Growing up in Eastern Kentucky, Don Rigsby discovered bluegrass music early on. At age 5, Don learned to sing from a 1959 tape of Ralph Stanley singing “Hills of Home” and “Little Maggie.”
Later, Don befriended two of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys: Ricky Skaggs (Don’s cousin) and Keith Whitley. He learned guitar at age 12, then fiddle, dulcimer, and mandolin.
While attending Morehead State University, Don was a member of TruGrass, and then in 1987, he joined Charlie Sizemore’s bluegrass band and stayed for two years. When he graduated in 1990, Don moved to Nashville and joined Vern Gosdin’s road band. Don’s first national exposure was with Bluegrass Cardinals from 1991 until 1993, then he joined J. D. Crowe and the New South from 1993 until 1995.
Don joined the Lonesome River Band when Dan Tyminski left the band. Don stayed for six years and appeared on three of their albums: One Step Forward (1996), Finding The Way (1998), and Talkin’ To Myself (2000). The band included Don, Ronnie Bowman, Sammy Shelor, and Kenny Smith.
When John Duffey suddenly died, Don filled in with the Seldom Scene. He was also part of the band Longview, with Dudley Connell and James King. The band released three albums: Longview (1997), High Lonesome (1999), and Lessons In Stone (2002). Other members included Joe Mullins (banjo), Glen Duncan (fiddle), and Marshall Wilborn (bass). Don and Connell sang Stanley Brothers-style high-baritone harmonies behind King.
Don’s first solo album A Vision, released in 1999, was a collection of bluegrass gospel music. J. D. Crowe, Ralph Stanley, Sammy Shelor, Roy Huskey Jr., and Ricky Skaggs provide support. The album won the Association of Independent Music’s Gospel Album of the Year award. He also received the 1999 Bluegrass Now Magazine Fans’ Choice Award for Vocal Tenor of the Year, and the 2001 Governor’s Kentucky Star Award.
In 2000, the title track from the album Empty Old Mailbox won the 2001 SPBGMA Song of the Year award. Guest artists on the album included Jerry Douglas, Tim Stafford, Stuart Duncan, J. D. Crowe, and Larry Sparks.
Don recorded two albums with Dudley Connell (The Seldom Scene) in the Appalachian brother duet style: Meet Me By The Moonlight (1999) and Another Saturday Night (2001).
In 2001 Don accepted a director position at the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University. He remastered a series of local radio shows hosted more than three decades ago by Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley to be released on Sugar Hill. He also taught vocal harmony and folk/country music listening.
Rock County was formed by Don in 2001. Other members included Glen Duncan (fiddle), Dale Vanderpool (banjo) Ray Craft (guitar), and Robin Smith (bass). They released two albums: Rock County (2002) and Rock Solid (2003). In 2003, Vanderpool was replaced by Scott Vestal, and Ray Craft was replaced by Keith Tew. The band broke up in 2004.
2003’s The Midnight Call featured Jim Hurst (guitar), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Carl Jackson, Rob McCoury (mandolin), Kenny Malone (percussion), and Vassar Clements.
In 2006, Don released Hillbilly Heartache, his first album as the leader of his new band Midnight Call. The band includes Shayne Bartley (guitar), Jesse Wells (fiddle), Robert Maynard (bass), and Dale Vanderpool (banjo).
In 2010, Don left the program at Morehead State to pursue music full time. He released Doctor’s Orders: A Tribute to Ralph Stanley. Stanley appears on the album, as do former Clinch Mountain Boys Larry Sparks, Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Sizemore, Steve Sparkman and Stanley’s lead guitarist, James Alan Shelton.
In 2016, Don and David Thom collaborated on the album New Territory which also featured Peter Rowan, Randy Kohrs, and Tim Crouch. Also in 2016, Don formed Flashback, a band consisting of former members of The New South. The band consists of Don, Richard Bennett (guitar, lead vocals), Phil Leadbetter (resonator guitar), and Curt Chapman (bass). The band name was inspired by the title of the album J. D. Crowe released in 1995.
Production and session work
Don produced the album 40 by Larry Sparks, which in 2005 was awarded Recorded Event of the Year and Album of the Year by the IBMA.
Don sang on Alan Jackson’s The Bluegrass Album in 2013, and a tour with Jackson included an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman on CBS.
Don still lives in his hometown of Isonville, KY with his daughter and son.