A few weeks ago, Ricky Skaggs, the great Grammy award winning bluegrass artist was a guest on Good Day LA. After his segment we sat down for a chat and reconnected after having not seen one another for almost 16 years.
In the early 90's, I was the General Manager of a country music cable network in Nashville called, TNN. One of the programs on our network that I executive produced, was a show that Ricky hosted called "Ricky Skaggs At The Ryman."
During this time Ricky and I became friends and I got to know him fairly well. However in the late 90's I moved from Nashville back to Seattle, eventually going to work for Fox in 1997 and I lost touch with Ricky.
So, it was great to see him again, reconnect and share some stories. One story Ricky told me that I I'd like to share with you is an interesting tale about his 1924 Gibson Lloyd Loar F5 mandolin.
The Gibson Lloyd Loar F5 is like the Stradivarius of mandolin's. Lloyd Loar worked for the Gibson Guitar Company of Kalamazoo Michigan from 1919-1924. During this period Lloyd, a master luthier, only made a few hundred of these instruments. They are cherished, highly sought after and very collectable and very valuable. The Gibson Lloyd Loar was Bill Monroe's mandolin of choice, none other than the father of bluegrass music.
Ricky told me that during the 1970's when he was playing in Ralph Stanley's band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, there was a guy who came around to Ralphs shows in the Detroit area. He couldn't remember the guys name but he was a friend of Ralph's. He owned a Gibson Loyd Loar mandolin and sometimes he would let Ricky play it.
Ricky told me that for many years Ralph had tried to get the guy to sell the mandolin but he never would. After one meeting, Ricky took this mans card and put it in his wallet. Many years later Ricky finds his old wallet in a drawer. He looks through it and finds the guys card which on the back, had his name, phone number and mandolin info written on it. Ricky decides to call him to see if there is any chance the guy still owns the mandolin and might be interested in selling it.
Ricky calls and says, "Hi it's Ricky Skaggs. Do you remember me? I used to play with Ralph Stanley. Would you by any chance be interested in selling me your mandolin?"
The man says, "Well I believe I do remember you."
Ricky says "I'm playing with JD Crowe now and I need to find me a good mandolin. Would you be interested in selling your F5?" The guy thinks for a minute and then says, "I wouldn't take less than $2500 for it." After a little back and forth, Ricky agrees to pay him $2250 for it.
Ricky then goes to the bank and takes out a loan for $2500 (he needed $250 to have the mandolin refinished). In a few days Ricky flies from Lexington, Kentucky to Detroit, Michigan and meets the guy at the airport gate. Ricky's return flight leaves in less than an hour.
The guy is standing there at the gate with his daughter, holding the mandolin in an old beat up case. They greet one another. Ricky takes the mandolin out of its case and plays it. It sounded as good as ever. It had a full rich tone unlike any mandolin Ricky had ever played. Ricky said that, "the smell of the wood was amazing. It played better than he remembered it playing from years earlier."
The guy says, "That's a dandy ain't it." Ricky, said, "It sure is."
They talk for a few minutes and Ricky says I'll take it but all of a sudden the guy starts to balk about selling it.
Ricky said, "Hey we had a deal, I flew all the way up here to buy your mandolin. The guy says, "I don't know if I can part with it." He says, "Look, I'll pay for your flight back to Lexington, I'm really sorry."
Ricky can't believe it.
Then the guy's daughter pipes up and says, "Daddy you promised momma you'd sell that mandolin and buy her a new washer and dryer. She's gonna be hopping mad if you don't."
The guy says, "Yeah I know." Ricky looks him in the eye, puts forth the check and the guy takes it. Ricky thanks him and heads for the gate, mandolin under his arm, hoping to get on his return flight before the guy changes his mind.
It's hard to say what that mandolin is worth today. Recently, similar models have sold in the $200,000 range. I doubt Ricky would ever sell it though.
As a matter of fact, that's not the only Gibson F5 Lloyd Loar mandolin that Ricky owns. In 2010 he bought a 1922 model from David Grisman. This particular beauty had previously been owned by Pee Wee Lambert the legendary mandolin player in the 1940's with Ralph and Carter Stanley.
Ricky Skaggs recently released a new CD called Cluck Ol' Hen and his memoir also just came out called Kentucky Traveler. I highly recommend them both.