Fred’s family settled in America over 300 years ago. His singing and playing style reflects a long standing family tradition. He plays a two-finger style of banjo that has been passed down through his family for generations. He learned from his father, M. Fred Coon who learned it from his uncle, Otis Green, in the 1920’s. Otis learned it from family members, and the story continues, back through the mid-1800’s. Fred was raised in West Virginia and during his early years enjoyed listened to his father’s, grandfather’s, and grandmother’s stories and the songs they sang to him. As he became older, and begin to understand the great Appalachian heritage he had been blessed with, he expanded his horizons and began to seek out other Appalachian Mountain folk. Today, Fred tries to pass along these stories and songs to new found friends and the next generation that follows.
In his late teens throughout my 30’s, Fred traveled widely through Appalachia visiting musicians in their homes, meeting them at festivals, and collecting their wonderful stories and songs, many of which had never been heard outside their specific county or region. In collecting these tunes and stories he had the once in a lifetime opportunity to play with or o collect from an astonishing list of old-time music icons – Aunt Jennie Wilson, John Fitzgerald Hilt, W. Franklin George, John and David Morris, J.P. Fraley, Russell Fluharty, Patric Gainer, Doc Watson, Mike Seeger, Doc Boggs, Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cokerham, Wilson Douglas, John Jacob Niles, Merle Travis, Glen Smith, Uncle Wade Ward, Ernie Carpenter, Tab Ward, Viola and Cap Hicks, and many, many more. Part of his extensive song and story collection was accepted for preservation by the Field Recorder’s Collective on two separate CD albums. These two CD sets preserve forever the mountain spirit and songs of central West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. Fred’s entire collection spans Appalachia from Pennsylvania to Alabama.
For many years he didn’t play music at all but focused on earning a living for my family, like the generations before his family had done before. At home, he’d take the banjo out of its case, tune it, play a tune, and then return it to it’s case. When Fred Imoved to Phoenix, AZ, in the early 1990’s, he was introduced to Bill Burke and other local musicians in the Arizona old time music and folk scene. The first person to make him feel welcome was Lon Austin who chaired the Encanto Park Music Festival. It was there that Bill and Fred became musical partners and stayed that way for 30+ years. Fred was invited by Ken Clemmer, a noted musician in Phoenix, to join, The Back Porch Band. This activity encouraged him to start playing again.
Audiences responded to my Appalachian songs and the stories I’d tell. I still don’t t play regularly, but I will say that when I perform with Bill Burke, somehow the audiences applaud, laugh at the stories and have a good time – so do we. Some of the stories I tell have been described as hilarious, while others depict the gritty truth about the turbulent times of a changing America in the 1960’s and 70’s. I take great pride in long-standing friendships and the powerful life-lessons I have learned from the folks I’ve met throughout my life, one and all.
Fred feel’s he’s been lucky to have been able to share his music and stories with great folks across the United States, The British Isles, Europe, and Australia. He particularly enjoys live radio. If you ask him, however, he is really torn between his love for telling stories and playing the banjo. He is still trying to work that one out.