Tom Riggs passes

Tom RiggsThomas W. Riggs, founder of Pinecastle Records and a long time bluegrass entrepreneur and impresario, died on Saturday (8/30) with his family by his side. He was 78 years of age, and had been in declining health this past four years.

Riggs came to the bluegrass business late in life, after a successful career in the pizza business. He and his wife operated a very lucrative Pizza Hut franchise in Orlando, FL with several partners, and was responsible for getting Pizza Hut involved with bluegrass when they were part of the Pepsi Cola company. Some of his earliest Pinecastle releases were for winners in the now defunct Pizza Hut Challenge band competition.

He enjoyed being addressed as Colonel, having been named an official Kentucky Colonel for his work with the Boy Scouts.

Born in Louisville, KY in 1934, Tom lived for many years in Orlando where he started his bluegrass work after selling the pizza business back to PepsiCo in 1990. At the time, they owned 65 profitable restaurants in the area, and the parent company was seeking to bring the more successful franchises back under their control. Tom and his partners had started the business in 1969, before the advent of Disney World, and it had grown to such a size that he had leverage with Pepsi to make support for bluegrass a part of his ultimate sales agreement.

Tom Riggs with Chubby WisePinecastle Records was launched in Orlando, as was his syndicated bluegrass radio program, American Acoustic Country, and The Music Shed, a wholesale/retail distributor for bluegrass recordings. Before starting the label, he had taken over management of a successful bluegrass festival in Kissimmee. All came as a result of the Colonel finding himself a financially independent businessman at the age of 55 with nothing to do. Bluegrass is much the richer for his decisions.

In its hey day, American Acoustic Country ran on over 250 stations, with Riggs behind the microphone introducing new bluegrass to a large audience – at a time when the word “bluegrass” was viewed as a negative in the radio industry.

Over the years Pinecastle released albums by some of the most prominent artists in bluegrass: The Osborne Brothers, The Reno Brothers, Special Consensus, Dale Ann Bradley, Eddie & Martha Adcock, Grasstowne, Larry Stephenson, Bill Emerson, Wildfire, and many more. They also helped introduce a number of new artists like Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Nothin’ Fancy and The Chapmans.

Tom Riggs with Jim & JesseWhen Tom and his wife divorced in 2005, he moved everything to western North Carolina where he owned a vacation cabin. The charm of the area (south of Asheville) had already won his heart, and Pinecastle and The Music Shed both relocated to Columbus, NC. Riggs’ health began to fail in 2010, and Cort Riggs, Tom’s son, managed the closure of the distribution business and the sale of Pinecastle to Lonnie Lassiter who runs it to this day.

Riggs is remembered fondly by many business associates in the bluegrass world.

A small family funeral service is planned for next week in Louisville.

Rest in Peace, Tom Riggs.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.