Tony Rice (born David Anthony Rice, June 8, 1951, Danville, Virginia, United States) is an American guitarist and bluegrass musician. He is perhaps the most influential living acoustic guitar player in bluegrass, progressive bluegrass, newgrass and flattop acoustic jazz. He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2013.
Rice's music spans the range of acoustic from traditional bluegrass to jazz-influenced New Acoustic music to songwriter-oriented folk. Over the course of his career, he has played alongside J. D. Crowe and the New South, David Grisman (during the formation of "Dawg Music") and Jerry Garcia, led his own Tony Rice Unit, collaborated with Norman Blake, recorded with his brothers Wyatt, Ron, and Larry, and co-founded the Bluegrass Album Band. He has recorded with drums, piano, soprano sax, as well as with traditional bluegrass instrumentation.
Rice was born in Danville, Virginia but grew up in Los Angeles, California, where his father, Herb Rice, introduced him to bluegrass. Tony and his brothers learned the fundamentals of bluegrass and country music from L.A. musicians like the Kentucky Colonels, led by Roland and Clarence White. Clarence White in particular became a huge influence on Rice. Crossing paths with fellow enthusiasts like Ry Cooder, Herb Pedersen and Chris Hillman reinforced the strength of the music he had learned from his father.
In 1970, Rice had moved to Louisville, Kentucky where he played with the Bluegrass Alliance, and shortly thereafter, J.D. Crowe's New South. The New South was known as one of the best and most progressive bluegrass groups—eventually adding drums and electric instruments (to Rice's displeasure). When Ricky Skaggs joined them 1974, however, the band recorded J. D. Crowe & the New South, an acoustic album that became Rounder's top-seller up to that time. At this point, the group consisted of Rice on guitar and lead vocals, Crowe on banjo and vocals, Jerry Douglas on Dobro, Skaggs on fiddle, mandolin, and tenor vocals, and Bobby Slone on bass and fiddle.
Around this time, Rice met mandolinist David Grisman, who played with Red Allen during the 1960s and was now working on original material that blended jazz, bluegrass, and classical styles. Rice left the New South and moved to California to join Grisman's all-instrumental group. As part of the David Grisman Quintet, in order to broaden his expertise and make himself more marketable, Rice began studying chord theory, learned to read charts, and began to expand his playing beyond bluegrass. Renowned guitarist John Carlini came in to teach Rice music theory, and Carlini helped him learn the intricacies of jazz playing and musical improvisation in general. The David Grisman Quintet's 1977 debut recording is considered a landmark of acoustic string band music.
With the Tony Rice Unit, he pursued experimental "spacegrass" music on Mar West, Still Inside, and Backwaters. Members of the Unit included Jimmy Gaudreau (mandolin), Wyatt Rice (guitar), Ronnie Simpkins (bass), and Rickie Simpkins (fiddle).
In 1980, he recorded an album of bluegrass duets with Ricky Skaggs, called Skaggs & Rice. Two albums with traditional instrumentalist and songwriter Norman Blake garnered acclaim, as well as two Rice Brothers albums (1992 and 1994) that featured him teamed with his late elder brother, Larry, and younger brothers, Wyatt and Ronnie.
Beginning in 1984, Rice has collaborated on four albums by Béla Fleck - Double Time (Béla Fleck album) (1984), Drive (Béla Fleck album) (1988), Tales from the Acoustic Planet (1995), and The Bluegrass Sessions: Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Vol. 2 (1999).
In 1993, he joined David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, to record The Pizza Tapes. Year after, Rice and Grisman recorded Tone Poems, an original collection of material, where they used historical vintage mandolins and guitars, different for each track.
In 1995, Rice recorded folk album featuring just two guitars with John Carlini, who also worked for David Grisman Quintet.
In 1997, Rice, his brother Larry, Chris Hillman (a member of the Byrds' original lineup) and banjoist Herb Pedersen, founded the so-called "anti-supergroup" Rice, Rice, Hillman & Pedersen and produced three volumes of music between 1997 and 2001.
In 1979, Rice left Grisman's group to record Acoustics, a jazz-inspired album, and then Manzanita, a bluegrass and folk album. A similar combination was evident on Cold on the Shoulder, Native American, and Me & My Guitar, albums which combined bluegrass, jazzy guitar work, and the songwriting of Ian Tyson, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Bob Dylan, and Gordon Lightfoot.
The authorized biography of Tony Rice, titled Still Inside: The Tony Rice Story, has been completed by Tim Stafford and Hawaii-based journalist Caroline Wright, and was published by Word of Mouth Press in Kingsport, Tennessee, United States in 2010. The book's official release took place at Merlefest in North Carolina.