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Being inducted into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame this past August is truly a high point of achievement for Richmond native and Vietnam Vet, Ryland Tinnell. He was honored with the induction by his current boss lady, Donna Meade Dean-Stevens, owner of the Old Dominion Barn Dance and Judge Parker, current President of the Board for the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame.
The long time steel guitarist spent the majority of his life performing and supporting his existence built around music. His life treasures have been many.
When the ‘man of steel’ was not saving the world as an army solider in Vietnam (1964-66) he was entertaining the troops as part of a five-person band called the Country Rockers.
“I was able to return to Vietnam (1969) as an entertainer, which made me proud to be able to give back to the troops,” Tinnell tells us. “I had been fortunate enough to have been entertained while I was there in the Army and I knew first hand how much it meant.”
He can’t remember a time when music wasn’t a part of his life — for him music is his passion.
“I've always loved music,” he admits
Around the age of seven, he began dabbling with musical instruments. He tried his hand at bass and rhythm guitar. He even played a Dobro in bluegrass when he first became interested in music but it was the steel guitar that won his heart.
“My uncle got me a lap steel which is where I developed my love for the steel,” he remembers. “First tune I learned on the pedal steel guitar was “The Waltz You Saved For Me”.
His brother played guitar and his cousins played various instruments and sang; his twin nephews played — one on bass, the other lead guitar.
And while he never had any formal teaching in music — he learned from the best by watching and listening.
“Fellow steel guitarists and I would share things we learned,” he informs. “Teddy Lloyd was one of the best for being so willing to share what he learned.”
His greatest influence came from the master of the steel guitar — Buddy Emmons.
“He was amazingly creative and talented like no one else I've ever heard,” Tinnell noted.
Other musical influences include Paul Franklin, steel guitarist for the Grand Ole Opry, Jimmy Capps, guitarist on the Opry for over 60 years and the great Chet Atkins.
Tinnell paid attention and in 1968 he went on to become the ‘Virginia State Champion Steel Guitar Player.’ It was something he had been practicing towards for a long time.
He grew up in Appomattox and at age 16 he moved to the Richmond area. In 1964, he met his future wife— Mary. They were married in 1967 and now have three children. (The couple will soon celebrate their 53rd anniversary.)
In 1971, he left the road as a musician and concentrated on a full time job as a way to provide for his growing family. His passion for music continued as a performer on the weekends.
“I never stopped playing music,” he disclosed.
In 1999, he retired as a civilian employee from Ft. Lee and now devotes his time to music as part of the Old Dominion Barn Dance where he also serves as the music director.
by Millie Voliva-Wiggs
L-R Donna Meade Dean-Stevens, Ryland, Judge Parker, current President of the Board for the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame.
Tinnell Family (L-R) Amanda (daughter), Doug (son), Ryland, Mary (wife), Duane (son).
“I still get to pursue my passion for playing traditional country music,” he says. “We have a terrific staff of musicians and it's the most wonderful way to continue to play music.”
As a seasoned performer he advises beginners to learn the way he did.
“Practice and play,” he acknowledges. “You will never learn if you don't get your feet wet. You may not be the best, but there's nothing quite like experience of playing music in a band. The only way to get better is to do it — be it a garage jam or with a beginner band.”
At the young age of 77, the steel guitarist has achieved most of the bullets on his musical bucket list including “The Hall of Fame honor” but he shows no signs of slowing down.
Perhaps, he admits, the only thing left on his checklist is to perform on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
For Tinnell, music is life and his passion is to continue to do what he loves — playing music and having the opportunity to work with amazing talented musicians at the Old Dominion Barn Dance.
After all, he adds, “This is the best show this side of the Grand Ole Opry ... seriously!”
… and the beat goes on.