NASHVILLE — Ricky Skaggs doesn’t mind saying so. Before he was a first-class picker, he was a first-class brat.
The 55-year-old country legend cringes when he remembers his sometimes petulant attitude as a child. As a young boy, he’d act up as his father — Hobert Skaggs, a soft-spoken welder and musician — tried to teach him how to play the mandolin.
“I’d get mad and didn’t want to play, or I thought I had it right and he’d say I didn’t,” Skaggs recalled. “I’d be a smart aleck and say something, and I regretted it so much. Later, I apologized to my dad so much for my strong-headedness.”
Now, Skaggs is offering much more than an apology. On his new CD, Songs My Dad Loved, Skaggs pays homage to his late father, who died in 1996. The disc, released Tuesday, is a collection of songs Hobert Skaggs sang around the house, tunes like Ralph Stanley’s Little Maggie and the Louvin Brothers’ What Is a Home Without Love.
Skaggs plays every instrument (mandolin, banjo, fiddle, guitar and piano) and sings every note. He keeps most of the arrangements simple, just as he and his father used to play them.
“My dad never played for a living,” Skaggs says. “He could easily have sang or played with Bill Monroe. He was that good. But he wanted to stay with his family and work to where he could be home on the weekends.”
As a young man, Hobert Skaggs sang and played guitar in a duo with his brother on mandolin. After his brother died in the Second World War, Hobert vowed if any of his kids showed an aptitude for music, he’d buy them an instrument.
Ricky — the second youngest of four children — displayed that talent. “He bought me a mandolin and showed me three chords,” Skaggs said.
They were G, C and D — the basis for dozens of country, bluegrass and folk tunes — and by the time his dad returned home from a welding job in Lima, Ohio, two weeks later, three-year-old Ricky was playing and singing his little heart out.
Hobert Skaggs was so excited that he went out and bought himself a new guitar (he’d lent his old one to a family friend and drifted away from music).
“Not only did that start my musical journey, but it kick-started and encouraged a newfound inspiration for him as well,” Skaggs recalled. “He had a reason to play music again.”
It didn’t take long to see that his son had a gift. By age six, Skaggs was invited to perform with Bill Monroe. A year later he was on TV with Flatt&Scruggs.
He went on to play with Ralph Stanley, J.D. Crowe and Emmylou Harris before launching a solo career in 1981, and between 1982 and 1989, he had 11 No. 1 country hits.
Skaggs, who’s won 14 Grammys and sold millions of records, returned to bluegrass in the 1990s and became one of the genre’s leading figures — and one of its most adventurous, working with artists including rock singers Bruce Hornsby, John Fogerty and Jack White (he was recently nominated for the Country Music Association’s vocal event of the year for “Old Enough,” a song with White’s Raconteurs and Ashley Monroe).