RICKY SKAGGS, PART 1: THE AWARD HE GAVE AWAY

RICKY SKAGGS, PART 1: THE AWARD HE GAVE AWAY

Ask Ricky Skaggs today about the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award he earned back in 1985, and he’ll talk about how much it means to him as if he were presented with it yesterday. So why did he choose years ago to hand over another prestigious honor to another artist?

It happened at the 1984 Grammy Awards, a night the respected singer, instrumentalist and, yes, entertainer remembers well.

How did you rate your chances before hearing your name called as Entertainer of the Year?

Even with Male Vocalist of the Year, I didn’t think I had a chance at all to win. I knew I was the new kid on the block, but hey, there was George Jones! There was Merle Haggard! There was Ronnie Milsap! There were all these great people that I looked up to as lead vocalists. Honestly, to look back at it, I was in a bluegrass band called Boone Creek – Jerry Douglas and Vince Gill were in that band for a while. We were up in Lexington, Kentucky. I sang lead on a few songs, but for the most part I was a harmony singer. In Emmylou’s (Harris) band, I was a harmony singer. She never really featured me as a lead singer, even though she’d let Rodney (Crowell) sing a song or two in her show. But I didn’t really consider myself a lead singer until I did the first album, Sweet Temptation, for Sugar Hill. Emmylou sang with me on that. So I didn’t have long years or experience as a lead singer, so for me to get nominated as a lead singer was almost like, “Thanks, but it’s never going to happen.”

But Entertainer of the Year? Good Lord. People ask me all the time, “Of all the awards you’ve won, which is the greatest award?” I always emphatically say, “CMA Entertainer of the Year 1985.” I remember I hit my knees out of gratitude. I was so thankful to have won it, even before I walked up on the stage. It’s a moment in time that’s kind of frozen like a leaf under the ice. I’ll never forget it.

What’s the story behind your decision to pass your Grammy Award, just seconds after you’d received it, to Bill Monroe?

I remember giving my Best Country Instrumental Performance of the Year Grammy Award, for “Wheel Hoss,” to Mr. Monroe. The press followed me there and wrote about how I gave a Grammy Award to an old man who was probably in his mid to late 70s at the time. I didn’t want the folks to think I was ungrateful, but at that point Bill Monroe had never won a Grammy! Here’s the man that started the whole genre of music and had never been honored for it. I just thought that was an oversight on somebody’s part, so I wanted him to have it. I felt like he really deserved it.

So that was a completely spontaneous decision.

Absolutely! Nobody prompted me to do that. It was just something I did out of my heart. Later on, Bill Clinton gave him the Kennedy Honors Award. And he won a Grammy on his own without my giving it to him for Bluegrass Album of the Year. NARAS gave him some kind of a lifetime achievement award. But I think it made people think, because Earl Scruggs got awarded pretty heavily toward the end of his life. And they had Ralph (Stanley) on the Grammys doing “O Death.” That was pretty wild to look down on some of those rappers down there, watching Ralph do “O Death,” and their eyes were big as half-dollars (laughs). I was loving that.

NEXT WEEK – Ricky Skaggs recalls his first meeting with an unknown and young Garth Brooks, and reflects on the special meaning of his CMA Entertainer of the Year Award!

FOR MORE REFLECTIONS FROM WINNERS OF THE CMA ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR AWARD, SEE THE OCT/NOV 2013 ISSUE OF CMA CLOSE UP.