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Don Rigsby answers the call

By John Lupton, September 2006

Page 2...

Within a few days of his daughter's birth, the other shoe fell when Rigsby got a phone call from longtime friend Sandy Knipp, a DJ at Morehead State University's station WMKY. Knipp had also been serving as the director of the university's Kentucky Center for Traditional Music, a part-time position that was on the verge of expansion to a full-time job with benefits.

"When Sandy called me and asked me if I knew anybody who would be interested in that job, I kind of looked at it as maybe this is a sign from the Good Lord, maybe he's trying to tell me something, and I said, 'Well, do you think that I'd be qualified for something like that?,' and he said, 'Are you serious? Would you even consider it?' I said, 'Well, yeah, I'll consider it'."

"So, we began to get the wheels in motion, and it was the unanimous decision that I would be the best man to lead the charge, and I've been there for 5 years now this coming Dec. 1. At the same time, I had been talking to Glen Duncan about starting Rock County, and that's when that all came together at about the same time."

The partnership with Duncan lasted through two Rebel releases that were critically well received, but the band eventually dissolved due in large part to Duncan's desire to spend more time at home with his family as they dealt with the illness of a child.

Rigsby notes that it's the nature of the business that bands come and go and intimates that there were some bruised feelings, but sometimes lemons do turn into lemonade.

"At the time, it seemed like a bad deal to me, but really...by not letting me continue with that name they were doing me a favor because it forced me to take stock of things, get all my ducks in a row and do what I needed to do, and that's put my own band together and go on."

"I did it after getting the advice of a couple of people I pay heed to and really have a lot of respect for, and that's Larry Sparks and Sonny Osborne, and they both told me that I needed to put my own band together and put my own name out front and go on because they said people knew who I was, and it would take a little while for them to get used to the idea of it. But once they got used to it, it would be fine. We're starting to get a little traction now, but it does take some time."

The new album features a sterling rendition of Bill Monroe's "Kentucky Waltz," and while conceding that he may be biased toward his fellow Kentuckian, Rigsby senses a certain revisionism that clearly nags at him.

"Anybody that plays the mandolin and sings tenor and would try to tell you that Bill Monroe didn't influence them, I don't think they truly understand the nature of bluegrass music because Bill is the inventor of this music, you know, he's the innovator...there seems to be some talk that bluegrass music was invented at Nashville, at the Ryman Auditorium, and I just have to take issue with that. I don't think so."

"It was invented by Bill Monroe, and he was born in Kentucky. Bluegrass music was born in Kentucky. It may have been perfected and honed and sharpened (by Monroe) in Tennessee at the Ryman, on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and I wouldn't dispute that, but I really have a problem with those folks wanting to claim that they have the place where it was invented and born, and that's all I've got to say about it."

"There's a big old sign on the stage at the Ryman, and last year at the IBMA awards they presented it and unveiled it, and I was just aghast that they would allow that. I guess anybody could put up a sign that says something was invented there, and what can Kentucky do, sue them for it? It's probably not worth the effort, but I mean, the history would bear it out differently if Bill were here...I think he'd tell them different."

Noting the three-year interlude between "The Midnight Call" and "Hillbilly Heartache" - though he never intended it to be that long - Rigsby is already planning a follow-up album to keep the momentum rolling forward. He's also effusive about the new, retooled Longview lineup on that new project.

Though he's sad to see Joe Mullins, Connell and Duncan dropping out, he's pleased with the new and different energy brought by the newcomers - J. D. Crowe, Ron Stewart and Lou Reid. "They'll do," he laughs.

As he winds toward Mississippi through the Tennessee midnight hour, Don Rigsby sounds like a man ready to emerge as his own musical boss on his own terms, but true to his hillbilly heritage, well-grounded in reality.

"I've been in this, you know, right at 20 years, maybe a little better, and I've learned that you can't make everybody happy all the time. There's some people you can never make happy with anything you do, so you just gotta quit worrying about it and try to make the music to make yourself happy, and those that are gonna like what you do are gonna like it, and those that aren't, they're not gonna like it anyway. So just keep trudging along and do the best you can."

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