It is not just Randy Howard's friends who say that. Randy himself wouldn't say it all. It is not just his fellow musicians who played with him who say that he was the best. It is legendary country/bluegrass musicians like Chet Atkins, Vasser Clements and Allison Krauss who proclaim that Randy Howard is at least one of the best fiddlers ever. In fact, when Charlie Daniels sat down to write his mega hit song, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," he was inspired by the fantastic fiddling of the then 18-year-old fiddling whiz from Middle Georgia.

     Randy Dale Howard was born in Milledgville, Georgia on November 20, 1960 to Enoch Floyd Howard, Jr. and Augusta Faye Wilkins Howard. Floyd Howard's mom, Annie Pearl - a guitarist in her own right - taught Floyd how to play the guitar, the fiddle and other string instruments. Randy's mother, Augusta Faye Wilkins, was a daughter of Lazurus and Mamie Wilkins of the Antioch Church community near Dexter.

     Floyd Howard, a musical therapist at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, taught his son the basic musical techniques and rudiments before he was ten years old. Faye Howard recalled that Randy got a set of drums when he was seven years old. "He about drove us nuts," said his mother, Augusta Faye Howard. When Randy asked for an electric guitar, his father retorted, "This kid will never be a musician."

     "My father started me off on a couple of tunes and said, ‘If you need any help, come ask, but I basically want you to learn on your own,'" Randy recalled.

     "Randy never came back for help," Mrs. Howard said. "He bought records and listened to them picking up things from the recordings," Faye Howard recalled. Randy immersed himself into the stringed instruments. While other kids were outside playing, Randy was in his room, picking out one classic tune after another.

     Howard's mother Faye pointed to a television show featuring fiddler Doug Kershaw playing a fiddle in a tree. She recalled Randy turning to her and saying, "If that man can do it, I can too." Trent Howard, of Laurens County, was eleven years old when he became friends with Randy. The two Howards, although not closely related, found a strong common bond: the love of the guitar, the fiddle and nearly ever other stringed instrument they could find.

     "Randy and his father Floyd asked Mr. Grizzard at Grizzard Pianos in East Dublin if there were any young bluegrass musicians in the area and gave them our number. We met at a Sunday picking in Chester hosted by Toby Fountain. I first heard Randy play the mandolin. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. Even at twelve he had a prowess and understanding that you seldom hear at any age. My Daddy, Danny (my brother) and I thought it couldn't get any better than this, and then he picked up the fiddle," recalled Trent Howard of their first meeting.

   "Randy had an incredible gift but he had a tremendous work ethic. He was always playing and working on new things. All this with an incredible sense of humor and a big heart. He was very special. Our dads would take turns driving us to pick. Being around them was like being in an acoustic music academy. Randy, even early on, was jamming with the likes of Bill Monroe and Vasssar Clements. You couldn't help but get better or get left behind," Trent continued.

   "Randy is remembered for his fiddling but he was also a tremendous harmony singer. He said he did not have perfect pitch but he could sing harmony parts with little effort. He often sang baritone. He had a tremendous range and a falsetto he could seemingly go into. Aside from all of this, Randy was a best friend for life. He was always encouraging to those around him. I was one of many, but thankful, to have known him," Howard fondly recalled.

     When Randy was 18, his parents took him to Union Grove, N.C., for the 55th Old Time Fiddler's Convention. There, in front of as many as 150,000 bluegrass fans, the young fiddler defeated three former world champions. And in the last of the original conventions, became the youngest world fiddling champion in the history of fiddling.

   Randy Howard drew the respect and admiration of the greatest musical artists in Nashville. Chet Atkins, (LEFT) the legendary country music guitarist remarked, "I just heard the news that there is an effort to get Randy Howard into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. He's an excellent fiddle player and I highly recommend him for the honor and he's in a league of his own. He could well be the
best to ever perform on a fiddle."

     "Alison Krauss (left)  used to follow Howard around to just about every bluegrass festival at which he performed. Her parents would call to ask if Randy would be at certain events, he'd say ‘yes,' and they'd show up there," Faye Howard told the Milledgeville Union Recorder in a 2008 interview. In commenting on Randy's ability, Krauss, nominated for 41 Grammy awards and winner of 27, once said, "He's simply one of the best fiddle players that has ever lived."

    Vassar Clements (above) , the father of Hillbilly Jazz, proclaimed, "Randy's playing is incredible. I don't know anyone better."

     "He said music was his life, if it wasn't for music he didn't know what he would have done," Faye
Howard said.

     "I'd say there's about 500 fiddle players here in town and only three or four of us get to do it for a
living," Randy commented on his ability to survive in Nashville. Howard even named his first solo cd, "Survival of the Fiddlist." Of Randy's final and posthumous album, "I Rest My Case," Keith Lawrence of the Messenger-Inquirer commented, "Think of it as a bluegrass symphony, with a sprinkling of country and jazz."

     During the 1990s, Randy developed a close partnership with the band of Kathy Chiavola, a world renowned Bluegrass vocalist. It was in the 1990s when Randy became one of the top session fiddlers in Nashville, playing on as many as 500 recordings. Howard played with the likes of Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Bill Monroe, Porter Wagner, Faith Hill, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Ricky Scaggs, Kenny Chesney, Emmy Lou Harris and Kathy Mattea. Howard was especially fond of his session with Garth Brooks on his "Sevens" album, which featured "Fit For a King" because of Garth's personal request to play with the legendary superstar. During the session, Howard began to play "The Fields Have Turned Brown," an old bluegrass song - a song of death and dying.

     "I was surprised when Garth came over and started singing it. I had no idea he even knew it. It is
this old, slow and very obscure bluegrass song. But he asked me to stick around, and we cut it. He said it was one of his dad's favorites," Randy remembered.

     In the mid 1990s, Randy learned that he had cancer, despite all of the treatments and the attempts
to cure the disease, Randy Howard kept right on playing the music of his life.

     His friends back home in Laurens County wanted to honor him one last time with a benefit concert at Theater Dublin on May 22, 1999. It would be his last concert. He thought it was great to finally get recognized where he grew up," Trent declared.

    During the show, a storm knocked out the lights. Howard didn't miss a lick and kept on fiddling for his six hundred adoring fans and faithful friends. They all knew he was dying. Still they sat there, patted their feet, clapped their hands, and listened in awesome wonder as if it was the first time they ever heard him play. Some lingered in dreadful sadness knowing that it would be the last time they would hear the ever so sweet sounds of his golden fiddle.

    "You could hear a pin drop in there with him playing in the emergency lights." Trent remembered about that magical night.

     "The Night of Celebration with Randy Howard was as much for them as it was for him." wrote Joe Kovac, Jr. of the Macon Telegraph.

     They buried Randy on a Friday morning on July 2, 1999 beside his daddy in the cemetery of Antioch Baptist Church. The list of his awards and titles fill the slab of his grave:

World Champion Fiddler, Union Grove, N.C., 1979; Grand Masters Fiddling Champion, 1984,
12 Times National Champion, Four Times Tennessee Old Time Fiddling Champion, World
Mandolin Champion, 1990; Many Guitar Championships, Blue Grass Musician Award, 1996,
1997, 1999; Fiddling John Carson Award, 1999; IMBA Fiddle Player of the Year, 1999; Atlanta
Country Music Hall of Fame, 1999.

     The long litany of awards and championships tells in part the true story of fiddler Randy Howard. The true measure of his life is simply found in his music and the fond memories of his all too short life. To many of those who were lucky enough to have played with him and listened to him play, he was, undoubtedly: "The Best There's Ever Been."

                                Randy Howard Monument Milledgeville

From Randy Howard Tribute, Dublin, Laurens Museum, April 25, 2015.

There is a Time to Wander 

Orange Blossom Special 

Sweet Georgia Brown 

Tim Crouch


Terry said…
Thanks so much.
Wade said…
Let that rosin fly! I knew his daddy when he was a music therapist at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. He and his family were very talented.
Wade said…
Let that rosin fly! I knew his daddy when he was a music therapist at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. He and his family were very talented.
Doug Flowers said…
Knew Randy as teenagers! We met at Swampland Opry House in Toomsboro, GA. He went on the road with us while I was with Betty Fisher and did several shows. Great musician! Long overdue to be in Georgia Music Hall of Fame