'No time for the negative'
Ricky Skaggs on country's mainstream appeal
(This article originally published in the San Diego Evening Tribune on August 22, 1989.)
Published January 2006
While one-time role models are fading like an endangered species, with everyone from baseball heroes to big-time preachers falling into the grasp of temptation, Ricky Skaggs stands about it all.
A true country gentleman, Skaggs puts ethics above profit and pleasure.
For instance, Skaggs, whose million-selling albums are almost entirely built on covers of other artists' material, refuses to touch any song that glorifies drinking or womanizing.
"I don't glorify that stuff myself, so I won't sing about it," he said by phone. "I hate negative songs; I won't sing them. It doesn't matter if ti's sold 2 million more albums."
"I'm not a goody-two-shoes," he added. "I'm just a father with four children."
Skaggs is much more than that, though. He is also the father of the current wave of "new traditionalist" country that has replaced what he refers to as "Urban Cowboy" music that was stifling the country charts at the turn of the decade.
It was Skaggs who first showed that traditionally styled country music still had a following, a following that would purchase albums and fill concert halls.
Once he led the way, others who had previously been shut out of the recording studio by corporate bias soon joined him on the charts. Artists such as Dwight Yoakum, Ricky Van Shelton and Randy Travis might not have achieved the success they have as quickly had Skaggs not first opened the door.
Nearly a decade after helping break down one barrier, Skaggs is now helping breaking down another. Perhaps more than any other country artist this decade, he is bringing many non-country fans into the fold.
And he's doing it not by tailoring his music to least-common-denominator standards designed not to offend, but by blending his original bluegrass style with other U.S. music forms, such as jazz-derived improvisation and gospel-influenced vocals.
But Skaggs, in typical modesty, attributes the growing number of dissatisfied rocks fans showing up at his concerts to the music, not the man.
People are tired of the 12 Marshall stack amps and heavy metal sound," he said. "They're not getting satisfied with Top-40 pop."
"But country's hip; it's cool music."
Although Skaggs said that in terms of popularity and economics, country music is stronger than it has ever been, he is still disturbed that it does not receive the same critical respect in the United States that jazz and blues do.
"Country and western is ignored by the intellectuals," Skaggs said. "They don't look at it as an art form. They think it's just somebody sitting on his couch singing about his life."