Lesley “Esley” Riddle was an innovator who straddled the worlds of black and white mountain musicians in the early twentieth century.
Riddle was born in Burnsville, NC in 1905. He died in Asheville in July 1980. His influence on the Carter Family helped to shape country music.
In December 1928, Riddle met A.P. Carter, who founded the Carter Family country band. The Carter Family had become known for their recordings at the Bristol Sessions in August 1927. Riddle began to divide his time between Kingsport and the Carter home in Maces Spring, Virginia. Riddle and Carter embarked on song-collecting trips around the region: Riddle would act as a “human tape recorder,” memorizing the melody while Carter gathered lyrics.
The Carter Family went on to record a number of songs that Riddle either composed or transmitted, including “Cannonball Blues,” “Hello Stranger,” “I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome,” “Let the Church Roll On,” “Bear Creek Blues,” “March Winds Goin’ Blow My Blues Away,” and “Lonesome For You.” Riddle’s guitar technique made an impression on Maybelle Carter, and she incorporated elements of it into her style.
The American Songster, Dom Flemons, is joined by Rene Rodgers of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, and Lonnie Salyer, president of the Appalachian Cultural Music Association, to discuss the life, times, and impact of Lesley Riddle on what would eventually be called Country Music.
In 2008, the Traditional Voices Group, a North Carolina organization with a mission partly to preserve and promote the memory of Lesley Riddle, began annual RiddleFest Concerts in Burnsville, North Carolina.