In 1999, I asked Lilous Riley if she would send me a letter containing a little bit of the history of Texas fiddling. For those of you who don’t know her: at that time, Lilous was in her seventies, lived in Childress, Texas, and was married to Texas fiddler, Bartow Riley. Prior to this marriage, she was married to Texas fiddler, Orville Burns. The following is a copy of the letter I received from her. She provides a brief but worthwhile view of some of the people and the personalities involved in Texas fiddlings’ history. I hope you enjoy it.
From Lilous Riley in a letter dated July 2, 1999.
Of course, there are few players who can play like Orville. He has a style all his own and with that marvelous wrist action that he has; very few could copy him – that is, no one could! He gets accentuation that will curl your hair –Bobby knows that! I know Bobby enjoyed taking him around to the contests because he could always be proud of his playing and they got along real well together, also!
Omega Burden thought Orville was the best fiddle player in the world! Of course, Omega was Major Franklin’s own private guitar playing accompanist! And, he is one who didn’t learn from Benny! Orville had his own style and could play anything he wanted to.
When I went to high-school with him, he played in the high-school orchestra and was tenor in the boys choir (of all things) and we had one of the best A Cappella Choirs in Oklahoma City (our high-school did). We had a crackerjack of a choir leader we called him “Dutch” Houschildt! He was a fat German but he was great! He talked Orville into enrolling in choir and Orville made the Boys Quartet as Tenor!
Orville played with Hank Williams band some after Hank died and his wife took over the band and they came through Okla. City and Orville was in the Musicians Union – so they got him out of that and he did a good job. He was also on the Dave Garraway Show on TV once and they asked him about his musical background like Porter Wagoner did at Nashville. But Orville had forgotten about a lot of that.
Orville had the best square dance band in Oklahoma City for years. They kept him busy every night for some square dance club and even played on Sunday sometime when they had their conventions up there! He just didn’t do much bragging on himself! He had a Western Swing Band at one time in Okie City and played a lot.
He played anything he wanted to play and used to play some waltzes, but Orville, like Terry Morris (who I think got his stuff from Orville) he didn’t care for waltzes so didn’t fancy them up with all the sweet sounds of caressing his fiddle like most of the waltz players do! He is the first fiddle player who I ever heard play Eck Robertson’s “Amarillo Waltz” and played it beautifully!
Well, I’d better quit bragging on Orville, but I know what he could do because I was married to him for about 30 years and I’m here to tell you that he was one of the greatest fiddle players we ever had.
Like Norman Solomon once told one of the young fiddlers who asked about Orville – Norman gave them the answer “Best damned breakdown fiddler in the world”! Dale Morris would probably tell you the same thing!
Omega Burden used to hide from Major Franklin and look Orville up and really seemed to get a thrill out of that! He’d say, “We’ll hide from old ‘banty-legs’!” I’ve heard that lots! But, he did recognize the best! And you know how some of those older players used to tease each other!
Hey, Chris, I just answered my phone and it was Doc Harris from Nashville! He said they’re still working on getting sponsors for that Grand Masters and thinks they’ll be able to get it going back in 2000! I hope they will!
Of course, the real old country music that Nashville was famous for seems to have “died on the vine”.