b. James Riddle, 3 September 1918, Dyersburg, Tennessee, USA, d. 10 December 1982, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Riddle grew up in Memphis and as a boy learned to play the harmonica that his grandfather gave him for his fourth birthday. He later also played piano, piano accordion, guitar and bass. He played on street corners before joining Uncle Rube Turnipseed And The Pea Ridge Ramblers in the mid-30s. He then joined the Swift Jewel Cowboys, a western swing band, where he acted as a substitute player, and during his tenure with the band, he played whatever instrument was needed at the time; he played harmonica when he made his first recordings with them in 1939. He relocated to Houston, working first with the Crustene Roundup Gang and then with the Jolly Texans in Mississippi. During World War II, he briefly worked in a Houston shipyard, before in 1943, he became a member of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys, where he played harmonica and piano. He saw military service from June 1944 to July 1946, after which he rejoined Acuff and worked with him for the remainder of his life, except for a short period around 1973. He toured worldwide with Acuff and also appeared with him in films. He made some solo recordings, and in later years, he did occasional work as a session musician. He was noted for making mouth music, a practice he learned from an old uncle, known as ‘eephing’. He played tunes such as the ‘William Tell’ overture by slapping on his throat, made tap-dance noises on his teeth and did sundry vocal imitations, including an helicopter. These talents featured on a Decca Records single called ‘Yakety Eeph’/‘Wildwood Eeph’; Mike Seeger recorded him in the 70s and historian Charles K. Wolfe also recorded him for the PSB-TVSouthbound series in 1979. (His son Steven has also been recorded performing in this unusual family tradition and seemingly there are duet recordings with his father in existence.) Early in 1982, failing heath forced him into retirement and he died in December 1982.
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