As a young bluegrass player, Ricky Skaggs was part of the group of musicians that included Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, and Sam Bush who kept the bluegrass fires burning in the ‘70s. Though he definitely had the chops, Skaggs’ take on bluegrass always followed more of a traditional line than the newgrass of Bush and Rice at the time. He was also a member of Emmylou Harris’s band, bringing a more traditional sound as heard on ‘Blue Kentucky Girl’ and ‘Roses In The Snow’. His debut solo album on Sugar Hill Records, 1979’s ‘Sweet Temptation’, included drums and electric guitar and took the new traditional sound of Emmylou Harris to new levels, and was the springboard to a career on major label Epic Records that saw him dominate the ‘80s with his new traditional sound. In the 90s he returned to more of a bluegrass sound with his crack band, Kentucky Thunder. Ry Cooder’s career has seen him explore various American and world roots music genres which has meant he is one of the founding fathers of americana. In 2007 he revisited his own old-time and bluegrass roots with ‘My Name Is Buddy’, which saw him recording with bluegrass and folk legends Roland White and Pete Seeger. As always, whatever Cooder plays always comes out like a Ry Cooder tune irrespective of the genre.
In 2015 Cooder and Skaggs decided to put together a blues, gospel, old-time and bluegrass tour, that included Skaggs’ wife Sharon White, and members of her family band The Whites, Cooder’s son Joachim, and members of Kentucky Thunder. The initial tour was successful enough for the Cooder Skaggs White tour to extend into 2016 and they landed at the Ryman Auditorium on 3rd April 2016. They played music across the genres of American music. While the band could have been viewed as simply some form of cross-genre superstar grouping, they played as a true band with each musician playing to their strengths but always honouring the material, which had a distinct gospel feel.
The hymn ‘You Must Unload’ was written by John B. Vaughan in 19th Century Georgia, and was recorded by Blind Alfred Reed in 1927. It was played as an encore at the Ryman, and it is clearly Cooder’s tune as he is featured on vocals and guitar, but the harmony vocals of The Whites take everyone to church, and Ricky Skaggs reminds everyone of what a great mandolin player he is. Ry Cooder played on Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White’s ‘Hearts Like Hours’ which was a precursor to the tour, but there has been no official complete souvenir issued from the Cooder Skaggs White tour unfortunately. However, Cooders ‘Prodigal Son’, released in 2018, was influenced by the old-time, gospel, bluegrass sound of the Cooder Skaggs White tour, and includes a version of ‘You Must Unload’ on an album that looked back to his earlier classic albums such as ‘Into The Purple Valley’, and hints at the influence gospel had on rock & roll.