Ricky Skaggs' salute to Bill Monroe not just for bluegrass fans

Ricky Skaggs knows bluegrass. He has played it since he was a child.

Skaggs also knew Bill Monroe, the father of blue grass (as Monroe spelled it) music, who died in 1996. Skaggs was a child when he first met Monroe and played for him in his hometown of Martha, Ky.; he later shared the stage with him many times, at bluegrass festivals, concerts, the Grand Ole Opry and elsewhere.

So "Big Mon," Skaggs' tribute to Monroe, comes from the heart. The CD, on the Skaggs Family Records label, will be available today.

"This album was never targeted to the bluegrass audience," Skaggs explained in a phone call last week from New York City, where he was to perform with the Everly Brothers at the Westbury Playhouse. He also has been touring with the Dixie Chicks.

"We wanted to so something that would honor Bill Monroe in a way that showed him as a great singer and a great musician, but also as a great songwriter," Skaggs said.

Skaggs called in musicians from several genres to show the versatility of Monroe's music, the music he wrote and the music he recorded.

"Big Mon" features songs by Mary Chapin Carpenter, the Dixie Chicks, Charlie Daniels, John Fogerty, Bruce Hornsby, Patty Loveless, Joan Osborne, Dolly Parton, Travis Tritt, Steve Wariner, the Whites and Dwight Yoakam.

Some � notably Tritt, Daniels, Parton, Loveless and the Whites � have solid bluegrass roots, by virtue of having grown up in the Southeast.

Of those, the ones who play instruments have experience unmatched in any other genre, Skaggs said.

"If you start out in a bluegrass band, you can't be a slough-off," he said. "You've got to learn to play your part. You have to be a good musician."

An all-star lineup of musicians, dubbed the Red Hot Chili Pickers, plays the title tune on the CD. They are Bobby Hicks, Stuart Duncan, Jason Carter and Luke Bulla on fiddle; J.D. Crowe, Bela Fleck, Jim Mills and Rob McCoury on banjo; Roland White, Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury and Skaggs on mandolin; Del McCoury and Bryan Sutton on acoustic guitar; and Mark Fain on bass.

As to the title of Monroe's song, Skaggs could only conjecture that band members might have suggested that he call it "Big Mon." Monroe's Blue Grass Boys and friends often called him "Mon" or "Mr. Mon," Skaggs said.

"Bill Monroe was a great musician," Skaggs said. "He had the talent to put together a whole new brand of music. That's something that nobody else can say they've done."

Monroe is in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame, and holds a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

Some might be surprised that Monroe also is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His induction in 1997 honors him as the originator of rockabilly music.

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