Category Archives: North Carolina

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.

Poems by Dean Sturgill

FRC710 – Dean Sturgill – The Spencer Branch Fiddler

Dean Sturgill is an old-time fiddler and poet from Ashe County, North Carolina. For many years, he led the popular Grayson Highlands Band. In the early 1990s, he self-published these three books of wonderful poetry about life in the mountains (available for download in pdf below). He reads his poem, “The Fees Branch Fiddler” in the video.

An Old Fiddler’s Book of Rhymes
An Old Fiddler’s “Second” Book of Rhymes
An Old Fiddler’s Book of Rhymes III

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

Manco Sneed

Byard Ray, Manco Sneed & Mike Rogers (FRC505)

by Dakota Brewer, the daughter of Manco, for the occasion of the John H. and Sarah Lovin descendants’ reunion on February 17, 2007 at Tsali Manor, Cherokee, NC.

Manco Sneed was born in Graham County Feb.18-1885, the son of John Harrison and Sarah Lovin Sneed, but later moved to Cherokee and lived in the “Sneed Gap” section all of his life where he and my mother Rosebud Beck Sneed raised their family of seven children. He died at age 89. Continue reading

Manco Sneed and the Indians

Byard Ray, Manco Sneed & Mike Rogers (FRC505)

by Blanton Owen

This paper, slightly revised, was originally presented as part of a panel at the American Folklore Society meeting in Los Angeles on 26 October 1979.

It is tempting to take the easy route when studying a region’s folk life by dealing with “items” as if they exist and have existed without much tampering with by human beings. It is easy simply 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

Esker Hutchins plays Cumberland Gap (Listed as “Unknown Tune #2”)

Esker Hutchins (FRC107)

by Jody Stecher (Fiddler Magazine)

Esker Hutchins.  What a great name; sounds like someone taking a bite out of a fiddle.  His music did have a lot of bite and crunch actually, and when he had a good band behind him,  Esker Hutchins of Surry County, North Carolina played some of the most exciting music I’ve ever heard.  Playing solo he was more relaxed but still he had that powerful and incisive bowing arm. 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

Tommy Jarrell at Pinewoods Camp

FRC211 and FRC212

By Jerry Epstein

I first went to Pinewoods Camp Folk Music Week in 1965 — a life changing experience in more ways than I can count. It was the first time I had an opportunity to live with source traditional artists, and I had enough sense to realize that there was something special here that would not be found on the coffee house circuit. I met Jean Ritchie in 1965, Louis Killen in 1966, and Norman Kennedy in 1967. Continue reading

Dink Roberts

FRC209

By Eugene Chadbourne, All Music Guide

The titles of tunes this historic North Carolina banjo man recorded evoke the rowdy milieu he came out of : “High Sheriff,” “Old Corn Liquor,” “Black Annie,” “Roustabout,” “Fox Chase,” and so forth. But his importance as a link to Afro-American traditions as well as Appalachian styles means his music has been the subject of intense study by archivists and ethnomusicologists. Continue reading

Obray Ramsey and Byard Ray

FRC113

By Eugene Chadbourne

Obray Ramsey is the banjo-picking cousin of old-time music instrumentalist Byard Ray, and the two worked regularly as a duo until they were “discovered” playing at an Asheville folk festival during the folk music revival of the ’60s. From that point on, the two men’s musical career took a strangely twisted path. Late-night television mongers who may have made it all the way through the strange psychedelic rock western Zachariah, may wonder who the two old-time musicians are that show up in one of this epic’s many strange musical wonders, and the answer would be Ray and Ramsey. Continue reading