Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ricky Skaggs has already lived a legendary musical life. He was playing in Bill Monroe’s band when he was 15, at 23 he joined Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, he started his own Grammy-winning country band in the 1980s, and returned to traditional bluegrass in the ’90s, winning a few more Grammy Awards in the process. He’ll be playing the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival on Saturday with his smoking bluegrass band Kentucky Thunder and his piano-playing pal Bruce Hornsby.
Piano isn’t usually a bluegrass instrument, but Hornsby’s always been a maverick. His eclectic career includes a stint with the Grateful Dead, a long solo pop career and more recently, a straight-ahead jazz album, “Camp Meeting,” with Christian McBride and Jack DeJohnette.
“I met Bruce at a show in Horseheads, New York,” Skaggs says, explaining their unlikely collaboration. “One of those gigs where there are more people onstage than in the audience. I had my fiddle with me and we jammed on a few tunes. It was so much fun, we promised ourselves we’d get together and play again.”
Skaggs invited Hornsby to play on “Darlin’ Corey,” a track on Skaggs’ Bill Monroe tribute album “Big Mon,” and creative sparks flew.
“It was effortless and fun, so we decided to make an album together,” Skaggs continues. “Because we’re both so busy, it took two years to make, but the album [“Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby”] shows the best of both worlds. You can hear his love for bluegrass in his playing, but he still brings his Bill Evans approach and Bud Powell chord clusters. You can hear that we love playing with him and it stretched us as a band a bit.”
One of the biggest surprises on the album, and a tune they’ll be playing Saturday, is a rockin’ bluegrass version of Rick James’s “Super Freak.”
“That was all Bruce,” Skaggs says, chuckling. “Every time we talked about the record, he’d start singing in this high, nasal Prince-like kinda voice. He kept saying we ought to do a bluegrass version of ‘Super Freak.’ I thought it was a joke, until one day he came into the studio and said let’s cut that ‘Freak’ thing. It’s one of the highlights of the record, unfortunately, because there are so many other great tunes. We do great versions of ‘Mandolin Rain’ and ‘Across the Rocky Mountain,’ but one voice in the audience always calls out for ‘Super Freak.’ Skaggs paused, then added philosophically: “On the other hand, it means at least one person in the crowd has bought the record.”
Ricky Scaggs and Bruce Hornsby with Kentucky Thunder
Presented byHardly Strictly Bluegrass
Where: Banjo Stage, Speedway, Lindley and Marx Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
<p>When: 3:20 p.m. Oct. 6