Fiddler Ralph Blizard is the only kind of blizzard folks in the Appalachians would feel good about arriving, since the weather kind tends to mess up the roads, and perhaps even make it impossible to get to that still way back up in the holler. This Blizard is a legendary old-time long-bow fiddler whose own house as a child was the scene of frequent jams, so even as a toddler he had a chance to listen and eventually play along with some of the best fiddlers and banjo pickers in the area. The singers and the stories they were telling always fascinated him as well. Blizard expanded these traditions as he began performing on live radio broadcasts, continuing to fiddle around with the overlapping genres of old-time music and bluegrass. Ironically, he had mastered fiddle on the sly after starting out with mandolin. Blizard recalled in an interview, "I could play fiddle before my dad knew I could play fiddle. 'Cause he wouldn't let me play his fiddle. He was afraid I would tear it up. My mother slipped his fiddle to me. I'd played the mandolin, and I could play the fiddle pretty fast, before he realized it. How it come to him to find out about it, we was sittin' playing music one day and somebody asked for a certain number. My dad didn't know it, so don't she say, 'Well, give your fiddle to Ralph. Let him play it.' So my dad promoted me on the fiddle from that time."
The promoted fiddler began performing professionally in 1932 at the age of only 14. Initially, a typical gig might be a picnic organized by the huge and wealthy Tennessee Eastman-Kodak company. Working in a band entitled the Southern Ramblers, the fiddler played on station WOPI in Bristol, a real stomping ground for old-time music that produced artists such as Doc Watson and Dock Boggs -- "docs," yes, but neither a good suggestion for putting in stitches. Country star Ricky Scaggs and ace fiddler Kenny Baker are two more bluegrass artists who called Bristol home. It is perhaps best to wipe the image of stars arriving in limousines for their radio broadcasts out of mind. The reality was, these young old-time music fanatics jolted out of bed in time to be at the station at 6:00 a.m., hurriedly whipping off a program of brilliant string music and hopefully finishing in time to get to school for the first bell. Blizard also worked on Tennessee stations such as WJHL in Johnson City and WKPT in Kingsport, the latter stint lasting the early '50s.
By the mid-'50s, however, he had decided to put down his fiddle, concentrating for the next 25 years on the busy demands of raising a family. He was employed by a chemical company during this part of his life, but upon retiring, Blizard once again grabbed his fiddle and bow, stepping right back into the shoes of an icon of traditional fiddling. If his fingers were stiff, nobody noticed it. Blizard had little difficulty bringing back the playing style which had managed to catch the attention of listeners during what is considered the golden age of country radio, and also composed new tunes such as the fabulous "Gypsy Stomp." His comeback album on Rounder, entitled Southern Ramble, recorded with his young backup group the New Southern Ramblers, received rave reviews from the bluegrass police. At 81, Blizard was showing no signs of someone about to slow down, with a packed schedule of concerts, dances, and workshops around the world, as well as a weekly jam session he hosts in his hometown of Blountville. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi