Tony Rice

  • Tony Rice
    Tony Rice

I read over the holiday that bluegrass guitar player and singer Tony Rice died.

It was a sad day for bluegrass fans in general and guitar players in particular.

Rice followed the footsteps of Doc Watson and Clarence

White and developed a flashy style of picking that was emulated by thousands but matched by none.

He was a singer, too, and you can hear his voice on many songs that have become staples in bluegrass music.

Rice was musical hero to a couple of generations of people who wished they could sing and play like him.

And in one of the cruelest of ironies, that list of want-to-bes eventually included Rice himself, who couldn’t sing for the last 25 years of his life or play the guitar without pain for 10.

In 1994, he was diagnosed with muscle tension dysphonia, a condition in which the muscles around the larynx tighten enough to keep it from working properly.

His singing stilled, he continued to record and perform as a guitarist until lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow, made it too painful for him to play.

Like a character in a Greek tragedy, Rice, the innovator and the musical visionary, was stripped of that which had made him unique.

He could no longer do that which defined him to his fans.

He was the musical match to Sandy Koufax, who had to retire from pitching at the peak of his career because of arthritis in his left elbow.

Only a few know the loss brought by diminished greatness, but we can all relate in some way, even if it is losing the ability to do the things that were easy for us in our youth.

Walking, speaking, eating, moving without pain, creating art, seeing, hearing.

They’re all gifts that we should appreciate and celebrate often.