Heartstrings Interview

‘a dream of my heart’: An Interview with Skaggs & White

By Sharla McIver

6989050052_RickySharon_Hearts_Cover (1)

There are few more beloved names in the world of country and bluegrass music than Ricky Skaggs and his wife Sharon (of the legendary country music family act — The Whites). The two have been close friends since their teenage years through music, first meeting at a festival where White was performing with her father Buck White and sister Cheryl and Skaggs was performing with Keith Whitley.

It was, however a bumpy road with a few difficult curves that finally led to them to becoming husband and wife 33 years ago. But through those difficult times and sometimes painful places, the couple has built a strong relationship founded first on faith, and second on family.

Although Skaggs has performed with the White Family at a number of shows and events over the years, another duet or duet album had yet to happen. Instead they chose to continue to focus on their individual careers: Skaggs with his award-winning solo career in country music including 12 #1 songs, 14 Grammy Awards and numerous CMA Awards including Entertainer of the Year in 1985. He continued on to have a highly successful career in bluegrass, in his native state of Kentucky, with his band Kentucky Thunder; White continued to tour with her family’s band. As a couple, they chose to focus on raising their children, Molly and Luke, and making their family and faith their continued first priority.

In 1987, after being married for about six years, the couple won CMA Vocal Duo of the Year for “Love Can’t Ever Get Better Than This,” the first married couple to win the award. The likely decision in the commercial world of music would have been another duet soon to follow their win, if not an entire album of Skaggs/White duets. But once again, the pair did not choose the seemingly obvious course. It wasn’t necessarily their personal choice, Skaggs explained. “We thought then it was a good idea. We loved singing together, we had a hit and the next step would be to do a record. But at the time we were on competing labels. And the label I was on didn’t want to have me recording with an artist on a competing label, even though she was my wife. At the time there was disappointment, but looking back it was probably a good thing. Our hearts might not have been in the right place at the time and our motives wouldn’t have been what they are now. Looking back I know God already knew that, and He knew then when the time would be right.” Apparently that time is now.

Decades in the making, the couple have finally released a duet album, Hearts Like Ours, a beautiful collection displaying the faith, values and love that only time together through the years could authenticate.  The collection contains honest, soul-searching and heartfelt love songs, about the good and the bad and the dreams we all have for lifetime love. A good measure of sound relationship advice is interspersed throughout. If you had asked the pair just a while ago, they would likely have told you a duet album was not likely in their future — “I had really decided it would probably never happen,” White explained. “We were invited to sing some songs at a couple’s event a couple years ago, and share a testimony, and we put together some songs. They were songs we had been singing for years. Ricky was really the one who brought in the idea of recording. The timing just felt right. We are at a place where we have learned some things together, about love and commitment, family and faith. I’ve always had the desire in my heart to do this, but if we’d done it back then it couldn’t have been what it is now, or meant what it means to us,” White said.  “I am so happy that Ricky and I have finally done a duet CD, which we have wanted to do for years and I think our hearts are in the right place to do this now. It was great to pick songs together and share ideas about how we wanted to do them. I have always enjoyed making music with Ricky, so this album is the fulfillment of a dream of my heart.”

Her husband agrees — “Hearts Like Ours is a dream come true for Sharon and I,” said Skaggs. “Being married for 33 years, you get to know someone’s heart. I know hers and she knows mine, and we hope you can hear that on this CD. I loved getting to work with her.” Skaggs believes in White’s ability to find and choose songs, and although it was a joint project from beginning to end, he relied on her to choose much of the music for the album. The couple said they listened to a number of songs and put a great amount of thought into their choices, mostly reflecting on what message they wanted to send, and songs that were meaningful to them. And although Skaggs has produced a number of records, many of the technical aspects were a new experience for White. “That’s where trust comes in,” she said. “Ricky made the final call, and he listened to me if I had a strong feeling one way or the other. It’s not my area, but we both agreed that we would agree. And it really ended up being exactly what we both wanted.”

Although they don’t consider the album a gospel album, they do hope it will be inspiring to others. “It expresses our commitment to the Lord and to each other,” Skaggs said, and that priority is obvious in each track. Their faith and strong family values are evident throughout the album, from the acknowledgement that marriage is sometimes just difficult, and their faith in God is what keeps theirs working. Starting with the award winning duet “Love Can’t Ever Get Better Than This,” the pair chose songs that would best reflect their faith and family values, from the acknowledgement that marriage is sometimes just plain difficult, and their faith in God is what keeps theirs working on the song “It Takes Three.” The title track and the song “I Run To You,” serve as a clear proclamation of love and security between the two of them. Both were penned by Skaggs’ family friends, Connie Smith and Marty Stuart. “Home is Wherever You Are” comes across as absolutely genuine, in a way that might not be so obvious without the heartfelt love and spiritual connection between the two.

“Hold On Tight, Let It Go” features Skaggs on vocals and is a treasure of relationship advice for ALL relationships. The lyrics: “Hold on tight; let it go. Our love is always strongest when we let our weakness show. We don’t have to give in to the prideful winds that blow if we hold on tight; let it go,”  are a few words any couple, young or old, and any friends, old or new, would be wise to heed. “Be Kind” features vocals by Skaggs and is a testament to the importance of simple acts like kindness and forgiveness in every relationship.

White chose the bluegrass tune “No Doubt About It,” most famously recorded by Flatt and Scruggs, after hearing it one day and deciding it would sound great as a male/female duet, and thinking it would be a fun song, a solid old bluegrass standard, to include among the others. As for something a little different from the theme of love songs, every person can relate to “When I’m Good and Gone” written by Buddy Jewell and Leslie Satcher, which features White on vocals. The song reflects on what we each want to leave behind when we are no longer on this earth; how we want to be remembered. Skaggs said he had joked a little about the song, saying, “You don’t want the preacher to have to lie about you at your funeral.” He added more seriously, “You want to leave something good for people to remember when you’re gone.”

The album is poignant, inspiring, and filled with a treasure of relationship advice for every couple – or any kind of relationship.  And although none of the 13 songs they selected were written by either Skaggs or White, they are not at all opposed to the idea.  Rather than focus on what will play on the radio or the commercial aspect of an album, they are focused on ways to incorporate some of the songs, or how to do some of the songs from each of their vast inventory of recorded songs, into their live shows. And for all of the fans already loving the album, there is good news ahead: the two are already discussing songs they would like to do together at some point in the future.

The CD can be purchased on iTunes, and it is also available on the Skaggs’ family web site, www.skaggsfamilyrecords.com.  Fans of Ricky Skaggs may also want to check out his recently published autobiography, Kentucky Traveler, which has just been made available in a paperback version.

Leave a Comment