Acoustic Routes Concerts, which is producing 15-time GRAMMY® winner Ricky Skaggs’ May 25 concert at The Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor with special guests The Saline Fiddlers, is asking for the public’s help to locate photographs of Skaggs performing with Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. The pictures – if they still exist – were taken during the summer of 1960 in Martha, Kentucky, when Skaggs was just six years old.
“Ricky Skaggs is legendary in music circles for supporting young artists like Carson Peters, Sierra Hull and The Saline Fiddlers – backing them on mandolin and sharing stage time,” said Jim Cain, founder of Acoustic Routes. “Mr. Monroe set the example almost 60 years ago when he pulled Ricky up on stage by his arm and strapped a big Loar mandolin across his little frame. Finding a picture from that night would be a great way of thanking Ricky for inspiring the people who are carrying Mr. Monroe’s legacy into the future.”
The Story of the Picture
Mandolin picker and high tenor Bill Monroe was no stranger to Grand Ole Opry fans when he took the stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on a freezing December night in 1945. After all, Monroe had been performing and recording since the mid-1930s. He joined the Opry in 1939. And all those years, he had been doggedly refining a new sound that married mountain music, sophisticated harmonies and blistering tempos.
It coalesced on Saturday, December 8 in big bang. With Lester Flatt on guitar, Earl Scruggs on banjo, Chubby Wise on fiddle and Howard Watts on bass, Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys showcased a new and uniquely American style of music. There’s a state historic marker outside the Ryman that commemorates the night. But just 15 years later, with rock and roll ascendant, times were lean for Monroe and he was back on the road barnstorming the country to keep him and his band afloat.
One of those stops during the summer of 1960 was in Martha, a tiny, unincorporated town in Eastern Kentucky. There, in the gymnasium of the old stone high school, Bill Monroe met Ricky Skaggs – the man who now carries the banner for Monroe’s music.
Skaggs’ 15 Grammy awards, his 12 No. 1 country hits and his induction in the Bluegrass, Gospel and Country Music Halls of Fame were still decades away. Back then, he was just a 6-year old kid who had been playing a pint-size mandolin for about a year. But Skaggs’ chops were strong enough even then that his neighbors in the audience shouted for Monroe to let little Ricky sing and pick. Amazingly, Monroe obliged, and Ricky tore through The Osborne Brothers’ song “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?” on Monroe’s full-size Gibson F-5 mandolin.
The story is memorialized in Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music, Skaggs autobiography, and recounted in videos. But no photographs of this seminal moment in music history are known to exist, although Skaggs said there were flash bulbs popping the entire time.
As Skaggs recently told the Greenville Journal in Greenville, South Carolina, “I’d love to find a picture of me onstage with Bill Monroe. That would be the greatest gift ever. Surely someone somewhere has that picture. I remember flashbulbs; I remember people taking pictures.”
The person who’s able to produce a picture is eligible to receive two tickets to Ricky’s May 25 show at The Michigan Theater courtesy of Acoustic Routes, a chance to meet Ricky before the show and a Ricky Skaggs Prize Pack, which includes an autographed copy Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music, an autographed photo of Ricky, a copy of the CD Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947 and various other items.
Anyone with a photo of the event should contact Acoustic Routes Concerts at [email protected]. Tickets for the May 25 show are available for purchase at Ticketmaster.