VERNON RIDDLE
1935-2011


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Vernon Riddle was born in the Spartanburg, SC, mill community of Glendale in 1935. When he was in his teens in the early 1950s, he played on the local Dixie Jamboree radio show. He started playing fiddle around 1953 or 54, and learned a few licks and tunes from local Spartanburg area fiddlers. In 1955 he joined the Air Force and was stationed in Amarillo, Texas, where he met legendary fiddler A.C. "Eck" Robertson (1887-1975), who was the first person to record a fiddle record in 1922. Vernon learned many tunes from Eck, many of them in non-standard tunings. He further developed his fiddling style by spending time with Benny Thomasson, Jack Mears, the Solomons, and other Texas fiddlers. Vernon often played in fiddle contests in Texas, and placed in many of them. Vernon recorded many of these Texas fiddlers, and preserved their fiddling on tape.

In the late 1970s, Vernon came back home to Spartanburg. He only fiddled occasionally after coming back home. When I met Vernon in the early 1980s, I was fascinated by his fiddling style and his vast repertoire of old and unusual tunes. His fiddling was unlike anything I'd ever heard in South Carolina. I tried to spend as much time as I could with him, playing guitar with him and trying to learn some of his tunes. After his first wife died in the late 1980s, Vernon remarried to Ruth Tillotson Stewart, who sang on the same radio show as Vernon in the early 1950s. Ruth played guitar with Vernon, and they traveled around the SC-NC-TN-KY area playing old style country music and fiddle tunes.

Vernon was the South Carolina state champion fiddler in 1989, and was a 1999 recipient of the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award.

Around 2003, Vernon began developing Parkinson's Disease, and it affected his fiddle playing. By around 2005 he was no longer able to fiddle. Vernon passed away in 2011, but he left behind a legacy of fiddling that will live for years to come.

- Ashley Carder

 

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