Introduced to music by his father, Lonnie Austin went on to play fiddle with some of the great old-timey string bands, including Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers and Kelly Harrell's Virginia String Band. Austin seems to have been born with musical talent. When he was a child he worked as an assistant to a guitar teacher, and when he turned ten his father bought him a fiddle for 75 dollars. He wound up using this exact instrument on his many recording dates for labels such as Paramount. His first professional activity was performing around the Spray, NC, area with players such as Will Haffinger and Norman Woodlief. The latter was the first local guy to leave town with Charlie Poole, who, as legend has it, would wander off into the hills for any gig that would provide a whiskey jug and some chow for the musicians. Austin joined this same aggregation a bit later, replacing a fiddler named Posey Rorer. The Poole band started making recordings, spreading Austin's reputation. He also started gigging and recording with the Harrell String Band as well, and then joined a vaudeville act in 1928, working the Loew's Theatre circuit as a member of H.M. Barnes' Blue Ridge Ramblers. When this contract ran out, Austin returned to Spray and worked with Poole's band until the leader died in 1931. This prompted Austin to leave home, and this time he never returned. He roamed around fiddle conventions, often winning top prize. Eventually he settled in Charleston, WV, locating the kind of gig musicians dream about. Actually, he became a member of the Butter Krust Bakers, an old-timey group sponsored by a local bakery. After three years, with regular broadcasts on radio station WCHS, he joined the dance orchestra of Pete Hammett on piano, switching musical styles as well as instruments.
This gig kept up until he was sent to Italy for World War II; upon returning, he took a job with Sears-Roebuck and dropped out of music entirely for the first time in his life. He never really returned to the fiddle, but in his later years would play a bit of electric piano or organ in local nightclubs. If his life lacked a lot of musical activity in these years, he certainly made up for it early in his career. Old Time Music published fascinating excerpts from his 1928-1929 tour diaries in 1975, detailing the intense itinerary and short pay, which, ironically, have changed very little over the years. In 1929, he indicated he had 22 dollars in back pay owed for a gig in Durham, NC.