Aspen Times Weekly: Cooder, White and Skaggs from a musical dream team
If You Go …
What: Ry Cooder – Sharon White – Ricky Skaggs
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Wednesday, June 17, 9:30 p.m.
Cost: $95 advance GA / $100 day-of GA / $295 reserved
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
Asked what was left on his musical bucket list a few years ago at an event in Nashville, the guitar master Ry Cooder said he hoped he would get to play with country/bluegrass greats Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White before he hung up his iconic “Coodercaster.”
This summer, Cooder is getting his wish, hitting the road with Skaggs and White – who have been married for 34 years — with a new supergroup. Their 16-date summer tour begins in Salt Lake City on June 16 and comes to Belly Up Aspen the next day, with stops in Boulder, Telluride and Denver to follow.
“They sing better than any living people I know,” Cooder told me recently from California. “I wanted to be a country or bluegrass player when I was in high school (in Los Angeles), but it was obviously never going to transpire.”
Skaggs and Cooder first met about a decade ago at the Grammy Awards — the trio has 20-plus Grammys between them — and had stayed in touch since.
“I could tell right then that he was a guy who had a heart for the elders and the old fathers,” Skaggs says. “He and I were yinning and yanging from the get.”
But they didn’t perform together until last year at a benefit concert for guitarist Tony Rice. After that, Cooder played a guest spot on White and Skaggs’ 2014 duet album, “Hearts Like Ours.” When they were then invited to play at Carnegie Hall this fall, the trio decided to build a tour around the gig.
As Cooder-White-Skaggs they’ve mined classic country, blues, gospel and bluegrass for new takes on old material — combining four-part harmonies with dance hall arrangements of timeless songs by the likes of Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, along with gospel traditionals.
“My heart has been harkening back there for so many years,” says Skaggs, who is playing the fiddle on tour for the first time in recent memory along with his signature mandolin.
The band has about 35 songs in their repertoire to choose from, aiming to revive and honor the classics on which the songs of the 21st century acoustic-music boom were built.
“A lot of today’s music, while it’s exciting, it’s just party music that revs you up,” White says. “But this rootsy music stirs your heart and soul.”
For now, there’s no plan for a Cooder-White-Skaggs album — so the tour stop here may be your only chance to hear what these greats have come up with together.
Cooder’s son, Joachim, is playing drums in the outfit, with Mark Fain on bass and Sharon’s sister Cheryl joining in on vocals. The Whites’ patriarch, Buck, now 84, is playing piano on the tour.
This spring, as Cooder, White, Skaggs and their bandmates were preparing for the tour in Nashville, the group made a visit to the retirement home where bluegrass legend Curly Seckler lives and gave an impromptu performance for about 40 residents.
“Even in that setting, Buck White absolutely ripped it,” says Cooder. “He tore down that old folks’ home.”
At the outset, this new project appears to be built on a reverence for old American music and a mutual admiration among Cooder, White and Skaggs.
“I have the best front-row seat in the world,” White says. “Standing there between Ricky and Ry and with my dad jamming away on the piano — it’s a country girl’s dream come true.”
Even Cooder, who was notoriously averse to playing on the road for much of his legendary career, is enthusiastic about getting on stage with this dream team.
“Being on tour used to scare me to death,” Cooder says. “This time it’s not like that. I’ve got some guitars, some nice amps and we’re gonna look sharp and be sharp. I even got a hat.”
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