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Thread: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

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    Mark Evans mandozilla's Avatar
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    Default 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    I was just curious what others think of Ricky carrying 3 guitar pickers in Kentucky Thunder. He's got one who pretty much flatpicks solo's only, one who plays rhythm guitar only and one who plays some dopey looking (in a bluegrass context anyway) arch top guitar and sings tenor only.

    I guess he can't find one picker who can play rhythm guitar, flatpick solo's and sing tenor? There's no doub't that they sound great on recordings and live and I guess if you've bucks like Ricky has you can afford to carry extra musicians in your band.

    It almost seems like cheating to me. Is this possibly the wave of the future in Bluegrass music? This thread is not intended to flame Ricky Skaggs or Kentucky Thunder it's just a curiosity to me and I wonder if it is to anyone else?


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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    Well, I'm not sure exactly what the story is there. You'd think he could find one guy who could do it all, so maybe he's going for some kind of bluegrass equivalent of Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound. I remember being quite curious - befuddled may be more accurate - seeing that at the Philadelphia Folk Festival some fifteen years ago. I recall there being something like nine or ten guys on stage, four or five of them playing guitars at times (that would include RS occasionally). Seemed like overkill. At least I could hear the other instruments, including mandolin. (PFF has great sound techs.) It brought back bad memories of being drowned out by guitars at campfire jams and hootenannies. Personally, I would never lug that many guitarists around with me, and in fact my dream band is a power trio - mandolin, bass, and drums.
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    A few weeks ago I saw a bluegrass band on TV that had two mandolin players, one took all of the lead breaks and the other just chopped and sang, thre are quite a few bluegrass bands out there that carry two guitars but three is overkill...He must have something that ricky thinks can`t be replaced...Willie

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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    I heard Skaggs explain it's historical bluegrass/country precedence once, but can't remember what it was.
    Intuitively I would think that he just wants to hear that "sock" rhythm that is much more like what a percussionist would play than what the flat-top rhythm player would be doing. He could not realistically carry drums within Kentucky Thunder's format, but he has played with full percussion for years.
    Skaggs is not only picky, he has real big ears and knows what he wants to hear.
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    Well, the archtop that Mandozilla calls dopey-looking sounds pretty good to me. I think it's a Bourgeois cutaway.

    I like the way it beefs up the back beat, especially when Ricky takes a solo on the mandolin.

    Didn't Flatt&Scruggs use the archtop? The name Johnny Johnson comes to mind, and maybe Louis Innes played sock rhythm with them too. I'm sure there's an expert on archtop use in bluegrass music who will set us straight.

    I like the sound that Ricky's archtop player gets, and I think it adds something good to the music, but "the wave of the future in bluegrass music"? Isn't there an oxymoron lurking in that phrase some somewhere?

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    It's the Bluegrass Big Band Sound!! Country Cooking used to carry two banjo players, Pete Wernick and Tony Trischka, though one or the other would often "double." Lots of bands have had double fiddles -- Monroe recorded with two or three fiddles at different times -- and many have had more than one guitarist, though often one of the guitarists was primarily just a singer and didn't do any solo or strong rhythm. When I saw Nashville Grass Curly Seckler was doing most of the guitar work, but Flatt still had that "L-5" D-28 he'd played forever.

    By the way, why don't more bluegrass bands have singers who just sing and don't play an instrument? I've seen a few "singers only," usually women, but it seems to be bad bluegrass form for someone to stand on stage and sing without some kind of instrument -- whether he/she can play it well or not...

    I think that Ricky S has a definite sound in mind, both vocal and instrumental, and it has nothing to do with "being unable to find a guitarist who can play lead, rhythm, and sing tenor." If that's what he wanted, my guess is that there are hundreds of guitarists who'd jump at the chance to play in Kentucky Thunder. He might have trouble choosing from among them!
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    Allen makes some good points - as usual. I agree that Ricky must have a certain sound in mind, and since he can indeed pick and choose from a vast number of pickers who would love to play in his band, he's going for something other than what can be acconplished with just one guitar, or even two, for that matter. Just because I, nor Mandozilla nor Willie, see (or hear) the point in this, as Fretbear says, he has "real big ears" and is probably hearing something with this lineup that suits him. I just don't know what it is ...

    As to why there aren't many non-picking singers ... I guess it would have something to do with there being so many picking singers in the business that the competition has forced them to either learn to pick or quit. It could also be an economic decision, splitting up revenue by one less portion. You'd have to be a real good singer to get beyond that, so good you'd be able to be a country star or something like that. It does seem more acceptable for singers to just sing in country and rock, though to be honest, even to me it always seemed like they were not quite carrying their weight. Then again, being not much of a singer, I tend to devalue their contribution. Someone did try to convince me once that The Doors were really a power trio with an added singer.
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    Registered User Steve Williams's Avatar
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    John you're right, at one time Johnny Johnson played archtop guitar with Flatt and Scruggs.

    Steve

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    Registered User Steve Perry's Avatar
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    Don't blame Ricky... He don't know no better. He was raised up around Bluegrass jams where the guitar to other instrument ratio was 8 to 1. That's how he thinks it's supposed to be.
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    The Wilders (local heros) rock on old country and fiddle tunes with an archtop. Mother Carter played an archtop. Daley and Vincent sound pretty good with Vincent playing an archtop. Gillian Welch has a six string guy that can flat tear it up on archtop. The dred is not the only guitar that can exell, much as the F5 isn't the only mandolin worth playing. Ricky knows what he's doing. He sells records, packs in the crowds, and we're always chewing his leg off online. His hair, his mandolin, his guitar players. He is among the blessed few who carry the torch for the kind of music my grandpa and I love. And bless him for going old time on his latest recording. I'll be buying that one.
    Last edited by Mike Snyder; Aug-08-2009 at 7:08pm. Reason: bullish
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    The Bloomingtones earthsave's Avatar
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    The Clinch Mountain Boys usually have a couple, sometimes a few guitar players.
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Snyder View Post
    ... Gillian Welch has a six string guy that can flat tear it up on archtop ...
    Name's David Rawlings, real talent, genuine nice guy, and they're married, as well as a duo. They just figure that for booking purposes it's a lot easier this way than to say "Gillian Welch and David Rawlings." Same with Karen Savoca (and Pete Heitzman). People who know what's what know they'll both be there. Those who don't will have an easier time remembering just one name. That's their theory, anyway. Me, I like to see everyone get credit.
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    Registered User Mike Snyder's Avatar
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    David Rawlings and Ike Shelton of the Wilders get very similar tone out of vintage arch top guitars.
    I'll bet all those guitar cases take up some serious room in Rickys' tour bus.
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    Tour bus? You mean 18 wheeler!
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    Successful band leaders often indulge themselves with big units -- look at Bob Wills!! or for a more modern example (following Wills) is Merle Haggard. They want to put on the best possible show, they can afford it, so they do it. In this case I support Ricky all the way -- he's spending more money than he "needs" to (he could sell out his concerts with himself, a bass and rhythm guitar) to get the sound he wants.

    Back to F&S, they often had a "sock" rhythm player after Curly Sechler left the band. At the Carnegie Hall (1962) concert it was the "singing bus driver", as Lester called him, Billy Powers.

    The Stanley bands are another story -- the lead singer plays rhythm and they have a lead guitarist (now James Alan Shelton).

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    Quote Originally Posted by swampstomper View Post
    The Stanley bands are another story -- the lead singer plays rhythm and they have a lead guitarist (now James Alan Shelton).
    And often a second banjo picker too, don't they?

    I agree that 3 guitars, one of them archtop, looks unusual in a bluegrass context, but it works, and sure sounds good. KT is as tight as any band out there.
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    Quote Originally Posted by mrmando View Post
    And often a second banjo picker too, don't they?
    No, they have only one main picker, the rock-solid Steve Sparkman, who plays more like Ralph than Ralph! Ralph will play a tune or two, almost always clawhammer, but these days he mostly "just" sings. And as he gets older he sits out more of the concert and lets the boys (led by Ralph II) do much of the work. Hey, he deserves it!

    Steve started with the band when Dr Ralph broke his collarbone (IIRC) and Ralph liked the sound so much, he kept him. It's all Steve on projects such as "Clinch Mountain Country".

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    JB - I always thought that David Rawlings & Gillian Welch were married but never really 'knew',not that it would change my opinion of them - i think they're terrific, & Gillian especially has written some amazing songs.
    I've always though that the number of Guitars thar KT carries was a bit OTT,but i do like their sound,so i suppose it's not detrimental in that respect. Darrin Vincent used to do the 'arch-top' honours,so since he left,who's behind it now ?,
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    I thought Cody Kilby was his guitar player. I must have gotten that idea from Live at the Charleston Music Hall. That kid is a monster.

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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    What difference does it make? He sounds good.

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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    Quote Originally Posted by mandozilla View Post
    ... Ricky (Skaggs) carrying 3 guitar pickers in Kentucky Thunder. He's got one who pretty much flatpicks solo's only, one who plays rhythm guitar only and one who plays some dopey looking (in a bluegrass context anyway) arch top guitar and sings tenor only.

    I guess he can't find one picker who can play rhythm guitar, flatpick solo's and sing tenor? There's no doub't that they sound great on recordings and live and I guess if you've bucks like Ricky has you can afford to carry extra musicians in your band.

    It almost seems like cheating to me. Is this possibly the wave of the future in Bluegrass music? This thread is not intended to flame Ricky Skaggs or Kentucky Thunder it's just a curiosity to me and I wonder if it is to anyone else?

    Well, mandozilla, from a historical point of view Ricky surely ain´t cheating. Now if you only take Big Mon´s angle on bluegrass, adding a dobro even might be blasphemy.

    Flatt & Scruggs, as it has been mentioned allready, had the "Ricky Skaggs" lineup. The Foggy Mountain Boys recorded quite a bit with sock rythm style backup in the old days (Mercury or Columbia... I don´t know which). The reason is that the guitar sound was fatter as they did not or very sparsely used mandolin rythm as the time went on. Mandolin pickers with the Foggy Mountain Boys were Curley Seckler as well as Everett Lilly. As the time went on mandolin solos became sparse or non existent and even backup mandolin was dropped in order to not sound like Bill Monroe. That called for a sound change which - at least on the recordings - caused the advent of archtop guitar rythm as well as "regular" bluegrass guitar rythm.

    So Ricky Skaggs is not straying from the true path.

    If you look at the performance the setup makes sense also. The lead guitar player has his load to carry, so it´s nicer to have the rythm man (Paul Brewster?) sing as may do the archtop man (... Vincent replacement). The other musicians may ride their instruments. Just Ricky Skaggs has his hands full with mandolin solos, mandolin rythm, lead and tenor singing, MC work...
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    I believe the third guitar spot vacated by Darrin Vincent is now held down by Ed Faris, formerly of The Faris Family from Kansas. Ed can play anything very well.
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    3. The only instruments that will be permitted are as
    follows: Five-string Banjo, Flat-top Guitar, Mandolin,
    Fiddle, Dobro, and Bass Fiddle. Below are the combinations
    and the ONLY combinations that will be recognized
    by the SPBGMA judging officials:
    4 MEMBER MANDATORY REQUIREMENT
    A-Five-string banjo
    B-Flat-top guitar
    C-Mandolin
    D-Bass fiddle
    5 MEMBERS
    (The 4 Member Mandatory Requirement, Plus ONE
    of the following: )
    A-Fiddle
    B-Guitar
    C-Mandolin
    D-Dobro
    E-Non-musician vocalist
    6 MEMBERS
    (The 4 Member Mandatory Requirement, Plus ONE
    of the following combinations: )
    A-Two fiddles
    B-One fiddle and one guitar
    C-One fiddle and one dobro
    D-One fiddle and one mandolin
    E-One guitar and one dobro
    F-One guitar and one mandolin
    G-One dobro and one mandolin
    UP TO TWO (2) NON-MUSICIAN VOCALIST MAY BE
    ADDED TO MAKE UP THE 6 MEMBER MAXIMUM


    from the SPBGMA OFFICIAL
    BLUEGRASS BAND COMPETITION
    GENERAL RULES AND REGULATIONS
    Indulge responsibly!

    The entire staff
    funny....

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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    That being said, I really like the Kentucky Thunder sound, and what ever Ricky has to do to get it is fine by me.
    Indulge responsibly!

    The entire staff
    funny....

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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: 3 Guitars in Kentucky Thunder

    I guess Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder would be disqualified and won't be competing in the SPBGMA Official Bluegrass Band Competition any time soon. Too bad, 'cause they've got some talent, and could conceivably win this contest and garner the prestige such winners receive. That would certainly help them in their career. Guess they'll just have to struggle along with the few bookings they're able to get, until they learn to toe the line. Now if only they would play by the rules ...
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