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.
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
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."
Richards Brothers and Daddy Dick
Top left: Bill Richards; Top right: Daddy Dick Richards; Bottom center: Jack Richards
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)