The career of Eck Robertson covered almost all of his 89 years. As one of the most remarkable fiddlers in history, Robertson had a gifted talent and is attributed as being the first known recorded country artists. Born in 1886, he was already a known musician by the turn of the century, turning professional early into the 1900’s. His talent for experimenting with traditional music and iterating old tunes beyond the classic boundaries made him unique but his greatest talent still shone through when he stuck to the classical style.
He started fiddling when he was only 5 years old and while his style and repertoire harken to the southern fiddling style of the 19th century, he came to be known primarily as one of America’s greatest folk-style fiddlers. He was integral in the establishment of the fiddling style deemed “old time Texas fiddling” although he didn’t limit his playing to that.
Eck Robertson was the first person that recorded a country music album for the commercial market in July of 1922. Victor Talking Machine Company recorded him and Henry C. Gilliland in their studio in New York. Gilliland, of Oklahoma, was a veteran from the Civil War who had entertained veterans at a soldier’s reunion in Richmond, Virginia in 1922 who set off to New York with the dream of recording music. An old contact from his life as a justice of the peace, Martin Littleton, a lawyer, was in New York and the two men stayed with him, touring the city. It is said that he had done some legal work for the recording company and introduced the two men, who immediately played for the Victor manager. They were told to return in the morning to record a test.
They returned the next day and recorded “Arkansas Traveler” and “Turkey in the Straw” and then Robertson returned alone on the following day to record “Sallie Gooden” and “Ragtime Annie” as well as others with a piano player accompanying. In April 1923, “Sallie Gooden” and “Arkansas Traveler,” were released. Robertson returned to Vernon, Texas to tell his tale to all. Robertson’s next recording was 7 years later with his family band in Dallas which was promoted for not only their “old time melodies” but also for their stunt fiddling, dancing and all round entertainment value. The family band split shortly after WWII and shortly afterward, Eck’s son Dueron was killed and he and his wife, Nettie, parted ways.
Through the 50’s and early 60’s, Robertson was less engaged in music, playing only the occasional special event and working for the Tolzien Music Company, tuning pianos as well as building and repairing fiddles in his shop at home. . He was occasionally featured as a special guest at the fiddle contests that were sprouting throughout Texas. The brochure advertising the “Hale Center 4th of July Homecoming Celebration with All-American Fiddlers Contest” (ca .1963) proclaims: “The best fiddlers come from the country where folks scratch themselves for entertainment and aren’t ashamed of it!” and “There’s nothing more American than Fiddle Music
At some point in the early 60’s, his music had a renaissance and he was invited to play as a special guest, being touted as a pioneer recording artist although venues and occasions were less prevalent than in the past. He continued to play at music festivals whenever he had the chance, charming audiences where ever he went. Eck Robertson died at the age of 88 in 1975 and he was laid to rest in Fritch, Texas under the inscription the “World’s Champion Fiddler”.