Fred’s family settled in America 300 years ago. His singing and playing style reflects his family tradition. He plays a two-finger style of banjo that has been passed down through his family for generations which he learned from his father. His father learned it from an uncle in Boone County, WV in the 1930’s and so it goes for generations past. Fred was raised in West Virginia and during his early years he enjoyed the stories told and songs sung to him by his father and other Appalachian Mountain relatives. Today, he passes those along to appreciative audiences on stage, radio and television.
In his teens and 20’s, he 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 got to play with or collected from an astonishing list of old-time music icons such as Aunt Jennie Wilson, John Hilt, Franklin George, John Morris, J.P. Fraley, Russell Fluharty, Patric Gainer, David Morris, Doc Watson, Mike Seeger, Doc Boggs, Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cokerham, Wilson Douglas, John Jacob Niles, Merle Travis, Glen Smith, Uncle Wade Ward, 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. His entire collection spans Appalachia from Pennsylvania to Alabama.
For many years Fred didn’t play music at all. He focused on earning a living for his family. At home, he would take the banjo out of its case and tune it and play a tune or two and put it back in the case. It was not until he moved to Phoenix, AZ, in the early 1990’s, that Fred met Bill Burke and other musicians in the Arizona “folk” scene. His new friends, Lon Austin, Bill Burke, Ken Clemmer and others, encouraged him to start playing again. When he did, the audience found his Appalachian music haunting and his storytelling style funny and touching. Fred still doesn’t play regularly, but when he performs with Bill Burke, their audiences love the solid playing, the obvious love for their music they freely share and, of course, Fred’s stories; some of the stories are hilarious while others depict the gritty truth about the turbulent times of a changing America in the 1960’s and 70’s. Fred takes great pride in his long-standing friendships and the powerful life-lessons he learned from the folks he’s met throught his life, one and all.
Fred considers himself an “interpolator” of songs and stories and you can listen to some of the songs and read some of his stories in the Fred’s Stories section of this site. Early in his life and from the early 1990’s onward, Fred has played on many stages across the U.S. and Europe and has appeared on numerous television and public radio shows. He loves telling stories almost as much as playing his several banjos, some of which were custom crafted for him by his close friend Bill Burke.