TOTFA Stories

Bonnie Riley ~ Texas Old Time Fiddler Extraordinaire from Victoria

Among the many bright stars on the horizon of Texas fiddling that deserve honorable mention is M. Bonnie Riley, the attractive, personable, and talented daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Pat T. Riley (Mary Ann) of Victoria. Bonnie is originally from Beeville, having been born there on December 14, 1984, and is now Sweet Sixteen. Bonnie began fiddling when she was eleven; but this was predicated by an earlier developing interest in music, at age nine, when she began music studies in school learning to play a wind instrument called the recorder. This was only the beginning of an affair with music that has culminated with an infatuation with and love for Texas old time fiddling. Bonnie's parents, P.T. and Mary Ann are most supportive of Bonnie's music efforts and each can boast of a music heritage. Mary Ann's grandfather, Nolan Wood, was a tri-state fiddle champion in East Texas who, later in life, lived in Amarillo and hobnobbed with Eck Robertson. P.T. also had kinfolks who were fiddle players and he picks the guitar left-handed and upside down as Bonnie's accompanist at contests and similar events.

Bonnie's initial encounter with Texas fiddling occurred in 1996 when Jake Glidewell and P.T. went to a jam session in Harwood and taped some fiddle tunes that were being played by Regina Matthews. P.T., amazed at the awesome skill of Regina, who at the time was only eleven, the same age as Bonnie, upon returning home, played the tapes for Bonnie who was also amazed and overwhelmed; but it was the 1996 Hallettsville contest that was the real initiation for Bonnie for it was there that she met Regina for the first time and experienced the full impact of Regina's fiddling skill. From that point, it has been uphill all the way and a labor of fiddling love for Bonnie.

Bonnie's first violin instruction began with Ms. Carolyn Arrington of Victoria. This was followed by lessons with Wade Stockton and Ms. Carolyn White that ultimately led to a respectable level of expertise in Texas style fiddling. She is currently taking fiddling lessons from Ricky Turpin and spends much time in practice in an effort to achieve Ricky's demanding expectations.

Bonnie loves to play anywhere and at any time as long as anyone will listen. She is not at all shy about performing. She will perform at the drop of a hat at contests, cemetery cleanings, trail rides, and more. She and her dad are regular performers at the Victoria Country Opry, and they "hardly ever miss a contest, both sanctified and unsanctified." They have also performed as a team in Branson and in Nashville; and they have an excellent working relationship mainly because they enjoy the same kind of music, "most anything country, especially western swing and Texas fiddling." Bonnie's mom, Mary Ann, is their booking agent, press agent, photojournalist, video technician, and all around general factotum.

Ricky Turpin and Terry Morris are two of Bonnie's favorite fiddlers. Others who have influenced and assisted her in the fiddling process include Jake Glidewell, Wade Stockton, Johnny Gimble, Jim Chancellor, Roy Thackerson, Smoky Butler, and the entire "Hopkins Bunch." May 1, 2001, will mark Bonnie's fifth year of Texas fiddling; and it has all been "very exciting and much fun." We are greatly saddened to hear of the death of a truly great Texas fiddler, Mr. Orville Burns, who at the time of his departure from this life, was residing in Oklahoma City. Apologies for not being more fully informed on his passing.

Charles Gardner