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Daddy Dick Richards
Born:  June 24, 1918
Died:  September 10, 2000
North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame (1988)

Known by all as "Daddy Dick" Richards, he had a musical career that spanned some 60 years. It saw him even performing as late as 2000 at the Stratford's 12th annual festival.

His parents named him Clarence Jackson Richards. Smokey Greene (of Smokey Green and His Green Mountain Boys) started calling him "Daddy Dick" in the 60's and that name stuck for the rest of his life.

Daddy Dick Richards

Dick Richards was also proud of his Mohawk Indian blood. His grandmother was a full-blooded Mohawk and Dick was pleased that he had a strong connection with the St. Regis Mohawk community in northern New York.

Daddy Dick's career spanned more than six decades. He has played concerts at local square dances and venues like "Kitchen Hops" and includes an appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Throughout those years, he made thousands of charitable appearances.

He was destined to be surrounded by music as his father played the fiddle and his mother sang, both in vaudeville. By age five he could play several tunes on the harmonica and by eight he played the ukulele. He began fiddling when he was nine years old. He started learning the tunes he would see his father play at dances.

His first professional job playing fiddle for square dances at age eleven was literally a big 'break'. He got that gig because his dad had broken his ribs, so Dick took his dad's place at those square dances and earned himself all of 50 cents a night.

By the time he was 13 years old, he had started calling square dances and he was gaining a reputation as a child prodigy.

His career took a turn that perhaps for most would have stopped them from the musical career he had started. In 1936, when he was 17 years old, he lost his hand in an industrial accident while he was working at the International Paper Company mill in Corinth. Even while in the hospital, he was thinking of how to get back to doing the music he enjoyed. It didn't take long. In three months, he had started playing the guitar again. In six months, he was playing the fiddle. And only nine months after the accident, he won a fiddling contest. Dick was interviewed in a December 16, 1990 article by Danielle A. Lorenzo of the Sunday Leader-Herald as noted that his "...fiddling wasn't so spectacular but winning encouraged him to perfect his skills on fiddle, guitar and upright bass."

And from there his career took off again on its lifelong path. He appeared on several radio and television programs through the years in addition to performing on stage and made several movies, too. He was also part of a group, Art Gamache and His Bronco Riders, who were one of the first groups to do a live program over WRGB on Channel 6 out of Schenectady, New York. And he had his own radio show for several years.

As for the movies, they were mostly publicity, educational and Screen Gems insert films, but they appeared on 16 different television stations. The educational films were placed in the state archives.

He played with "The Broncho Busters" band in 1935 and was Davy Crockett at Frontier Town from 1956-1959. Daddy Dick was an active member of the Shriners for over 25 years and he entertained and raised monies for the children's hospitals by playing in the Shriners Hillbilly Band.

One of his former Broncho Buster band mates, Cliff Japhet remembers that Daddy Dick had a big bass voice and was also a great square dance caller.

Daddy Dick Richards

Now one might be curious as to how he was able to play the fiddle after losing one's hand. He said he was the only one-handed fiddler to play without using an artificial attachment or apparatus. He would hold the violin up by the use of a strap which he wore around his neck. The strap attached to the tail piece of the violin and meant he didn't have to use the chin rest. He was capable of bending his arm around a bit to the neck of the fiddle. Then, he would play by sliding up and down the fingerboard. He couldn't pick individual notes, but his style was such when he was playing bluegrass style, he could cover the chords and made good use of the bow. He said no other fiddler played like him, but he also noted, "...no two fiddlers play the same tune alike."

One of his guitars was specially made for him. And it was made by a friend that Daddy Dick referred to as "Old Man Martin". Yes, it was a Martin guitar and yes, the "Martin" Daddy Dick referred to was of the Martin guitar fame. The guitar had an extra three frets to allow Daddy Dick to use it and also had a strap that had safety catches.

Another instrument he owned once also has a bit of a tale behind it. Daddy Dick at one time owned a Stradivarius violin. He bought it for $140 from a woman who was unaware of the violin's value. And Daddy Dick didn't know he had it at the time. He had it appraised and found out that it was a bonafide Stradivarius that had been smuggled out of Germany during World War II. He related that eventually, he "...traded it for a house." The violin at the time was said to be in the ownership of a concert violinist.

Daddy Dick wasn't just proficient at playing music. He had other interests. One of them was being a member of the Adirondack Liars' Club. Vaughn Ward, originator of the club, remembered Daddy Dick as a "born entertainer". The group was devoted to "...the telling of tall tales and the preservation of the North Country's strong oral storytelling tradition." On Saturday, February 17, 2001, the Adirondack Liars' Club got together at 4:00pm to celebrate their memories of Daddy Dick at the "Dick Richards Memorial Adirondack Liars' Club and Winter 'Blahs' Potluck".

Daddy Dick had a sharp wit said Jack Bruchac, a "local story teller" in an article in The Saratogian on February 17, 2001. He'd be up on stage at some town along the way and say... "It's good to be in this town." Then he'd ask if there was a good second-hand store in town. "Because as you can see, I need one."

Daddy Dick received many awards during the span of his musical career, including the Pioneer Award by the NECMA (New England Country Music Association), and the Traditional Arts of Upstate NY Heritage award. He was named a Master Artist in 1988 by the New York State Council of The Arts and he was inducted into the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame.

Daddy Dick was an inspiration to countless musicians, entertainers, and audiences. He loved to entertain right up until he died in a tragic car accident at the age of 82. His legacy is his music, his laughter and his desire to share his talents with a kaleidoscope of people.

Vaughn Ward, was the 'brainchild' behind the Adirondack Liars' Club that got started in 1986 and Dick was one of the charter members. Mr. Ward was quoted as saying "If anybody desrves one final good roasting, it was Dick. We'll all be there. He really was the head liar."

Daddy Dick Richards

Richards Brothers and Daddy Dick —Top left: Bill Richards; Top right: Daddy Dick Richards; Bottom center: Jack Richards (circa 1975-84)

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Jack and Rose Richards for most of the information provided about Daddy Dick Richards.
  • One-Handed Musician in Fiddler's Hall of Fame; Danielle A. Lorenzo; The Sunday Leader Herald; December 16, 1990.
  • Remembering a Raconteur; Nicole A. Weinstein; The Saratogian; February 17, 2001

Carrying on in the Family Tradition
And carry on they do. Dick's son Jack Richards has been a musical entertainer for many years and has his own web site now. Daddy Dick's granddaughter, Heather Richards is also a country music artist, carrying on the family musical heritage. You can visit their websites at:

Related Web Links  

Sound Sample—(RealAudio Format)
Square Dance Call

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Recordings
 
Arco
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  5979 A Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain
  5979 B Teaching Mcfadden To Dance
 
Green Mountain
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  GMS 22 A The Auctioneer
  GMS 22 B The Streets Of Laredo
  GMS 642 A Stolen Moments
  GMS 642 B The Old Maid And The Burglar


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