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Buck Ryan
Born:  May 9, 1925
Died:  January 7, 1982
Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame (1982)
WRVA Richmond, VA
WSVA Harrisonburg, VA
WWVA Wheeling, WV

About The Artist

Arnold Walter "Buck" Ryan, a native of Mt. Jackson, Virginia, became one of the best known fiddlers of the era-extending from the mid-1940s -until his death. Ryan began to play at the age of nine under the tutelage of his square-dance fiddling father, and started playing professionally at fourteen.

The high points of his career came from his work with Jimmy Dean's Texas Wildcats via CBS morning television in the late-1950s and later with the bands of Don Reno and/or Bill Harrell from the early sixties until 1980.

Beginning in 1939, Ryan worked for several years at WSVA in Harrisonburg, playing in the bands of Lee Moore, Toby Stroud, and the husband-wife team of Salt and Peanuts (Frank Kurtz and Margaret McConnell) among others. He also worked with some of these musicians at WWVA Wheeling and WRVA Richmond. Ryan also proved himself to be a quality contest fiddler winning top honors at several noted competitions such as Warrenton and Berryville, Virginia. In 1953 he joined the band of Jimmy Dean's Texas Wildcats where he appeared on the Connie B. Gay produced Town and Country Time, heard on weekday mornings on many CBS-TV outlets as well as on Gay-produced radio programs.

Promo Ad - Old Dominion Barn Dance - Richmond, VA - Buck Ryan - Ray Edenton - Benny Kissinger - Curley Collins - Sam Workman - November 1948
Promo Ad - Donk's Theater - Mathews, VA - Buck Ryan - Curley Collins - Rags Barnes - April 1981

Promo Ad - Golden Lake Park - Buck Ryan - Smitty Irvin - Jack Rogers - Jimmy Case - George Hamilton IV - Frederick MD - June 1959
Promo Ad - Hockey's Park - Chambersburg, PA - Jim Raines - Blue Ridge Mountain Boys - Buck Ryan - Jolly Joe - Little Robert - Skyline Boys - September 1950

Promo Ad - Atlantic Barn Dance - Richmond, VA - Little Robert - Benny Kissinger - Fiddlin' Buck Ryan - Dallas Ketchum - Lennie Jones - Wacky Red Murphy
Promo Ad - Visulite Theater - Staunton, VA - Uncle Joe - Buck Ryan - Dude Webb - Sweet William - Mac Wiseman - May 1944

Wyoming Ranch Boys - WWVA - 1944 - Toby Stroud - Buck Ryan - Bill Bailey

Buck Ryan — Record Reviews From The Billboard
Date Label Rec No. Review
4/6/1957 Mercury 71082 Nervous Breakdown — Solid instrumental country side. Fiddles and rhythm make this a fine one for dancing. (Rating: 70)

The Robert E. Lee — Another instrumental similar to the flip in the musicians' rollicking performance. (Rating: 70)

During this time, Buck also cut several fiddle numbers on Mercury, making him one of the few fiddlers to record on a major label in this period. Jimmy Dean and Buck Ryan were signed to the Mercury label in late July 1955.

In the early 1960s, Ryan relocated to the Washington, DC area where he worked with a number of bluegrass outfits, most notably that of Bill Harrell and the Virginians where he helped record an album on the United Artists label and later another on Monument under the names of Buck Ryan and Smitty Irvin (which was largely the Harrell band slightly disguised). After the Don Reno and Red Smiley split in 1964 and Harrell joined forces with Reno, Ryan became part of the Tennessee Cutups. When this team split in 1976, Buck remained with Reno until 1980 when declining health forced his retirement.

Bill Harrell and the Virginians - Smiley Hobbs - Buck Ryan - Stoney Edwards - Smitty Irving - Bill Harrell - 1964

During this time he recorded extensively with the Tennessee Cutups. He also recorded a fiddle album with them under his name on Rural Rhythm and three more on Dick Freeland and Dave Freeman's Rebel label: "Fiddler on the Rocks" (LP 1529), "Draggin' the Bow" (LP 1552) and "Dream Train Engineer" (LP 1591).

Buck appeared at the Donk's Theater in April 1981, headlining "Virginia's Little Ole Opry" that night. Rags Barns was also on the bill with him; Rags had won the title of State Champion Fiddler three years in a row and was the Virginia State Champion harmonica player in 1980. Several other artists were on the bill as well.

In October of 1981, a benefit concert was held to help Buck and his family with his hospital expenses. Among the performers was Jimmy Dean. The event was called "Buck Ryan Day", held in Winchester, Virginia and was Buck's last public appearance.

Buck and his wife Mary were the parents of four children. He passed away in January 1982.

After his death, he was voted into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982.

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Buck Ryan: Fiddlin' His Way To Fame; July 1957; Rustic Rhythm; Rustic Rhythm, Inc.; New York, NY
  • Buck Ryan, fiddler, dies; January 9, 1982; News Journal; Wilmington, DE
  • At Donk's Saturday; April 19, 1981; Daily Press; Newport News, VA
  • Mercury Record Signs Dean, Ryan; July 30, 1955; Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph; Pittsburgh, PA

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  70670 A Cincinnati Rag
  70670 B Red Apple Rag
  70748 A Uncle Herm?s Hornpipe
  70748 B Beaumont Rag
  70931 A Follow the Fiddle
  70931 B Nightingale Waltz
  71082 A Nervous Breakdown
  71082 B The Robert E. Lee

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