Country music may owe its very existence in part to a one-legged African-American guitar player named Lesley Riddle. Riddle was born on June 13, 1905, in Burnsville, NC. As a young man he worked in the local cement plant, where an unfortunate accident cost him his right leg at the knee. During his convalescence Riddle learned to play guitar, developing a unique picking technique and a biting slide style. A.P. Carter, patriarch of the Carter Family, met Riddle in Kingsport, TN, in 1928, learning "Cannonball" from him. Carter began using Riddle as a source for traditional material and arrangements, and he started to accompany A.P. on his song-collecting trips. Riddle essentially lived with the Carter Family off and on for several years at their home in Virginia, where he was occasionally called upon to teach Maybelle Carter a tricky guitar part or two. Legend has it that Sara Carter eventually presented Riddle with a brand new wooden leg as a sort of thank you.
Riddle moved to Rochester, NY, in 1942, which was where Mike Seeger discovered him in the mid-'60s. Seeger made several field recordings with Riddle between 1965 and 1978, and an album called Step By Step, featuring Riddle on guitar and piano, was assembled from those recordings and issued on CD by Rounder Records in 1993. Riddle had an easy, comfortable, and world-weary voice, and his guitar playing was solid and revealing, and it isn't hard to understand what A.P. Carter saw in Riddle when he met him in the 1920s. A musician of tremendous talent and integrity, Riddle made an undeniable impact on the material and overall sound of the Carter Family, and thus on the whole of country music. He died on July 13, 1980. ~ Steve Leggett