right) and Caroline Wright, I knew little of the man who has stood as the master craftsman of the bluegrass and acoustic guitar for about 40 years, taking time to also carve out a niche as one of the finest bluegrass lead singers ever.
I didn’t know of his childhood playing in a band with his brothers in California under the tutelage of their father, a legendary welder, part-time musician and sometimes drunk. I didn’t know how he ended up in J.D. Crowe’s legendary New South lineup that cut Rounder 0044, why he left to play more progressive styles with David Grisman and others, or why he came back to traditional bluegrass with the Bluegrass Album Band. And I didn’t know what had happened to that formerly clear, cool voice that has made it impossible for him to sing over the last decade or so, or about the physical toll that a lifetime of hard work has taken on those hands. All of those questions are answered in this book, which also gives detailed insight into Rice’s character, personality, hobbies, instruments and playing style.
The book’s format took a chapter or two to get used to, as it’s not a straight-ahead third-person biography. After a brief introduction by the authors, each chapter contains a section of Rice’s reminiscences of the period in question, followed then by a section of relevant comments from friends, family members and colleagues. Interspersed throughout the book are dispatches from time spent with Rice on the road, driving to and from shows.
The result is that, sometimes, material is repeated. But this usually serves to flesh out the story, as Rice’s recollections are reinforced, shaded or supplemented by others. Thus the book seems a lot longer—a good thing—than its 272 pages of text before about 40 pages of reference material, including a discography of his work on albums by Rice and a host of others.
In short, this book—which is exceedingly well-made and attractive—is everything you ever wanted to know about a musical giant, with the material presented clearly and readably by Stafford and Wright. It will send you to your record collection for the Rice that you do have, and to eBay, County Sales or the record store for what you don’t. It’s a major piece of bluegrass and acoustic music scholarship that belongs on any music fan’s bookshelf.
by Aaron Keith Harris