Buddy Griffin – 2023 West Virginia Music Hall of Fame inductee

Buddy Mason Griffin is a notable West Virginia banjo and fiddle player who has demonstrated his talents on stages extending from Wheeling’s Jamboree USA (WWVA) to Branson, Missouri, and the Grand Ole Opry. This weekend, he will be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

He was born on September 22, 1948, in Richwood, Nicholas County, and grew up in a family devoted to the songs of the original Carter Family and traditional bluegrass music, with Griffin quickly learning to play several instruments and becoming a part of the family group. Actually a multi-instrumentalist, the five string banjo was his instrument of choice, although he has become best known for his fiddle work. 

The family band, working part-time, had radio programs in towns ranging from Oak Hill, Sutton, Richwood, and Weston. Also, they appeared as guests on regional TV shows, such as Red Smiley’s on WOAY-TV and then from June 1964 they became semi-regular performers on The Buddy Starcher Show, on WCHS-TV in Charleston. A year later they did a guest spot on the Top O’ The Morning Show at WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Virginia, then starring Red Smiley & the Bluegrass Cutups. 

Griffin, his father, Richard, and mother, Erma, made an appearance, singing Lula Walls at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, in the Carter Family documentary Keep On The Sunny Side (1985).

When Griffin, his father and brother, Johnny, added non-family members Jerry Butler (mandolin) and Bill Dorsey (bass) to the band, they became known as the Sunny Valley Boys.  

In 1966 Griffin attended Glenville State College, where he graduated in 1971, and subsequently taught English and History for several years at the junior high school level. 

He remained active musically, playing with the family as time permitted, and, as a freshman, with friend and guitarist George Ward. Joining the staff band on Jamboree USA, he recorded with such WWVA regulars as The Heckels – Griffin played on their recording The Heckels Sing – and Slim Lehart. 

Griffin and Ward had their first recording experience on December 1, 1971, when, on an all-instrumental LP, they backed southern West Virginia fiddler Joe Meadows, who was making a comeback after a period of a few years in which he was mostly inactive. 

In October 1973 Griffin won the West Virginia State banjo and fiddle contests. 

One of the many talents with whom he worked on Jamboree USA was stone county singer Landon Williams, who had two nightclubs in the Cincinnati area. This association led Griffin to leave Wheeling to play in Williams’ band, The Hard Times, in the Queen City. 

When school was out in the spring of 1975, Griffin joined the Goins Brothers as their full-time fiddler. Generally, they worked festivals in the summertime and clubs and schools during the colder months. While with the Goins Brothers, he played on several albums, mostly on the Rebel label. He also worked and made recordings with the Katie Laur, whom he had met earlier in Cincinnati, and during the next five years or so he did session work with other artists, including Earl Taylor, Mac Wiseman, Dave Evans, and Josh Graves, chiefly on recordings made at Rusty York’s Jewel Studio. 

Additionally, Griffin was responsible for the engineering and mixing of Country Ham’s self-titled LP, (Vetco 512, 1977). 

Thereafter he returned to the classroom as a full-time social studies instructor at the Gassaway Middle School, West Virginia, where he remained until 1982. 

That summer Griffin got a call from Johnny Russell whom he had known when they both worked at Jamboree USA in the early 1970s, who needed a fiddler for a series of engagements in Las Vegas. He worked with Russell sporadically for several years. A couple of highlights for him during this time were appearances at the Gold Coast Casino, Las Vegas, and on the Opry. 

Occasionally, he kept his bluegrass chops honed playing either bass or fiddle on some dates with the Doug Dillard Band, with a July 1983 appearance at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which was televised on Canadian Broadcasting. 

In the meantime, Griffin made numerous appearances on the West Virginia Public radio program Mountain Stage; released a cassette credited to The Buddy Griffin Band, for which he played all the instruments, did the engineering, mixing, and producing of a dozen instrumentals, on his own Braxton label; and served as director at Camp Washington-Carver, Clifftop, Fayette County, for the state’s Department of Culture and History. 

Many music relationships were formed from associations at the long-running West Virginia State Folk Festival. In Griffin’s case, one of those, dating back to the 1980s, was with Mack Samples (guitar and vocal), and his brothers, Roger (guitar and vocal), and Ted (banjo and guitar). They recorded a few cassettes – the best cuts being released later on a CD, Best Of The Samples Brothers, the others followed with the last being in 2009. 

Samples Brothers & Buddy Griffin Little Liza Jane West Virginia State Folk Festival, Glenville, 2019

Griffin joined the cast of the Ozark Mountain Hoedown in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, in the evenings, and worked with various groups – most notably Christy Lane and Albert Brumley Jr. – in Branson, Missouri, by day. While with Brumley he did a bit of comedy with another comedian known as Chester Drawers (real name Eddie Bowman). At the time, he intended to remain in the Ozark region, but his parents’ declining health soon forced him to return to the Mountain State.

Back in West Virginia, he had a second stint with the Goins Brothers, as Ray had health problems. Eventually, Ray had to retire, leaving older brother Melvin to lead the band. 

In the mid-1997, Griffin became a regular sideman with Jim and Jesse & the Virginia Boys, and worked with them, even continuing after Jim McReynold’s death at the end of December 2002. 

During the latter part of this spell with the Virginia Boys, Griffin worked on two recordings, the first being when he did all the fiddle work for Jesse’s grandson Luke McKnight’s debut album, and the other generating the 2001 Jim & Jesse CD Our Kind Of Country.  

Jim & Jesse and Virginia Boys, at The Milan Bluegrass Festival, August 2000 … 

Jim McReynolds (vocals and guitar); Jesse McReynolds (vocals and mandolin); Luke McKnight (vocals and mandolin); Buddy Griffin (fiddle); LIoyd Douglas (banjo) and Matt Allred (bass). 

All this time Griffin became a part-time instructor, teaching string music classes at Glenville State College and, increasingly, this needed more of his attention and time. After about a year a suggestion by Dr. John McKinney, the chair of the Fine Arts Department, led to the first-ever four-year college degree program in bluegrass music. Lizzy Long, of the duo Little Roy and Lizzy, became the first student to complete the initial Certificate program, and his sister Rebekah became the first to complete the degree course.  

Thanks to his leadership, the development of this BA course, and the band that it generated, has been considered to be Griffin’s key accomplishments in music.

In 2004 he did the banjo tracks on the Disney animated film The Fox and the Hound 2, and session work for a bluegrass album by former Jamboree star Georgia’s Patti Powell, and with Mountain State comic actor, singer, and famously witty songwriter George Daugherty, aka the Earl of Elkview. 

During the following year Griffin released a two-CD collection of the family’s recordings. This had the original cuts from the family band cassette with eight additional numbers.  

When he retired from Glenville State College in 2011, Griffin moved to Nashville where although still playing with semi-active Jesse McReynolds – making weekends appearances on the Opry, for example – Griffin was more active on the road with Bobby Osborne and the Rocky-Top X-Press. In 2014 he was part of Osborne’s Celebration Tour: 50th Anniversary on the Grand Ole Opry. 

Melvin Goins & Windy Mountain, featuring Buddy Griffin and Luke Shamblin twin fiddles – Roanoke

Melvin Goins, Luke Shamblin, Jack Hicks, Buddy Griffin, David Bowling, Mountaineer Opry House, October 15, 2011.

Some of the locations where the celebrations took place include the Turkey Track Bluegrass Festival, Waldron, Arkansas; the Bill Monroe Memorial Festival, Bean Blossom, Indiana; the Old Joe Clark Bluegrass Festival in Renfro Valley, Kentucky; the Savannah Bluegrass Festival in Savannah Tennessee; the Osborne Brothers Hometown Festival, Hyden, Kentucky; the Georgia Mountain Fair, Hiawassee, Georgia; the Gospel Jubilee, Bean Blossom; at Turfway Park, Florence, Kentucky; and the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, Pennsylvania; as well as on the Opry itself. 

Occasionally, he worked with retired commercial airplane pilot, tenor singer, and guitar player Ashley Messenger, whom he had known for about 30 years. The partnership later led to the recording of three CDs of Don Reno and Red Smiley songs, under the tongue-in-cheek pseudonym of Retro and Smiling, seen here at the Wheeling Jamboree USA …. 

Buddy Griffin and Ashley Messenger with the Tennis Shoe Cutups, appearing on the Jamboree, October 27, 2012. Band members include Jon Weisberger (bass), Luke Shamblin (vocals, mandolin and fiddle), and Corrina Logston (vocals and fiddle). 

One member of the Tennis Shoe Cutups and a Glenville State College alumnus, Luke Shamblin, with Griffin on fiddle, released two solo albums with Griffin playing banjo and fiddle on the first one and fiddle on the second.

Also, in 2012, Griffin did a 15-number fiddle album labelled Buddy Griffin plays Hank Williams

In 2017, at her suggestion, Dr. Megan McKnight (as she is now, having married Luke McKnight) (Miss Megan) – his successor in the Glenville State program – and Buddy Griffin went into Ricky Wasson’s studio in Clay City, Kentucky, to record some old classic tunes that they both grew up with, albeit 40 years apart. The self-financed project was a fundraiser for Glenville State College. 

As mentioned, Griffin has a humorous side to him also. As well as a routine with a mirror and toothless comb on an increasingly folically challenged pate (on the Brumley Show), he sometimes added a few notes from a classical piece or the Gillette razor blade commercial while playing a fiddle instrumental.  

Other venues where Griffin has appeared include the Kennedy Center; NPR’s Rider’s Radio Theater at the Emery Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio; and A Prairie Home Companion; and At Home In The County (the Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View, Arkansas).

Griffin ‘finally’ retired in 2018, but a reduced workload didn’t stop him from being on-call and picking whenever the chances to do so presented themselves. 

In over 50 years there is very little that Griffin has not done for bluegrass and old-time music. He has performed on many stages, touring as a sideman with top names; as a session musician he has played on more than 150 recordings; helped with studio production; appeared on many radio and television stations; devised, implemented and oversaw a curriculum for a degree course for bluegrass musicians; and mentored others.   

Induction into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame is clearly a very well-deserved accolade, perhaps even overdue. 

In 2011 Griffin’s career was celebrated with the Vandalia Award presented by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and in 2019, he received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Glenville State College.

The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony takes place on June 3, 2023, at the Culture Center Theater, Charleston.  

It will be broadcast live throughout West Virginia on WV Public Broadcasting. 

Congratulations Buddy Griffin. 

Seminal bluegrass pioneers, The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers; world renowned classical pianist Barbara Nissman; Fuzzy Haskins and Calvin Simon, founding members the funk band Parliament-Funkadelic; and Winston Walls, one of country’s greatest Hammond B-3 players, make up the 2023 class. 

Congratulations to them as well. 

A Discography

Buddy Griffin

  • The Buddy Griffin Band (Braxton CT 001, 1988 (cassette)) (released on a compact disc as the 20th Anniversary Edition, 2008)
  • Buddy Griffin Plays Hank Williams (Braxton CT 002, 2012) 

Slim Lehart

  • The Wheeling Cat (B-W Records B-W 2156, c. 1972)

Ralph Joe’ Meadows

  • Ralph Meadows & his Bluegrass Fiddle (Blugras C 00 2, 1973)

Katie Laur Band

  • Good Time Girl (Vetco 3023, 1975)
  • Cookin’ With Katie Laur Band (Vetco 3028, 1977)
  • Misbehavin‘ (Vetco 3032, 1979)

Earl Taylor

  • Body And Soul (Vetco LP-3026, 1976)

Mac Wiseman & the Shenandoah Cutups

  • New Traditions. Vol. 1 (Vetco 508, 1976)
  • New Traditions. Vol. 2 (Vetco 509, 1977) (22 recordings re-issued as Mac Wiseman: Classic Bluegrass (Rebel REB-CD-1106, 1989))

The Goins Brothers

  • On The Way Home (Rebel SLP-1557, 1976)
  • Take This Hammer (Rebel SLP-1568, September 1977) 
  • Wandering Soul (Rebel SLP-1586, 1980)
  • He Showed Me The Way (Vetco LP-3042, 1988)
  • We’ll Carry On (Hay Holler HHH-CD-502, 1995)
  • Run Satan, Run (Hay Holler HHH-CD-1338, 1997)

Curley Lambert with the Goins Brothers

  • Blue Grass Evergreen (Old Homestead OHS-90072, 1976)

Joe Meadows & Buddy Griffin

  • Two O’clock In The Morning (Old Homestead Records OHS90081, 1977)

The Woodettes

  • Just One Rose Will Do (Gloryland GLPV-117, 1977)
  • Halfway Home (Woods 83017-8, 1984)

Dave Evans And River Bend

  • Call Me Long Gone (Vetco LP 3036, July 1980) (reissued on Crosscut CR 1030) 

Josh Graves with Dave Evans, Buddy Griffin, David Pinson

  • Playing It Simple (Vetco LP 3037, 1980) (re-released on Crosscut CR 1031) 

Buddy Griiffin & Ashley Messenger (as Retro & Smiling)

  • Wanted (self-released, 2008)
  • Get Ready (self-released, 2009) 
  • Please Remember (self-released, 2012)

Tony Trischka

  • Hill Country (Rounder Records 0203, 1985) 

The Samples Brothers and Buddy Griffin

  • Best Of The Samples Brothers 
  • Acoustic Reflections
  • Slightly North of Dixie (1999)
  • Let The Four Winds Blow (2009)

Luke McKnight

  • Supergrass 2000 (Old Dominion OD 498-18, 2000)

Jim & Jesse

  • Our Kind Of Country (Pinecastle PRC-1108-CD, May 8, 2001)

Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys

  • Live! At McClure, Virginia (Rebel SLP 1554/55, 1976)

Two tracks, Pike County Breakdown and Nine Pound Hammer, with The Goins Brothers

Luke Shamblin

  • Timing’s Everything (self-released, 2011)
  • Higher Ground (self-released, 2012) 

Miss Megan with Buddy Griffin

  • Miss Megan with Buddy Griffin (self-released, 2017)

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.