Red Steeley (September 10 – 1893 – December 16, 1969)
Red and Mildred Steeley play “The Steeley Rag,”
recorded Nov. 29, 1930, Dallas, TX.
edited from http://www.fiddlersfrolics.com
Born in Scottsboro in the hill country of Jackson County in northeastern Alabama on September 10, 1893, Albert Lee Steeley began playing the fiddle at the age of five; he learned to play on a homemade instrument made by his seven-year-old brother. The Steeleys moved out to Texas around the turn of the twentieth century.
Steeley spent most of his life as a farmer near Arlington, Texas. He kept fiddling, though, and became known as one of the finest hoedown fiddlers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Steeley and a fellow Alabaman, J.W. Graham began playing together in 1909. They played together on WBAP radio in Fort Worth and in 1928 and 1929, Steeley and Graham recorded for Brunswick Records in Dallas as the Red Headed Fiddlers. Graham’s old time five string banjo accompaniment was not common in Texas at that time.
Steeley’s daughter Mildred became an excellent rhythm guitarist. The Steeleys played in many Texas fiddle contests and got to know some of the top Texas fiddlers including Major Franklin, Benny Thomasson and Norman Solomon, just to name a few. Steeley became known in Texas as an excellent fiddle maker. He died on December 16, 1969. Steeley was inducted into the Fiddlers’ Frolics Hall of Fame in Hallettsville, Texas in 1982.
Red Steeley had very little education, but he was a very gifted person. Most of his life was spent in farming south of Arlington, Texas. During the Depression he worked as a fiddle-maker and repairman for Joe Stamp in north Ft. Worth. In1929, he almost turned into a professional fiddler. He made 10 double-faced records of fiddle music for Brunswick. He knew at least four hundred fiddle tunes. He especially enjoyed playing hornpipes, schottisches, waltzes and reels. His favorite breakdown was “Billy in the Low Ground”. His daughter, Mildred, played with him as accompanist on the guitar.
Mr. Steeley won Top Place in the Fiddling Contest at the Centennial Fair in Dallas. He was a good friend of Irvin, Vernon and Norman Solomon, Benny Thomasson and the Franklins-and they enjoyed playing many hours of fiddle tunes together. However, Mr. Steeley enjoyed making fiddles rather than playing them; and perhaps it is in this regard that the many fiddlers in this part of Texas best knew and remember him. Mr. and Mrs. Steeley had two children, Mildred (Mrs. Garth Watkins) of Carthage, Texas and Rev. Jim Steeley of Irving, Texas. Jim has two children and four grandchildren. Mildred has five children and 12 grandchildren. Of the seven grandchildren of Red and Mary Elizabeth Steeley, five have degrees from major universities.