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Fiddling flows through his veins

Buford’s Stan Lee started at age 13, now resides in Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame

POSTED: January 6, 2011 12:30 a.m.
TOM REED /The Times

Stan Lee of Buford recently was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. Lee started playing the fiddle at age 13 when taught by his grandfather.

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Being a talented fiddle player has had its perks for Buford resident Stan Lee, 72.

Lee, who was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame on Nov. 27, first picked up a fiddle at age 13 after he watched his grandfather playing one day after school.

"My granddaddy, who lived with us, he was in his mid-80s," Lee said. "I came home from school one day, and he had his fiddle down off the wall playing it. I never had ever heard him play it before, so that really struck a tune with me, and I asked him to show me how to do that.

"Of course, I just caught right on. I just picked right up on it. He showed me how to play a tune or two.

"I was about 13. My granddaddy, he died about a year or two later, so I'm glad I learned to play real good before he died."

Lee credits his ability to play by ear to genetics.

"I guess probably all my ancestors, probably, my granddaddy, maybe going way on back to ... probably one of my oldest ancestors probably played a fiddle at one of them pubs over in Ireland," Lee said with a laugh.

During his 58-year career, Lee performed with country greats like Bill Anderson and Patsy Cline and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson.

He even got to play on stage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1960, when the famed radio show still had a permanent home at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.

"I got the chance to play on the stage one time up there," Lee said. "I was just kind of a guest appearance, you know. Nobody knew who I was."

Lee said he occasionally played with country singer Faron Young in the 1950s and became friends with his fiddle player, Gordon Terry.

He was in a group with Elmer Snodgrass, called Elmer Snodgrass and the Musical Pioneers, which recorded radio shows each Saturday at the Gainesville Civic Center.

The group was at the Opry to promote their recent Decca record.

"I just happened to be backstage that night, and they was doing a commercial and Faron comes back stage and said for me and Gordon to play on a song that he was going to do," said Lee.

"So I got to pop out there and do it one time. That was a pretty good thrill, right there," he said.

Another thrill came when Lee got to back up Cline.

"I got to play one time with Patsy Cline when she was down at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. The Midnight Jamboree, they always had that right after the Opry went off," he said.

"Everybody went down to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and they had about an hour show down there, and Patsy Cline just happened to be there one night, and our band backed her up. That was really something."
But ask Lee about his favorite moment of all, and he doesn't hesitate to say that it took place with a beautiful singer who also happens to be a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"I guess my greatest thrill that I ever had was getting kissed by Wanda Jackson. I mean, in the mouth, too," Lee said. "I didn't want to wash my face for six months."

That special kiss happened when Jackson made a stop in Atlanta.

"She had come to the Atlanta area back in 1957, and she was getting to be pretty popular," said Lee. "She was a good friend of Elvis, you know, and she had recorded some records, and she had come to the Atlanta area to promote those records, and our band got to back her up.

"That night, when the show was over, she was going to do an interview at the radio station there, which at that time was WGGA, and now it's Radio Center," he said. "I carried her down there in my '56 Ford, and when she was getting out of the car to go into the radio station, she kissed me. I'll never forget it. I'll never forget that."

Lee also performed with various Grand Ole Opry bands, which at that time toured the country, but in the mid-1960s he decided to call it quits.

"You're a hired hand, and (if) somebody better than you comes along, they'll let you go and get them," he said.

"So I just decided I didn't want to do that for a living, so I really quit playing in that fashion in about the mid '60s, I guess."

Lee, who has lived on the same land in Buford since birth, married his wife, Eloise, 43 years ago, and has a daughter, Connie Reece, and granddaughter, Meredith Reece. His son-in-law, Dr. Terry Reece, pastors Regency Church of God in Buford, where Lee performs each Sunday.

He also has performed with the Georgia Mountain Players for "Smoke on the Mountain" each August for 18 years, and plays with guitar player Billy Puckett each Thursday at Duluth Family Restaurant in Duluth.
Lee was first inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Honor in 1967, which is the first step in becoming a hall of fame member.

He said his ACMHOF induction took place at the Holiday Inn Select in Atlanta, in a ballroom filled with "probably 1,000 people."

"It was wonderful. A wonderful experience," Lee said. "To get recognized by your peers, that was really super."

At the ceremony, Lee said he got "a big old plaque" and gave a speech.

"I'm a good fiddle player," he said. "I've been playing a long time, so I do feel like I earned it."



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