STRIKING A CHORD: Skaggs Sings Farmers' Praises At Mobile Concert
By Darryal Ray
The sight of that old milk cow staring back at him
through the crack of the barn was just too tempting
for little Ricky Skaggs, armed with a water
gun and all the mischievousness of a 7-year -old boy.
|Skaggs praised farmers during Dec. 5 concert at Saenger Theatre.|
"I was on the outside of the stall, and I looked
through a crack in the barn where this old cow was
eating out of the feed trough," Skaggs recalls. "The
cow heard me out there and kind of looked through
the crack and saw me. I saw this great big ol' eyeball
and I thought, 'Man, what a good target!' So I took my
squirt gun and shot that cow right in the eye. That cow
wheeled around, and kicked my mother over, turned
over the milk and got mud and everything else all over
Mom. I'm telling you what, boy, she wore me out! And
I needed it. I should've had it! That should've been the
end of Ricky Skaggs right there."
But since there's no use crying over spilled milk,
Dorothy May Skaggs took mercy on her son that day.
It's a good thing, too, because little Ricky grew into a
man who not only became a Grammy Award-winning
musician, but also one who sings the praises of farmers.
"God bless you farmers because we need
you!" Skaggs told the audience at a
concert at Mobile's Saenger Theatre
on opening night of the
89th Annual Meeting of
the Alabama Farmers
Throughout the Dec. 5 performance,
Skaggs clearly struck a chord with
his audience as he played old favorites
like Bill Monroe's "Uncle Pen," "Cajun
Moon" and "Highway 40 Blues." He also
introduced them to songs from "Mosaic,"
his newest album that -- like Skaggs --
speaks unashamedly of his Christian faith
but is very much unlike Skaggs in its musical
"It's always good to hear what folks like NPR, Wall
Street Journal and New York Times have to say about
stuff like a gospel record -- oops! 'The 'J' word (Jesus) is
in there!'" Skaggs told the audience.
While it's certainly not the first time that Skaggs'
evangelistic bent has surfaced in his career, it is his first
"sacred" album. It's also one of the main reasons he
established Skaggs Family Records, and why he believes
bluegrass and farmers share such a strong connection.
In a backstage interview with Neighbors magazine
after the concert, Skaggs talked about his faith, his
music and growing up on the family farm in Kentucky
-- all of which have figured in a musical career that
spans 50 years and includes 14 Grammy Awards.
Skaggs' musical career began when his father, a
welder and part-time farmer who loved playing guitar
and singing gospel songs, returned home from Ohio
with a mandolin for his 5-year-old son. Hobert Skaggs
had to return to Ohio before he could show Ricky how
to play, but within two weeks, Ricky had it figured it
out himself. That same year, he was taken on stage during
one of Bill Monroe's concerts and played "Ruby" on
Monroe's mandolin. Two years later, at the ripe age of
7, he played mandolin on the Flatt and Scruggs' television
show. (Watch it online here.)
"Bluegrass is earthy. It's rootsy. It connects to
people's innards and their heart -- their spirit. I think
this music was birthed out of the spirit, and I think it
connects to the human soul. I know city people like
this music, too, but it doesn't connect to them like it
does good ol' down-home people. They love the music
because it talks about them, it talks about their way
of life, it talks about their belief system, and things
they can buy into and believe in," Skaggs says. "A lot
of these gospel songs that we do have a lot of hope in
them, and farmers always believe in hope. Hope is allwe have. As a Christian, we know Christ IS our hope. It's not like 'I hope so' - it's a knowing hope.
"But you're right, this music does connect with
farmers," he added. "You could hear it tonight. And
when we play small towns like ... for instance, last
night we played Corsicana, Texas which is in the
middle of nowhere. People would come in with dirty
boots and hat like they just got in off the farm and
brought their honey to the show. They sat there and
loved it. It was wonderful ... I'd rather play for those
kind of people than to play for kings and presidents,
and I've played for presidents, but nobody appreciates it
Skaggs says the farm he grew up on back near
Cordell, Ky., wasn't a big one, but it was large enough
to teach many life lessons whether it was hoeing corn,
gathering eggs or feeding chickens.
"My Dad raised potatoes, beans, watermelons,
cucumbers, walnuts, cabbage, sweet potatoes," he
said. "We grew everything, and my mother canned and
put up stuff. And of course, we had an apple orchard
and pear orchard and peaches. So we were very reliant
on the Earth and the ground, and being able to raise a
good garden. My Dad gave a lot of stuff away to people,
especially older couples that couldn't much raise stuff
anymore. My Dad was great about that. He always
loved being able to bless people, and give them meat."
"It was a great way to grow up, having chores to do
and being responsible for something," he added. "And
seeing your hands create something. When you planted
something, you saw it grow and come into maturity,
and you could eat the labor of your hands, which was
great! Nothing tastes better than corn that you've actually
hoed and brought in, and mother cut that off the
cob, scraped it, and made that fried corn."
Even today, Skaggs and his wife Sharon, part of the
family group The Whites (along with her sister Cheryl
and father Buck), are considering raising some of their
own food on their 15-acre northern Tennessee estate --
if they can keep the deer away long enough.
"We've got a great place where we live, and we've
got fruit trees out there -- some apple trees and pear
trees. The peaches blew down, so I've got to get Stark
Brothers to send me some trees -- I still get my Stark
Brothers Catalog like my Dad used to do," he said wistfully.
"There's nothing that can take the place of people's
hands," he added. "People have to plant the stuff,
people have to hoe it, and people have to care for it. We
need vegetables, we need fruit, we need rice, we need
beans, we need corn -- those are staples. So many other
things come from those things, and if we don't raise
that stuff and become dependent on foreigners to raise
it for us, my goodness, we're in trouble! We've seen the
American farmer lose everything; lose farms that have
been in the family 200 years. It's so sad! If anybody
should get a hand, a help and a lift-up, it should be the
To learn more about Skaggs, visit rickyskaggs.com or
skaggsfamilyrecords.com. Skaggs' "Mosaic" and "Songs My
Dad Loved" recently received three nominations for the 53rd
Annual Grammy Awards: Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel
Album, "Mosaic"; Best Traditional Folk Album, "Songs My
Dad Loved," and Best Gospel Song, "Return To Sender,"
writer Gordon Kennedy, "Mosaic." The Grammys will be
broadcast live on CBS on Feb. 13, 7 p.m. CST.