- - Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Separately, they are world class musicians: Ry Cooder, the legendary Grammy Award-winning powerhouse guitar virtuoso; Sharon White, the gospel singer with the voice of an angel and many accolades to show for it; and Ricky Skaggs, whose 40-year career has brought him 14 Grammy Awards, 8 CMA Awards, 9 ACM Awards and millions of fans. Together they are Cooder-White-Skaggs a newly formed powerhouse bluegrass combo which will be hitting The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

Mr. Skaggs discussed the benefits of touring with your wife, how the trio came to be and his love of bluegrass.

Question: How did you and your wife come to form the combo of Cooder-White-Skaggs?

Answer: We were in desperate need of a guitar player, and Ry just happened to be available. [laughs]

Q: Had you worked with Ry Cooder before?

A: Ry and I have kind of known each other and have done some things, not really together though. I met him at a Grammys show. He was up for the “Buena Vista Social Club” sessions and won a Grammy on that. And I had won a Grammy on a bluegrass thing.

We kind of met in the hallway and were just standing there talking about music. He loved the bluegrass band I had at the time. That kind of opened up a relationship. A few years later Sharon and I were working on our duet record “Hearts Like Ours,” and we had one song that really needed a good slide guitar player on it. I couldn’t think of anybody any better. I got in touch with Ry and asked if he would be in Nashville. He was coming in a couple weeks later. He came in the studio and knocked that thing out in no time.

Then he said, “You got anything else you want me to play on?” We found another song. He played on that. That started a sweet relationship, and we felt there was a reason to do something together.

Q: Is that how you ended up playing together during “American Week” in 2014?

A: Rosanne Cash was there hosting at Carnegie Hall, and she asked Ry if he could take a night, put together a band and do roots music. He said, “I’d love to get Ricky and Sharon to do it.” That is what started our touring together.

Before we did that show, we thought, “Nobody wants to show up at Carnegie Hall without having shows under our belt.” I asked my booking agent, and he thought he could book us some dates prior to Carnegie Hall. Nobody knew what we were gonna do, but he got the word out and people liked the idea that Ry Cooder and Sharon White and Ricky Skaggs were gonna be playing music together. We’ve been working together since.

Q: How many shows have you played together so far?

A: We’ve done about 20 or 25 already. I think this year we have about 35 dates as well. We’re gonna be going into 2016 as well.

Q: What is the best part of touring in a band with your wife?

A: Saves a little money on a hotel room. We love that part. [laughs] No, what I love about Sharon and I being together is we have been apart so many years. Good gracious. She has toured with the Whites — her dad and sister. And all my country music tours in the early ‘80s. We have always had to be apart. Until now. Getting to be with her on these shows is just great [as is] being able to wake up and have Sharon with me on the road. It’s a great thing.

Q: What drew you to bluegrass music?

A: It was the first music I ever remember hearing besides my dad playing guitar and my mom singing in church. Hearing Bill Monroe growing up in our house as a kid. We just loved old country and bluegrass. Back in those days the radio stations would play both together.

Q: What can folks expect to see when they come out to the show?

A: It is not country music of today. I can guarantee that. It’s songs from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. The only thing newer than 1965 will be Ry’s son Joachim playing drums and Mark Fain, the bass player. It is old country music. Everything from Hank Snow to Hank Williams [and] Bill Monroe. Ry is singing some great old gospel things. Also bluegrass tunes like “Hold Whatcha Got,” which is a Jimmy Martin tune. Ry gets the Cooder-Caster out and there goes the neighborhood!

Q: Who is in the band?

A: It’s Ry, his son Joachin, Mark Fain, me, Sharon, her sister Cheryl and then we have Sharon’s dad, Mr. Buck White. He’s 84. He is kicking our butts every night — playing piano and wearing it out. Perfect man to be playing this music with us. He’s the glue that holds everything together.

Q: Will there be an album?

A: We’re recording all of this. Every night we are recording shows. Hopefully at some point we’re gonna sit down and say, “Dang, that was a good night!” Try to put together maybe a live record. I don’t think any of us just wants to go into the studio to record a studio record right now. The thing that is so great to me about this adventure is that it’s live.

Q: Are you also producing?

A: I’ve been asked to produce a record for Hillary Scott from Lady Antebellum. Her family wanted to do a family gospel record, so I am right in the middle of that.

Cooder-White-Skaggs plays The Birchmere, located at 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave, Alexandria, Virginia, 22305 Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. For more information visit Birchmere.com.

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