Donald Randell remembered as 'a great man and a great fiddler'

Danette Dooley
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The province lost one of its most gifted musicians when fiddler Donald (Don) Randell, famed for his part in "All Around the Circle," passed away in St. John's on Oct. 30.

A native of Port Rexton, Trinity Bay, Randell was a mainstay on the country music scene in Newfoundland for almost six decades, performing in his early days in such bands as The Reveliers and The Happy Valley Gang.

The cast members of All Around the Circle in this photo are (from left) John White, Ray Walsh, Don Randell, Evan Purchase, Ted Blanchard, Carol Brothers and Doug Laite. Submitted photo

The province lost one of its most gifted musicians when fiddler Donald (Don) Randell, famed for his part in "All Around the Circle," passed away in St. John's on Oct. 30.

A native of Port Rexton, Trinity Bay, Randell was a mainstay on the country music scene in Newfoundland for almost six decades, performing in his early days in such bands as The Reveliers and The Happy Valley Gang.

Eighty-five years old at the time of his death, Randell will also be remembered for his early performances with follow fiddler Ted Blanchard.

The men were part of The Shamrocks, the band that made the first commercial recording of fiddle music from Newfoundland in 1957, said Ted Rowe, lead singer with the bluegrass band Crooked Stovepipe.

Randell and Blanchard went on to become Newfoundland's best-known fiddlers in the 1950s and '60s through the Dipsydoodlers, CBN's "Saturday Nite Jamboree" and CBC-TV's "All Around the Circle," Rowe said.

Randell performed with Crooked Stovepipe from 1976 to 2001 and collaborated on numerous albums for other artists.

Rowe said he will remember his friend for his dependability and honesty, but mostly for his commitment to his family.

"Don was offered to play fiddle once with Hank Snow. He told me about it a number of times. Hank was touring Newfoundland around 1950. He didn't have a fiddle player with him, so Don sat in with the band for a couple of weeks."

Randell's talent didn't go unnoticed, Rowe said.

"At the end of the two weeks, Hank asked him to go back to Nashville and be the fiddle player in the band. Don's wife (Florence) was expecting a child at the time, and Don opted to stay with her rather than go on to a musical career in Nashville," Rowe said.

Randell was also well-known for his performances with John White and Jimmy Linegar - opening acts at the folk festival in St. John's for many years.

Local musician Sandy Morris said he'll remember Randell as "the sweetest man in the world."

"He was a great man and a great fiddler. He was a pioneer of bluegrass and country music in Newfoundland," Morris said.

Veteran musician Ray Walsh has known Randell since 1963. Walsh was also a member of "Saturday Nite Jamboree" and "All Around the Circle."

He said Randell will be remembered for his immense musical talent as a fiddler - Randell also played guitar and piano - and for his dependability.

"When you met him and worked with him, you never forgot him. His influence on you would change your habits. Don was so dependable that you almost felt you couldn't not be dependable," Walsh said.

Randell was a recipient of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council Honour Award and the Stompin' Tom Connors Award from the East Coast Music Association.

His funeral service takes place Tuesday at 11 a.m. from Church of the Ascension on Smallwood Drive in Mount Pearl.

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Happy Valley Gang, CBC, Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council

Geographic location: Newfoundland, St. John's, Port Rexton Trinity Bay Nashville Mount Pearl

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