People who have enough patience to dig beneath the hype and glitter of modern Nashville will discover that the city is an incredible nest for all manner of veteran musicians and older musical traditions. A case in point is the late Jimmie Riddle, who died on December 10, 1982. Jimmie spent most of his musical career in Nashville, was heard by thousands as a longtime member of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys, and was seen by millions doing his hambone routines with Jackie Phelps on Hee Haw. Yet few realized how rare and unique a performer Riddle was; by nature, he was a retiring, easygoing man who was more content to break up his friends at a local tavern doing his great mouth music renditions of “Stars and Stripes Forever” than pursue hit records. Jimmie, indeed, made only a handful of solo records, including one incredible LP, and most fans still remember him as a piano player and harmonica player with Acuff. Not many know about his rare ability to do the odd, hiccupping rhythm singing he calls “eephing” or “hoodlin’” and few know about his imitations, comic singing, mugging, and “hand squeaking.”
In November 1979 I interviewed Jimmie for the PBS series Southbound and he told me something about his career and his rare ability to make sounds with his hands and mouth. At the time, we made tentative plans for a second, more leisurely interview, and even talked about a new album. Unfortunately, neither of these projects ever came about, but in going over the tapes from November, I found that Jimmie had expressed himself very well, and that his own account of his career was about as succinct and impressive as anyone could ask for.
“I was born in Dyersburg [Tennessee], on September 3, quite a few years ago,” he began. “My parents left Dyersburg when I was just a month old, and moved to Memphis. Old Bluff City. Shelby County. That’s where I was raised, until I left and went to Texas. Memphis was a real city when I was growing up there. I used to go down and play in the