Bluegrass Musician and Dickey Betts Band Alumnus Dies of Cancer
by Derek Halsey
Larry Rice- Bluegrass Musician and Dickey Betts’ Band Alumnus- Dies Of Cancer We at Gritz Magazine have sad news to report as bluegrass musician Larry Rice died after a long bout with mesothelioma cancer on March 13, 2006. Over the years, Larry and his mandolin was a member of JD Crowe's New South band, recorded with Rice, Rice, Hillman, and Pedersen, and was in Dickey Betts’ band when Dickey toured behind the "Highway Call" album in the 1970’s. Larry is the third musician associated with Dickey's “Highway Call” album to die in recent years, the other being Larry's uncle Walt Poindexter, who played banjo and sang on the album, and Vassar Clements, who played fiddle on the album and was in Dickey's touring band as well.
Larry Rice comes from a famous and distinguished musical family. After growing up in Virginia and North Carolina, Larry's family moved to California where his father, Herb Rice, started the Golden State Boys bluegrass band. As a teenager in the Golden State Boys, Larry befriended another teenager who was playing bluegrass at that time named Chris Hillman, who later went on to be in the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Desert Rose. Larry would hook up with Hillman again many years later and record two albums as the Rice, Rice, Hillman, and Pedersen band, featuring his brother Tony Rice and Herb Pedersen.
A young Larry Rice playing mandolin on the right, with his brother Tony Rice playing guitar and singing into the mic on the left, with the Golden State Boys in the early 1960's.
In 1971 Larry Rice decided to head east and leave California for Lexington, Kentucky to join up with bluegrass legend JD Crowe and his New South band. Says JD of that time, “Tony came in later, Larry came in first. Bobby Slone, my bass player, knew both of them when they were kids because Bobby lived out there in California. They had a little group out there and Bobby knew them and they knew Bobby. I was needing a mandolin player so he told me about Larry, and I said to call him and see if he was interested in coming up and playing, you now. So he did and he came in, and he didn’t have much choice. He wasn’t doing nothing out there but starving to death. He barely got in and when he got here he didn’t have enough money to pay the tolls, he had to use the back roads."
Larry Rice on the left, JD Crowe in the middle, and Tony Rice on the right
In 1974, Larry left JD Crowe and the New South to become a member of Dickey Betts’ touring band after the decidedly rootsy Highway Call album came out. Larry’s replacement in the New South was Ricky Skaggs who, along with Tony Rice and Bobby Slone, was soon joined by Jerry Douglas in 1975. That line-up became the classic JD Crowe and New South group of "The Old Home Place" fame. Meanwhile, in Dickey’s band Larry got to play with fiddle great Vassar Clements, as well as his uncle Frank Poindexter on Dobro.
As time went on Larry would record with his musical siblings as the Rice Brothers, featuring younger brothers Tony, Ron, and Wyatt Rice. Larry also recorded four solo albums of his own over the years, the last one coming out in 2005 on Rebel Records called Clouds Over Carolina. On that album Larry was joined by multi-instrumentalist Rickie Simpkins, Ronnie Simpkins on bass, Sammy Shelor and Jeff Parker of the Lonesome River Band, his uncle Frank Poindexter on Dobro, and brothers Tony and Wyatt Rice on guitar. The album features original songs by Larry including the upbeat instrumental, “Burnt Rice.”
As for me, while I am a friend of his brother Tony, and have met Wyatt as well, I never met Larry in person. However, we emailed back and forth on a few occasions, especially after I reviewed the excellent Runnin' Wild CD by Rice, Rice, Hillman, and Pedersen about four years ago. He was always kind and supportive, and it was a pleasure to communicate with him, what little I did. We send our condolences to the Rice family, and everyone else in the circle.