Buddy Griffin inducted into WV Music Hall of Fame

By Matthew Young, RealWV

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series documenting the 2023 West Virginia Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Part one will serve as an overview of the event and the posthumous inductees. Part two will cover Buddy Griffin, and part three will cover Barbara Nissman. 

Watch the full broadcast of the 2023 WV Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, courtesy of W.Va. Public Broadcasting.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A member of the 2023 class of inductees to the WV Music Hall of Fame, Buddy Griffin was born in Richwood in 1948. Parents Richard and Erma Griffin had a total of eight children, with Buddy being the sixth. 

For a young man growing up in the Griffin household throughout the 1950s and 60s, music was a way of life. Erma and Richard were both string musicians, as was Richard’s father. It wasn’t long before Buddy was strumming right along – eventually joining the Griffin’s family band, “The Sunny Valley Boys.”

In the late 1960s, the family moved to Braxton County, where the Sunny Valley Boys began making weekly appearances on radio broadcasts and television programs. After graduating from Glenville State College with a Bachelor’s Degree in education, Buddy was hired by the WWVA Jamboree USA in Wheeling, as a banjo and fiddle player. There Buddy supported the musical efforts of artists such as Mother Maybelle Carter and Johnny Russell.

Tim O’Brien and Buddy Griffin perform during the 2023 WV Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, on June 3, at the Culture Center Theatre in Charleston. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

Since his early days as a staff musician for Jamboree USA, Buddy Griffin has appeared on more than 150 albums, and performed at the Grand Ole Opry over 200 times. In the process, Buddy has forged a reputation as perhaps the most recognized and respected bluegrass and country musician West Virginia has ever produced. 

In 2002, Buddy helped introduce the world’s first four-year bluegrass music degree program at Glenville State College, where he would eventually receive an honorary doctorate in 2019. Buddy Griffin is also a 2011-recipient of the W.Va. Division of Culture and History’s “Vandalia Award.”

On hand at Charleston’s Culture Center Theatre June 3 to induct Buddy Griffin as part of the WV Music Hall of Fame’s class of 2023 was Samples Brothers Band guitarist and vocalist, Mack Samples.  

“You heard all these wonderful things he’s (Griffin) done on the national scene, and he’s made himself a tremendous reputation – especially among bluegrass musicians,” Samples said. “But he also played with country bands. He had very wide and exciting experiences in bluegrass and country music.”

“But let me back up a minute,” Samples continued. “The first time I ever saw Buddy Griffin, I was a student at Glenville State College. I didn’t know who the Griffin family was, but being a musician, I thought I’d go out to hear them. So I get out there and 16-year-old Buddy Griffin was playing with his mom and dad – playing bluegrass banjo, and nailing those Earl Scruggs licks like he’d been doing it all his life.”

While Samples did not speak to Griffin that day, he recalled being “very impressed” by the performance. It would take another nine-years before the two would officially meet, with that meeting coming at a festival in North Carolina in 1973. 

Buddy Griffin speaks with performers Nowell Scott and Georgia Lilly backstage at the 2023 WV Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony on June 3. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

“In between the time I had [first] seen him (Griffin) and then (1973), he had mastered the fiddle,” Samples said. “Since then, Buddy Griffin has played countless gigs with the Samples Brothers. And another thing about Buddy that hasn’t been mentioned is that he’s a great harmony-singer. We soon discovered that in our band. He added a dimension to our band that had never been there before, but it’s been with us since.” 

“He’s (Griffin) the kind of musician that, I don’t care what band he’s playing in – when Buddy is playing, everybody plays better,” Samples added. “That’s the kind of musician he is. Even though he was out making a national reputation for himself, Buddy did not forget his roots.”

When accepting his induction, Griffin began by saying, “After Mack, I don’t know if there’s anything else I can remember,” before removing several notecards from his pocket with a laugh.

“It’s been tossed around here all night about families, and music in families,” Griffin said. “In mine, that’s all we did – we played music. Mom and dad were some of the greatest I ever knew. In fact, they should be standing here right now.”

Missy Raines, Tim O’Brien, Buddy Griffin, and Mack Samples perform at the 2023 WV Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, on June 3, at the Culture Center Theatre in Charleston. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

“My brother Johnny, he played rock n’ roll, and he loved it,” Griffin noted. “We tried to get him indoctrinated into bluegrass, but he didn’t fall for that. Ruth and Louise – my older sisters – they had a gospel-singing trio with another girl who lived closeby.”

“Then Lucille was a great singer,” Griffin continued. “She played guitar, but we never could get her out to do anything – she just wouldn’t do it. But bless her heart, she’s probably one of the most talented ones of us. My other two sisters – Janet and Pam – [are] both solid musicians.”

Griffin also thanked friends George Dougherty, George Ward, and Johnny Tolbert, as well as Mack Samples and the Samples Brothers Band, for their support throughout his career.

“And I couldn’t do this without mentioning Glenville State College,” Griffin added. “Professor John McKenny and his wife, Cheryl, Harry Rich – everybody who was there when I started there, they gave me a chance to do something I had wanted to do all of my life, and that was to teach what I loved.”

To commemorate his induction, Buddy Griffin performed “Ragtime Annie,” “Westphalia Waltz,” and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” Joining Griffin on stage were Charlie McCoy, Missy Raines, Mack Samples and Tim O’Brien. 

Buddy Griffin performs at the 2023 WV Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony on June 3, along with Tim O’Brien, Missy Raines, Charlie McCoy and Mack Samples. Video by Matthew Young, RealWV.

Stay tuned to The RealWV to read about the induction of Barbara Nissman. Read about the posthumous inductions of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Winston Walls, and Fuzzy Haskins & Calvin Simon here

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