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"There Was Always Music"
Vandalia Award Recipient Buddy Griffin

By John Lilly

Musician and educator Buddy Griffin, performing at the Clay Center in Charleston in January 2011. Photograph by Amos Perrine.

“Everybody in the family played music,” says Glenville resident Buddy Griffin, recalling his Nicholas County childhood. “It was never expected, it was never forced on us. Nobody ever handed us an instrument and said, ‘[You have to play this].’ …It was just trying to be part of what was going on, ‘cause there was always music at the house.”

     Buddy was a part of his family’s music from an early age. He later became a staff musician at WWVA’s Jamboree USA, played more than 200 times on the Grand Ole Opry, toured the country for more than 30 years with some of the biggest names in country and bluegrass music, appeared on more than 150 record albums, and established the world’s first college degree program in bluegrass music at Glenville State College. In May 2011, he received the coveted Vandalia Award, recognizing his lifetime of devotion to entertainment and education.

Buddy Mason Griffin was born at Richwood on September 22, 1948, the sixth of eight children born to Richard and Erma Griffin. Both parents were talented musicians and singers, and music was a natural part of their home life. “Everything I do came from them,” Buddy says.

“While all of us [children] played in the yard, they’d sit there and play [music]. That sticks out [in my mind] like sunlight. I remember that very well. …They’d sit there and play music right after supper until it got so dark or damp or cold that we had to go inside.”

Erma played the guitar and bass and sang harmony. Richard played guitar and fiddle, along with other instruments, and sang the lead. Richard’s father, Joe Griffin, born in 1883, played the old clawhammer style of banjo. Joe traveled to logging camps in Roane, Lincoln, and Calhoun counties and played dances on Saturday nights with some of the local fiddlers, mostly Enoch Camp. Joe lived to be 104, Buddy says, adding that Joe’s mother, Angeline, lived to be 112. Parts of Buddy’s family tree can be traced to Revolutionary War times; some of his ancestors reportedly received land grants from General Washington.

Buddy had five sisters and two brothers, one of whom died in infancy. Erma and the children managed a small farm while Richard worked a variety of jobs. "Dad coal mined a while, he was in the army, and worked on the state road - Department of Highways," Buddy says. "While he was doing that, he went back to school and got training and became a radio and television technician. That's what he did from about 1947 until he retired."

Richard and Erma kept their home well-supplied with the musical tools of their trade.

"The first instrument I ever touched was a bass fiddle," Buddy recalls. "They kept it leaned up behind the couch. I'd stand up on the couch when I was about five, maybe six. I couldn't note it, but I could play the strings. So if they'd play some old fiddle tune in [the key of] D, I'd have all three chords to go with it. I'd stand there and just play [the] strings."

Buddy soon learned to play the guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and banjo. His parents were good singers especially in the style of the Carter Family, and they taught their children the older country music. The Griffin children, however, tended toward the faster, more modern bluegrass music of the day.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.