Category Archives: Banjo

Fred McBride: Going Across the Mountain

Fred McBride – North Carolina Fiddle and Banjo – FRC722

by Lucas Pasley

Article courtesy of the Old Time Herald, Volume 13, Number 10.

I remember the first time I saw Fred play down at a little jam around Wilkesboro. I was young and in search of a real old time sound, and when I heard Fred I almost fell on the floor. I drove straight up to Alleghany County and told my grandmother I’d found my hero fiddler. She smiled and said, well, what’s his name?” “Fred McBride.” I said reverently. “Fred McBride!” She yelled back as she sat up in her recliner. “Good Lord,” she said, “You’ve known him your whole life – you’ve seen him at every family reunion you’ve ever been to!” Continue reading

Old Time Music of Alleghany County, NC

by Lucas Pasley

Despite having produced well-known fiddlers such as Guy Brooks, Art Wooten, and Tim Smith, Alleghany County’s rich old-time fiddling tradition has remained largely out of the spotlight. This CD attempts to capture not only the importance of Alleghany’s fiddling heritage, but also its own unique character. As with other mountain musical communities, the common threads of tradition met the innovative touch of the musicians to create a complex and powerful sound.

There was, however, a tremendous flow of exchange between Alleghany and bordering counties. According to Brad Leftwich, Tommy Jarrell learned his unique version of John Henry from Alleghany County, and prominent Alleghany fiddlers such as Huston Caudill traveled to Virginia for work and played with Grayson County fiddlers such as Luther Davis. State and county lines meant little to the flow of music and musicians, and Alleghany’s musical heritage is richly interwoven with the surrounding areas.

The recordings of Lawn Brooks, Mack Brooks, and some of the Howard Joines and Cleave Andrews cuts came from a musical gold mine that was brought to me in 2011. Cliff Evans was a well-known jeweler and guitar player in the area, and many old-time, country, bluegrass, and gospel musicians stopped by to play and be recorded on Cliff’s reel-to-reel player. Cliff recorded everything. He captured birds singing, friendships, parties, and an incredible musical heritage from the 50’s through the 70’s. The other tracks are a combination of field recordings gathered by me and Kilby Spencer, who has helped immeasurably with bringing this CD to fruition.

Overall, these five fiddlers offer a slice of the rich music of Alleghany County. As in other places, some of the fiddlers remained firmly rooted in their fiddling heritage while others purposefully and powerfully put their own innovation into the music.

The Fiddlers

Lawn Brooks and Cliff Evans

Lawn Brooks and Cliff Evans

Lawnie H. Brooks (1893-1964) was the older brother of Guy Brooks, fiddler for the Red Fox Chasers. Although he never made any commercial recordings, Lawn played fiddle his whole life, and Cliff Evans was one of his dearest friends. The two got together regularly to spend an evening playing and recording music. Lawn played on a Russian fiddle that he received in exchange for work with the Duncan family. It has a delicate sound that suits his fiddling well. The family describes Uncle Guy as more of a square dance fiddler and Uncle Lawn as more refined. One of his daughters described to me her fond memories of quietly sitting in the living room of their farmhouse after dark and listening to her father fiddle in the evening. Lawn was also a well-known craftsman: wagoner, blacksmith, and gunsmith.   Lawn dreamed of rising to greater heights with his music, but felt held back by an gunshot wound to his right arm that he felt caused him to lose his edge with the bow. I believe he would be proud to know that people were listening to his music and learning his tunes on this CD.

Mack Brooks and Maxine

Mack Brooks and Maxine

Mack Brooks (1902-1966) was from a different set of Brookses than Guy and Lawn and was widely known as T-Model Mack. Guy and Lawn did have a brother named Mack who played a little in his youth, but he was widely-known as a preacher. Fiddling Mack frequently played at the VFW square dance in Sparta, and as the recording indicates, his fiddling was powerful and perfect to move the dancers. He ran a convenience store and gas station off the Blue Ridge Parkway on Shawtown Road. His tremendous sense of humor was legend: one day a traveler from out of town stopped at the store and Mack noticed his Pennsylvania license plates. When the traveler stepped out and asked rudely where all the hillbillies were, Mack quickly responded, “Up in Pennsylvania teaching school.” In addition to music, Mack also loved to bowl and was proud to receive a trophy for being the oldest bowler at Sparta’s first bowling alley. In general, he lived life with a powerful joy that came out in everything he did.

Kilby Reeves (1898-1980) is a member of the musical Reeves family, and the grandfather of renowned bluegrass fiddler Tim Smith. Kilby was a hardworking farmer in the days before tractors and always worked for himself on his farm close to Twin Oaks. In the evenings after work, when Kilby wasn’t getting ready for a fox hunt, Art Wooten (Bill Monroe’s first fiddler) would come up to Kilby’s for help learning to play.   Kilby mostly played for local square dances at people’s houses but did compete and win at the Galax Fiddlers Convention. The family recounts a humorous story of a day when Kilby stepped outside in nothing but his overalls, literally, and stepped onto a yellow jackets’ nest. He didn’t hesitate to jump out of those overalls and ended up standing in the yard buck naked. Luckily, his wife was the only one to witness the spectacle.

Junior Maxwell and Cleve Andrews

Junior Maxwell and Cleve Andrews

Cleave Andrews (1895-1969) would certainly have grown up with the fiddle music of the area, but, according to his nephew, first learned to play the fiddle in a WWI prison camp in Africa when fellow inmate BILL BILL showed him some of the basics. To make a living after the war, he worked in the Dr. Grabow pipe factory and delivered milk while keeping up his fiddling playing regularly at the VFW square dance in Sparta and other local venues. He played with well-known banjo player Junior Maxwell in the Little River Boys, and while they would have called themselves a bluegrass band, Cleave’s old-time fiddling heritage comes through every note.

Howard Joines (1908-1981) was a virtuoso fiddler. Starting on a toy fiddle at 7 years old, it wasn’t long before the neighbors were coming by to hear him play. He left Alleghany when he was 18 to join Red Gay’s Brown Jug Fiddling Band but returned to work on the Parkway and raise beef cattle. He greatly admired the fiddling of Red Gay, Clayton McMichen of the Skillet Lickers, and Kenny Baker. He was a regular fiddler at the VFW square dance and would play with many others – Cliff Evans, Ed Atwood, Paul Joines, and Junior Maxwell to name a few. Howard was part of a generation of fiddlers that were both old-time and bluegrass, both deeply rooted in tradition and yet progressive and innovative in their fiddling and musicianship.   Howard’s repertoire ranges from timeless tunes like “Soldier’s Joy”, to contemporary jazz and pop like “Get Out and Get Under The Moon”, to bluegrass classics like “Pig in the Pen.”

For further reading, see Howard Joines article by TJ Worthington in the Old-Time Herald, April 2014.   Learned from Red Gay, Clayton McMitcheon,

Information from Strings of Life by Kevin Donleavy and interviews with Richard Joines (Howard Joines), Maxine Fender (Mack Brooks), Lawn Brooks’s children, Ray and Tim Smith (Kilby Reeves), Tom Edwards (Cleave Andrews) and TJ Worthington.

Fred Cockerham

Fred Cockerham (FRC101)

by Ray Alden

Fred Cockerham, one of the seven children of Elias and Betty Jane Cockerham, was born on November 3, 1905.  He was the only one from the Round Peak community to attempt the difficult life of a professional rural musician.  The way that Fred began playing the fiddle is similar to the way many country musicians began.  Basically, this story can be heard on Continue reading

Review of the Sidna & Fulton Myers CD (FRC504)

Sidna & Fulton Myers (FRC504)

by Kerry Blech, Old Time Herald Magazine

Fiddler James Fulton “Jimmy Natural” Myers was born about 1895 and died in 1979.  According to Blanton Owen, who recorded him in the mid-1970s, he was born near Woodlawn, Virginia, between Galax and Hillsville.  He farmed, worked for the WPA during the Great Depression, and was a mason’s helper.  He learned to play from his father, who played banjo, and from “Old Man” Continue reading

Review of “The Lost Recordings of Banjo Bill Cornett”

The Lost Recordings of Banjo Bill Cornett (FRC304)

by Art Rosenbaum

Reprinted here by permission of the Old Time Herald Magazine (April-May 2006 issue)

The Field Recorders’ Collective FRC304 CD is a self-recorded legacy of Banjo Bill Cornett, giving us what is arguably the finest very early-style mountain singing to banjo ever recorded.  Cornett did play for others and in public—he played his “Old-Age Pension Blues” on the floor of the Kentucky Legislature, and according to John Cohen, “died while entertaining at a restaurant in Continue reading

The Lost Recordings of Banjo Bill Cornett

The Lost Recordings of Banjo Bill Cornett (FRC304)

by John Cohen

Bill Cornett was born in East Kentucky in 1890.  He started playing banjo at age eight.  His musical flair, he reported, was inherited from his mother who sang ballads to him.  He operated a country store two miles outside of Hindman.  It is said that he’d rather sit and pick his banjo than wait on customers.  In 1956 he was elected to the Kentucky State Legislature, representing Continue reading

Ola Belle Reed

Ola Belle Reed (FRC203)

by Thomas Polis (For further information go to www.olabellereed.com)

Ola Belle Reed was born Ola Wave Campbell on August 17, 1916, in Lansing, North Carolina.  She was one of thirteen children born to Arthur Harrison Campbell and Ella May Osborne Campbell.  The Campbell family ancestors had moved to the New River Valley of western North Carolina sometime around the 1760’s.  Arthur Harrison was an educated man who spent his life as a Continue reading

Clyde Davenport

Clyde Davenport, Vol. 1 (FRC103),  Clyde Davenport, Vol. 2 (FRC104),
Clyde Davenport DVD (FRC1004)

by Jeff Titon

Kentuckian Clyde Davenport is a master old-time fiddler and banjo player. His large repertory of traditional tunes, many of them rare, makes him an important source musician. At 85, he still plays wonderfully well. For almost twenty years old-time fiddlers and banjo players have made pilgrimages to his home in Monticello, Kentucky, to share in his music. Clyde is amused and Continue reading

Corbett Stamper

Interviewed 29th September 1982 by Frank Weston

FRC306

I was born James Corbett Stamper in Grayson County, Virginia, in the 9th district 13th December in 1910. My father was Matt Stamper, he played fiddle and picked banjo just about all his life. And my uncle, his eldest brother played fiddle. My father’s father also named Matt he’s buried down here in this cemetery was a fife player in the civil war and he also played organ and piano. Continue reading

Dock Boggs

Dock Boggs FRC305 and FRC312

by Reed Martin

My sister lived in Whitesburg, Kentucky, during the mid 1960s and thereafter. In 1967 I went to live with her for the summer. I had been living in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. I was used to playing at noisy dances and had taken to the habit of winding all four strings in the peg head – the same direction. If I was part of a band and the noise was great, if my third string was Continue reading

The Kimble & Wagoner Families

The Kimble and Wagoner Families (FRC106)

by Ray Alden

Many years ago, while at a conference on Old Time Music at Brown University, I heard Alan Jabbour describe the music deriving not from a single pure source but behaving more like river in which many currents mingle and churn together to produce a song or a tune. So too, when I look at the Kimble family tree, I see a meandering stream of personalities and musical abilities flowing into the blood of Taylor Kimble and his children. Continue reading

The Complete History of the Plank Road String Band and the Lexington, VA Music Scene

Plank Road (FRC606)

By Brad Leftwich, Al Tharp and Odell McGuire

Brad Leftwich’s Memories

In the early 1970s it seemed like communities of people who loved and lived old-time music and dancing were popping up like mushrooms all over the country. One of the most vibrant was in Lexington, Virginia. I ran across a bunch of musicians from Lexington at the 1972 fiddlers convention in Independence, Va. (Wade Ward’s stomping grounds) and had such a great time Continue reading

The Chicken Chokers

The Chicken Chokers (FRC603)

The Chicken Chokers were an old-timey string band from the Boston area who intersected their roots influences with reggae, punk, and rap. Fiddler Chad Crumm and multi-instrumentalists Paul Strother, Taylor Smith, and Jim Reidy released two albums on Rounder, 1987’s Shoot Your Radio and Old Time Music in 1990. But when Crumm departed for New York City, the group Continue reading

Richie Stearns’ Autobiography

See The Horse Flies (FRC602) and The Renegades (FRC605)

Banjo Player with “the Horse Flies” and “the Renegades”

I got into playing music at 14 in junior high, with a pack of like-minded hippie kids. (A typical beginning, eh?) Except the kind of music we were exposed to was string band and jug band music. Locally there were some very active bands in these genres, while on our record players we had Lou Reed, Bob Marley, the Beatles, the Stones, Doc Watson, Jimmy Rogers, Hank Continue reading

The Horse Flies

The Horse Flies (FRC602)

By Judy Hyman

The Horse Flies came together in 1979 in Ithaca, NY. The initial lineup (Judy Hyman and Mike Scott fiddles; Jeff Claus, guitar; John Hoffmann, banjo; and Molly Stouten, bass), played fiddle tunes and old songs at regional festivals and square dances. By the early 980s they settled into a 4-piece quasi-traditional old-time string band with Judy Hyman on fiddle, Richie Stearns on banjo, Jeff Claus on guitar and banjo uke, and John Hayward on upright bass. Continue reading

The Music of Walter Raleigh Babson (1900-1987)

FRC313

By Andy Cahan

Walter Raleigh Babson was among the few banjo and fiddle players from coastal North Carolina still living in the late twentieth century. Originally from Ash, in Brunswick County, he lived at Wrightsville Beach for about the last 25 years of his life. He worked for many years as a carpenter and was a skilled woodworker as well. In earlier times he worked in various trades Continue reading

Tommy Jarrell

FRC211 and FRC212

By Ray Alden

Thomas Jefferson Jarrell was born in 1901, the son of Ben and Susan Jarrell. His father was the fiddler for Da Costa Woltz and his Southern Broadcasters, a string band that recorded nine 78 rpm records for Gennett in 1927. Just as his father eclipsed his brother Charlie as a well known fiddler, Tommy would surpass all of his ten siblings in music. Oddly enough, Ben did not push Continue reading