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Skaggs returns to Ashland with new autobiography and album due in August

Jul. 21, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

When Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder play the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland on Saturday it will be like old home week.

Skaggs grew up less than 30 miles from there in Brushy Creek, near Cordell, Ky., where he honed his musical skills at an early age.

All of those memories of growing up in the woods and hollers of Eastern Kentucky have now been captured in Skaggs' new autobiography called "Kentucky Traveler," which will be published by Harper Collins on Aug. 13. Helping Skaggs write the book is the award-winning writer Eddie Dean, who garnered an International Bluegrass Music Association journalism award a couple of years ago for his work on Dr. Ralph Stanley's autobiography.

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder will perform Saturday, July 27, at the Paramount Arts Center, 1300 Winchester Ave. The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30, $35 and $40. For tickets or more information, go online at www.paramountartscenter.com or call 606-324-3175.

Skaggs is also about to release a new album on Aug. 20 called "Cluck Ol' Hen - Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby Live."

The Tri-State is mentioned often in "Kentucky Traveler." Ashland was where Skaggs' father would go to buy musical instruments for his talented son, and when they formed a family band they would go to the Ohio River town to sing into an old RCA ribbon microphone while performing on the local radio station WTCR. The Skaggs Family Band also played on a package show in Huntington one time with legends like Roy Acuff and Kitty Wells.

What is mentioned often in Skaggs' life story is the love of music and the faith that his parents instilled in him, without which, he says, he would not have become the award-winning musician or man that he is today.

"I know more about myself now than I ever thought I would know," said Skaggs, laughing. "(When writing the book) I realized what a huge role my parents, my Mom and my Dad, both played in my early beginnings. Us going to places and playing and singing and being out there, and Dad working with me at home and surrounding me with other musicians and introducing me to music at such an early age. I realized how much they were involved in my life. I guess, 50 years later, you might forget that kind of stuff unless you do write a book and talk about it. I mean, it's in your head. It's in there. But when you interview and you talk about it and then you see it in a book, they are in almost every chapter. Or, if they are not mentioned, what they imparted in me is mentioned. So that was kind of a shocker for me."

One of the musicians that influenced Skaggs when he was a kid was his father's cousin Paul 'Euless' Wright, who lived in Ashland. A fiddler who could play a wide variety of music, it was Wright who inspired a young Skaggs to take up the fiddle. Unfortunately, Wright was an alcoholic, which curtailed his career. Skaggs mentions in his book that Wright could have become one of Bill Monroe's best fiddlers, but when Monroe had to bail him out of jail one time in Ashland, that was the end of that notion. Still, Wright had some moments in the sun.

"I could certainly play some of the tunes I learned from him like 'Florida Blues,' 'Grey Eagle' and 'Whitesburg,'" said Skaggs. "I can (still) play those fiddle tunes. We've got tapes of him. My Dad would go over to his place and take a tape recorder and record him playing, or Euless would come over to the house. But, he was such a talented guy. He lived in Ashland for a pretty good while and then moved to Columbus (Ohio). He did some recordings with Pee Wee Lambert and Curly Parker, who were from Ashland. And, J.D. Crowe was in that band for a while. I need to talk with J.D. and see if he remembers him because I didn't know that until I heard Eddie Stubbs (award-winning DJ on WSM-AM in Nashville) play some songs by Pee Wee and Curly and he said, 'That was a relative of Ricky Skaggs playing the fiddle, Paul Wright.'"

Now, at 59, Skaggs appreciates his time growing up in Brushy Creek in an age when kids played outside instead of spending all day looking at a video screen of some kind, where the family butchered a hog once a year, milked its cow, lived off of the garden and played music with friends and family.

"We found lots of crazy things to do for entertainment," said Skaggs. "I guess when you don't have Sony PlayStation and Game Boy and cell phones with games on them and stuff like that, you have to find other kinds of entertainment. I'm telling you, and I know how strong-willed I was, if I had been born 50 years later to parents like my Mom and Dad, even in Eastern Kentucky, it wouldn't have been the same. I would have probably been drawn away with things like toys or anything else that can take your mind away or your time away. God knew that when I was born, 'This is the right time for you to be born, son. The distractions are fewer than they will be 50 years from now.'"