Guitarist, Lesley Riddle, was born in Burnsville, NC, in 1905, and his association and collaboration with The Carter Family, helped him leave a lasting impact on American music and the sounds of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
As a young boy, Lesley Riddle spent time back and forth between family land in Yancey County and Kingsport, TN, where his mother moved when he was young. As a teenager, Riddle lost his lower leg in an accident, while visiting a friend at a cement plant. Shortly after that accident, two fingers were injured from a shotgun discharge. Riddle spent his recovering time learning to play the guitar, including blues and gospel songs that his uncle, Ed Martin, taught him. He developed his own style and befriended other area blues musicians, like Brownie McGhee and John Henry Lyons.
Sometime around 1928, A.P. Carter reportedly went to Kingsport, to visit Lyons. While there, he met Lesley Riddle, whose guitar playing and voice both impressed A.P. Carter. The two became friends, and Lesley Riddle accompanied Carter on several of his song-hunting trips. Riddle was known for his excellent musical memory, and he helped teach several songs and guitar licks to Maybelle Carter. In particular, “The Cannon Ball” was a song that Riddle showed Maybelle on the guitar. “I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome” is another song that Riddle reportedly taught to The Carter Family.
Lesley Riddle never made any recordings as a young man, and after getting married, he and his wife moved to Rochester, NY, in 1937, and he mostly stopped playing music. During the folk revival of the 1960s, Mike Seeger located Riddle and proceeded to make some home recordings and get him playing again. Riddle made a handful of performances at folk festivals and venues in his retirement, performing a blend of blues, folk, and gospel music. A collection of the recordings that Seeger made were released by Rounder Records in 1993, in an album called Step By Step – Lesley Riddle Meets the Carter Family.
Lesley Riddle returned to North Carolina, and he passed away in Asheville, in 1980. In 2009, a stage production about Riddle and his life, premiered at Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville, NC. A festival in Riddle’s honor was held for several years in Burnsville as well. A N.C. Highway Historical Marker was dedicated to Lesley Riddle on US Highway 19, near Main Street in Burnsville in 2015.