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Exploring Old Time Recordings and Artists 


Burnett & Rutherford

An Old Time Partnership Of 35 Years


Richard Daniel "Dick" Burnett and Leonard Rutherford were a well known duo from south central Kentucky. They recorded for the Columbia label beginning in 1926, and for Gennett Records in 1928-29. Popular locally for years, their experience and talent made them a perfect fit as musicians for the new and red hot recording industry category of "Country" music - and a hungry nationwide audience. Their records, popularity on radio, and entertaining live appearances kept them performing until 1950. Their music has influenced countless fiddlers, singers, and pickers over the years, and is still relevant for today's Old Time players.

Richard "Dick" Burnett (1883-1997) was born into a farming family and was orphaned at 12 years old. He showed musical ability very early, and by age 13 was playing dulcimer, banjo, fiddle, and guitar. He held many jobs, including logger, oil driller and barber. Blinded by a shotgun blast when he was robbed 1907, Burnett was unable to work and became a traveling musician to support his family. He gained the nicknames "Blind Dick Burnett" and "The Blind Minstrel of Monticello" as he performed and collected songs. He sold ballets (single sheets with the words to the song printed on them) and songbooks to earn extra money.

Burnett teamed up with 14 year old Leonard Rutherford (1898-1951), a beginning fiddler from nearby Somerset, Kentucky. He taught Rutherford how to play the fiddle in exchange for assistance getting around and playing music. This partnership, with Rutherford on fiddle and Burnett singing and playing banjo, lasted 35 years. There is lots more to learn about these two in this biography from the Bluegrass Messengers website. Even more detail, along with recording dates, can be found on Dick Burnett's Wikipedia page, and on Leonard Rutherford's Wikipedia page. Burnett is also credited with publishing the popular song "(I Am A) Man Of Constant Sorrow" in 1913, but he may not have been the writer.

The complete recordings of Burnett and Rutherford from 1926-1930 are available from Document Records. Tunes include Lost John, Billy In The Low Ground, Cumberland Gap, and Knoxville Rag. Additional tunes can be found on the 1975 Rounder Records "A Ramblin' Reckless Hobo" For more on the duo's "Knoxville Rag," please visit our Tune History page.

Billy In The Low Ground

Lost John

Sleeping Lulu

Ramblin' Reckless HoboBurnett and Rutherford
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