excerpt from JEMF Quarterly Vol. IV, Part 1 — March 1968 — No. 9:
On September 2, 1963, collector Bob Pinson interviewed Charles and Ira Stripling at Charlie’s farm just north of Kennedy, Alabama. Pinson had been informed by blues collector Gayle Dean Wardlow that the Striplings lived near Gordo, Alabama. A service station attendant at Gordo told Pinson that they lived in Kennedy in Lamar County, some twenty-five miles north of Gordo.
That first contest was in January of 1913, and Charlie Stripling had just begun fiddling in the spring of 1912. Ira had been playing the guitar only since the previous November. Their father, Thomas Newton Stripling, owned a local Pickens Co. store and ordered Ira’s first guitar. The guitar, bought wholesale, cost Ira $6.00.
“Six dollars didn’t grow on bushes like they seem to now!” Their mother was Sarah Stripling and both parents were born in Pickens County. Neither played any instruments; the brothers assert that they were the only musicians in the entire family.
After the Kennedy contest, they received invitations from fiddlers’ contests in Millport (Lamar County), Fayette (Fayette County) and places even further away. The further they went from Pickens County, the less they felt they could win, but soon changed their minds.
Charlie recalled, “the further off away from home I got, the easier it was to get the prize.”
“At this time, Uncle Bunt made an appearance at Millport and Charlie went up to hear him. (During the mid-1920′ s the industrialist Henry Ford had been sponsoring fiddle contests in the North and South. His hand-picked champion was a Tennessee fiddler, Uncle Bunt Stephens.)
A man was there who was representing a big fiddle contest to be held in Memphis, Tenn., the weekend of June 2, and he asked if Bunt would enter. Bunt explained that he was tied up for that weekend, at which point a friend of Charlie’s suggested that Charlie, who had gained quite a local reputation, might take his place.
The man accepted and Charlie traveled up without Ira, as no accompaniment was allowed. The contest lasted three days and there were very large crowds each day. The final night, on which the prizes were given, was a Saturday and 600 fiddlers were present.
“I realized I had competition,” Charlie recalled. Bunt finally showed up and Charlie learned later that the contest was probably fixed in favor of Bunt. Charlie still received second prize, which consisted of twenty dollars in gold.
When they recorded, they were told by the A and R man in Chicago, that many of the old-time tunes had been recorded and that they didn’t need any more versions, so the brothers were forced to search for new material. “Big Footed Nigger” they had learned from a local fiddler, Henry Ludlow, at a contest. Charlie, after hearing it, only remembered the first half. After going to sleep that night he awoke very late, remembering the second part, which he proceeded to immediately try on the fiddle.
Charlie recalled a contest in Fayette that he had won year after year. One time, the man who ran it gave him twenty dollars not to enter the contest because Charlie was discouraging the other fiddlers. Though he was popular and played many dances and contests it was never enough to make a living.