Growing up I stumbled upon Doc Watson from a bluegrass playing friend from Ohio who knew dozens of tunes and songs. I tried to learn from him, but just lacked sufficient skill to actually learn more than “Ripple”, which is, of course, not Doc, but still a good, slow flatpicking melody.
Eventually I was exposed to more and more music, until one day at work I heard, on the Country station, Emmy Lou Harris and Tony Rice playing “Wayfaring Stranger”. I didn’t know who had played that solo guitar and rhythm, but I had to find out.
Tony Rice kind of reminds me of a smoothed out Doc with a hint of jazz in the blood. The only Rice song I’ve actually tried to imitate is “Church Street Blues”, the Norman Blake song done so well by Tony. I decided to avoid note-for-note imitation and more or less try to channel Rice, at least to the limits of my ability.
Gradually, as my general playing improves, I add other little pieces and modify others to get that clean, dry sound. I love the mixture of styles in the song; triplets, down-up, down-down-up, strumming and just doing whatever it takes to get the sound and end up on the right note and beat.
I’ve tried to find out how much he practiced and get numerous answers. I’ve concluded that he played until his fingers bled, got good enough to play instead of practice and finally just had to slow down due to health complications.
In any case, Tony Rice stands out as one of the most influential guitarists of any time and any genre. Too bad he is almost unheard of outside of bluegrass circles. Even there, the purists struggle with his wandering style and world music approach.