Dick Barrett Inducted 2004
|Dick Barrett was born in Maysville, Oklahoma on August 6, 1918, the son of Sam and Minnie Culbreath Barrett. His childhood was spent mostly in North Texas and Southern Oklahoma. Dick’s father Sam was a fiddle player, as was his Grandfather John. Sam was a player of pretty waltzes, and Dick liked fiddle playing a lot as a youngster, but was more interested in playing baseball. When he was seven his Dad traded for a fiddle for him and he started to play some of the waltzes that his Dad played. He enjoyed fiddling as a small child, but it was still baseball that was the siren song for him until one day in 1927 when his brother came running up the road to the farm to tell Sam and Dick that he had heard a fiddler in town that played like nothing they had ever heard. Dick’s brother J. J. took his Dad into town the next night to meet Major Franklin, whom he had played with all night the night before. Major followed them back to the Barrett farm that night to stay so they could play some more the next day. Dick recalls being thunderstruck by the sound of Major’s breakdown playing. Having heard many of the recorded fiddlers of the time, he remembers this sound as seeming far more advanced and beautiful to his ears than anything he had ever heard up to that point in time.|
the first time he was truly interested in working at learning a few
breakdowns, so Sam asked if
Major would try to help young Dick.
They worked out a trade for a couple of lessons.
Dick says he was very intimidated and so in awe of the beautiful
sound that he mostly sat with his mouth open listening and
was unable to concentrate on analyzing what was going on.
After the second lesson Major told Sam, “Save your money Sam,
that kid will never learn anything.”
So ended his breakdown fiddle education as a small child.
A few years passed and the sound known as Western Swing began to be
heard. Dick was
fascinated by this sound and actually went to work on the fiddle.
He became proficient at this style, but played mostly as a hobby
and earned a little extra playing school house dances and whatever jobs he
could pick. Playing
dances was easier than picking cotton or the other agricultural jobs that
he held during the darkest part of the depression.
He went to work for a AAA farm team as an outfielder at
the end of the depression. This
long dreamed of occupation
was cut short when he was drafted into the Combat Engineers at the
beginning of WW II. After
serving several tours of combat, the Army pulled him in to play baseball
for a military team called the Manila All Stars in the Philippines.
This team included some
heavy hitters from the baseball world and Dick was loving it, but again it
was not to last when he ruined his arm while playing ball.
The Army then put him to work in a Special Services band.
This gave him the opportunity to meet and play with people who
would eventually employ him after the war.
He was discharged honorably and sent to reenter the States at San
Diego, CA. Immediately
he went to work in the shipyards there, and stayed at that job until Rex
Allen employed him. They
worked steadily at the Copper Kettle club in San Diego for some time after
Always the fisherman seeking a better hole,
he wanted to move to Oregon where the trout fishing and the elk hunting
were good. He went to
Eugene, Oregon and worked as a building contractor/carpenter by day and
purchased the Lane County Barn Dance where he ran a dance hall at night.
The Barn Dance did well for a few years with Dick’s regular band,
and they frequently brought in well known singers to play there.
This was how he met Tex Ritter.
The dance hall eventually burned down and Tex Ritter offered him a
job as fiddler and bandleader.
He took it and stayed with Ritter for four years.
He came home from the end of one tour and counted 31 white shirts
that had been worn once and never laundered.
He decided it was time to take a break from the road.
He worked as a contractor again until T. Texas Tyler offered him a
job and back out on the road he went again.
Tyler was not as busy as Tex, and Dick would take the job of
filling in for Hugh Farr for the Sons of the Pioneers when they would be
on a West Coast tour. Once
more he grew tired of the traveling and moved to Seattle, WA and started
another contracting business. Jesse
Ashlock moved in to live with Dick and they played at the Golden Apple and
had a radio show broadcast live from the China Pheasant every week.
Jesse moved on and Dick kept the Ranchhand band together until his
children grew old enough to enter school.
He then sold his contracting business and moved back to his native
Texas and bought a farm so his kids Christie and Brett could go to a
He had stayed in touch with Major all through these years, and
he started going to some of the fiddle jams when he moved back to Texas.
He says no one there was much interested in playing Swing or
waltzes until they got drunk and needed a good harmony player.
The sound of these breakdowns stayed with him all of his adult
life, so he decided that he would at last learn to play them, and learn
them he did. The rest is well
recorded history. He
became one of the most successful competitors ever with a long and
colorful history as a breakdown fiddler.
The Memphis Flyer recently called him the “Grand Poo Bah” of
competitive fiddling. The
Boise Idahoan referred to him as the “Elder Statesman of competitive
fiddling” and the
Devil’s Box referred to him as the “Old War Horse of competitive
fiddling”. For the
last 24 years Dick has lived
in Montana with his wife Lisa.
There they have taught Texas Fiddling to a large number of people
from all over the world that come there to study with them as resident
students. He does the
bow work for the Violin Shop that his wife Lisa runs.
They still travel about 50,000 miles a year playing and promoting
Texas Fiddling. They
fish and hunt for recreation and pass these skills along to the students
that they teach as well as many breakdowns, waltzes, rags, etc.
Dick is grateful to have had such a long and good life and credits
fiddle playing as having a lot to do with his continuing good health and
ambition. At 85, he
doesn’t see slowing down in his near future.
His very favorite part of life is sitting down to a good jam session in someone’s home playing tunes
and enjoying the good company that music seems to bring.
When asked what his favorite tunes are, he replies with a smile,
“I love them all.”