Because of his radio broadcasts over WRVA between 1926 and 1931, John Wallace “Babe” Spangler was one of his era’s most influential fiddlers. Born in Meadows of Dan in Patrick County, Virginia on November 15, 1882, Babe learned his art from his father, Wallace W. Spangler, who was one of the regions premier fiddle players. By the time Babe Spangler moved to Richmond in 1906 he was a fluid, graceful musician playing many older, traditional tunes.
Spangler’s first job was as a guard at the state penitentiary, a position he held for many years until an increasingly serious hereditary eye condition markedly impaired his sight. He turned to entrepreneurial skills, to the grocery and lumber business and gradually to music. In 1925 WRVA signed on the air and by about 1927 Spangler was one of the station’s musical stars.
He led a string band and was known as the “Old Virginia Fiddler.” His broadcasts were featured on the radio program, the Corn Cob Pipe Show, which was heard nightly at 11pm. WRVA was a clear-channel station and its signal reached all of the eastern United States with Spangler’s blend of traditional fiddle tunes, sentimental songs and popular instrumentals.
In October of 1929, Spangler and one of his Corn Cob Pipe associates, guitarist Dave Pearson, were invited to record for the Okeh Company, which had set up its portable equipment in Richmond. Although Spangler’s record did not gain wide sales, he remained a regular at WRVA until 1938. During the interim he and his brother, Charles “Tump”, played at many of the musical events in the region including the Whitetop Folk Festival in 1934.
After 1938 Spangler continued to play fiddle professionally for a few years, but gradually left the music business. Though he often came back to Meadows of Dan to visit his relatives, he continued to reside in Richmond until his death in 1970.
From Virginia’s Blues, Country, and Gospel Records, 1902-1943: An Annotated Discography by Kip Lornell