Eck Robertson can only be called the source of a hidden history of country music. Probably the first fiddler to record on record (and also probably the first country record commercially available), Robertson seems to be the pinnacle and the origin of the Fiddle Contest tradition, and at the very least, his records and contest appearances in Texas were an inspiration for a generation of fiddlers. Fiddlers were country music's first virtuosos, and that can largely be attributed to Robertson's deep and soulful playing. He swings before swing became institutionalized on record (his first record came a short two years after Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues"), and his records became the standard by which fiddle players were (and are!) tested. His playing is ingenious and intuitive, the kind of work one would expect from the originator of style, rather than a follower of some folk tradition. His version of "Sallie Gooden" drones and saws its way to a powerful conclusion. Its power sounds timeless, and it feels as if it could last for 20 minutes, and one wishes that it would. Robertson's early recordings evoke a kind of forgotten age and some timeless futurity and, as such, is an essential part of any history of country music.
Robertson was born in Delaney, AR, in 1887. His family shortly moved to Texas, and he became forever linked with a "Texas Sound" of fiddling: intense, showstopping, vaudevillian skill. He only recorded around 16 commercial recordings in the years 1922 and 1929. His recordings effectively tell the history of old-time music in the 1920s: His recordings alerted record companies to the market for old-time music throughout the South, and his return to recording in 1929 signaled the end of the classic old-time string band sound that had dominated country music during its first decade. He recorded mostly solo or with his family: his wife, Nettie, his daughter Daphne, and his son Dueron. He also recorded with Nat Shilkret, one of the earliest popular music stars.
Robertson went on to record one of the great tragedies of country music's history. In the 1940s he recorded over 100 songs for radio which have never been found. Despite his relative obscurity, Robertson reaped a few benefits from the 1960s folk revival and recorded some documentary material. He died on February 17, 1975. County Records released an excellent retrospective of his early work in 1998.