Tony Rice, his guitar went silent on Christmas day

Born in Danville in 1951, Rice began his musical career at age 9 in a musical family in Los Angeles.
Tony Rice on stage at MerleFest.

Tony Rice, the Danville-born guitar master who started on a mandolin, died Christmas Day at his home in Reidsville, NC, at age 69.

News of Rice’s death came Saturday evening in a phone call from Berney Coveney, another master guitarist who knew and played with Rice over the years.

Raised in Los Angeles in a family of musicians, including father Herbert Rice of the Golden State Boys. The young Rice first sang on the radio at age 9 and replaced Dan Crary in the Bluegrass Alliance in 1970 before joining J.D. Crowe & the New South a year later.

By 1975, Rice was part of the David Grisman Quintet and he also recorded solo albums Guitar, California Autumn & Tony Rice and formed Tony Rice Unit for two more albums: Acoustics and Manzanita.

Besides solo efforts, The Tony Rice Unit played with Norman Blake, Bela Fleck, Ricky Skaggs, and his brothers Larry, Wyatt, and Ronnie Rice. He also collaborated with J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks, Doyle Lawson, and Todd Phillips on the Bluegrass Album Band recordings.

In 1993, Rice recorded with Grisman and Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead on what became the Pizza Tapes at Grisman’s studio. An album was released after too many bootleg copies of the tapes were passed around over the seven years that followed the recordings.

Muscle Tension Dysphonia destroyed Rice’s ability to sing in the 1990s and he stopped singing in performances by 1994. but The International Bluegrass Music Awards named Rice Guitar Player of the Year five times in the decade.

His singing voice was lost but he continued to play guitar and joined Larry Rie, Chris Hillman, and Herb Pederson to record three new albums. In 2006, he joined Peter Rowan for tours and albums, plus the Quartet Album with Bryn Davies and Sharon Gilchrist.

As his health deteriorated, the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame inducted him in 2013 and his performance at that ceremony was his last public appearance.

(Our thanks to Andy Kahn of JamBase for the information for this farewell to Tony Rice.)

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