Larry Rice grew up in bluegrass, starting his career in music as a member of his father’s bluegrass band, the Golden State Boys, in the 1960s. Significantly, one of Larry’s first band mates was brother Tony, who later came to international renown as the world’s preeminent bluegrass guitarist. However, Tony’s international fame often came at the price of throwing Larry, a gifted mandolin player, singer, and songwriting, into the shadows.
A native of Danville, Virginia, with roots in North Carolina, Larry spent his formative years in California. In 1971, he headed back east and got a job with J. D. Crowe, playing mandolin. He made some of his first recordings as a member of Crowe’s group, as well as his first solo album. It would be more than a decade before Larry embarked on his next solo recordings. Larry found an outlet for his music with Rebel Records and from 1986 through 2005 released five solo recordings. The first of these was called Hurricanes and Daydreams (Reb-1646). The focus was on Larry’s singing and mandolin work with consummate backing by brothers Wyatt and Tony Rice, uncle Frank Poindexter on dobro, vocalist Mary Chapin Carpenter, noted Florida clawhammer banjoist Mark Johnson, and many other talented musicians. A few well-chosen bluegrass standards (“I Cried Again” and Bill Monroe’s “Used to Be”) were added to a fine set of Rice originals.
Time Machine (Reb-1656) followed in 1987. It featured a number of the same guest artists plus heavy hitters Vassar Clements and Sharon White. As before, the bulk of the songs and tunes were Larry Rice compositions, many of which dealt with personal relationships. Striking a variety of moods, “Without Mentioning Your Name” was warm and wistful while “Tangled Up in Love” is best described as exuberant. Long-time bluegrassers will be familiar with the Louvin Brothers’ “Take My Ring From Your Finger,” Jimmy Martin’s “Hit Parade of Love,” and the gospel song “Let the Spirit Descend.”
Rice’s third solo release on Rebel was called Artesia (Reb-1666). The disc’s title cut was an instrumental that featured some of Larry’s inventive mandolin work and widened the bluegrass boundaries. Several of Larry’s originals, namely “Summer Games” and “Kodak Carousel,” evoked images of Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot. Other pieces, such as Paul Simon’s “Bleeker Street” and the Beatles’ “The Night Before,” added further to folk and contemporary overtones. These were offset by Bill Monroe’s “No One But My Darling” and the Louvin Brothers’ “In the Middle of Nowhere With You.”
Arguably his best project for Rebel was Novelties and Notions (Reb-1734). It featured another stellar cast of players and singers. Larry contributed three of his own songs to the project, the rollicking and uptempo “Take Me Back to the Country,” the gospel tinged “Dust on Your Bible,” and the pensive “Unemployment Line.” His son Travis added an instrumental called “William Tell.” Songs from Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, and Gordon Lightfoot infused part of the recording with a folk feel which was nicely balanced with the “Coo Coo’s Nest” and “Pretty Polly.”
Larry’s final recording for Rebel was released in 2005. Clouds Over Carolina (Reb-1801) rivaled the previous release in that it contained a powerful cast of musicians and an equally impressive song set. Five of the twelve songs were Rice originals with standouts beings the instrumental “Burnt Rice,” “If You Only Knew,” and the album’s title track. Other highlights included Pete Kuykendall’s “Down Where the Still Waters Flow” (a Country Gentlemen favorite), Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train,” and the traditional “Little Maggie.”