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Be specific... Bluegrass great Ricky Skaggs on the future of the genre

Ricky SkaggsSkaggs has some harsh words about the state of current country music.

Ask Ricky Skaggs about his favorite contemporary bluegrass acts and he'll rattle off a mighty list: Cherryholmes, The Infamous Stringdusters, Mountain Heart, Blue Highway, Sierra Hull and many others. But ask him about his favorite new country artists and... crickets. Skaggs thinks the genre has "lost its way."

His recent album, "Ricky Skaggs Solo (Songs My Dad Loved)" is a collection of old time tunes written before country took what Skaggs sees as a troubled turn. Click Track caught up with Skaggs as he prepared for a two-night stand at the Birchmere to find out more.

(Check back at noon for part two of this interview: A discussion about "bluegrass hair.")

Your new album is look back on the history of bluegrass, but how do you feel about the future of the genre?

Bluegrass, I think, is really doing well. There's a lot of new, young horses out there running... I'm much more hopeful for bluegrass music than I am for country music. Listening to country on the radio? Phew! Wow.

You think it's that bad, huh?

Country music has really, really lost its identity. It's tried to be something that it's not for so long now, it doesn't know what it's supposed to be. It's really lost its way. There's groups out there that are making good-sounding records but they have such a rock influence or such a pop influence. It's too rock to be country or too country to be rock. It's just... somewhere, hanging in the balance.

(Skaggs explains why bluegrass is country's "best friend," after the jump)

Why do you find contemporary bluegrass more compelling than contemporary country?

Bluegrass has maintained a roots influence. It's maintained an acoustic appeal. It's maintained the guts and the passion for great musicianship and people singing. Singing styles have changed over the years. People aren't necessarily singing about a "Little Cabin Home on the Hill" like they were in the '40s... Those things hardly exist anymore. But I think bluegrass is in a much, much better position to continue its climb forward.

You've had success both in genres. Have you seen country fans migrating over to the bluegrass world over the years?

Absolutely. I think bluegrass is the best friend country music has because it's the only part of country music that has a semblance of tradition and roots... There are probably some Texas groups, and I know there are some groups around Nashville... they don't care if they sell 10 records or a thousand. They're gonna stay traditional. They're gonna stay country. Unfortunately, the gatekeepers at radio and the gatekeepers at the labels here in Nashville close those people out because they don't have the image that some of the girls or guys have. They don't look as well on CMT or VH1 or GAC... It's really sad. It never should have been about that and it didn't used to be about that until country music went to television.

So you think bluegrass has maintained a sort of purity.

I think there's something about getting in your car and driving home and listening to Roscoe Holcomb from the early '60s... Or Doc Boggs bringing that scary banjo and singing that old, stanky mountain music. It brings some sort of peace to your heart... It's your frame of mind. You get to control it. You're the gatekeeper of your eyes and your ears.

By Chris Richards  |  January 8, 2010; 6:05 AM ET
Categories:  Be specific  | Tags: Ricky Skaggs  
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