The mysterious Ricky Riddle

One of the best voices associated with country-western music in Detroit, Ricky Riddle was a singer’s singer. His records give out flawless vocal performances, and an easygoing style you recognize as soon as Riddle begins to sing.

One of the best voices associated with country-western music in Detroit, Ricky Riddle was a singer’s singer. His records give out flawless vocal performances, and an easygoing style one recognizes as soon as Riddle begins to sing. A couple of years ago I drafted a biography for Riddle’s nephew Danny, also a talented musician, who posted it online here. I’ve since updated the piece, but for now I’d like to add the following (read the bio, then return here).

"Hang On Bill" by Rick Riddle, Dixie Records 107Riddle’s last commercial effort was a 1971 single for Dixie Records, with two self-penned numbers. Riddle returned to the mix of honky tonk and western music he made previously for the Rio Grande label, featuring piano, steel, guitar, bass, and drums. Freddie Vel, co-writer of “You’re The Reason,” a hit song for Mickey Gilley (released on Dixie under Vel’s name), produced the session.

Riddle’s “Sweet Lucy” described finding the cure to all worries in a bottle of wine. With the Vietnam War raging, Riddle dedicated the other side, “Hang On Bill,” to Lieutenant William Calley, who was tried and convicted for the role he played in the 1968 My Lai Massacre.

Just a few weeks prior to the release of his Dixie single, Shelby Singleton’s Plantation label issued “The Battle Hymn Of Lt. Calley” by Terry Nelson and C-Company, which charted in pop and country lists. Its sales buried Riddle’s tribute.

Rick Riddle 1969One humid August day in 2009, I spent the afternoon running around Fraser, Michigan, with Ricky Riddle’s ebullient sister-in-law Laura Riddle, trying to find the location of his grave. She knew it was at the top of St. John Cemetery, but the marker was gone. Ms. Riddle proceeded to take me on a whirlwind tour of Fraser. St. John Lutheran Church couldn’t inform us; the Fraser Public Library had no records; and Faulmann & Walsh, the funeral home where Riddle received his last rites in 1988, couldn’t help.

Upon our return to the cemetery, we met a woman doing landscape work. We discovered she and her husband were new owners of the property. Laura and the woman rehashed an old tale of a thunderstorm that overturned a tree, damaging several markers on the hill, including Riddle’s missing stone. [Update: As of May 2014, when I revisited the site, Riddle’s extended family has replaced his grave marker in St. John’s Cemetery.]

If, by circumstance, you find yourself in Fraser, Michigan, take Mulvey Road north from 14 Mile and enter the cemetery from the north driveway. As you head south, keep to the right and climb up the hill. Riddle’s grave lies among the first lawn of markers you’ll find on the right-hand side. The plots reside high above the rest of the park, beneath the open sky. If this circumstance also caused you to travel with a guitar, why not pick and sing an old a western song?

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