Dick Barrett 2004

Barrett_Web

Dick Barrett

Inducted in 2004
Listen to Barrett play Bill Cheatum

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 7, 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. For 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 the war.

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 country school.

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.”