A Review —–Tom Druckenmiller
There is something special about listening to musicians who have played together for a long time. Bill Burke & Fred Coon met at a music festival in Arizona twenty years ago. Bill, besides being a fine banjo, mandolin and guitarist, is a highly respected cabinet maker and luthier. He made the banjo that Fred plays on the CD.
The CD is a collection of old-time standards and more unusual selections. Some less common tunes include the title track, a tune that Fred and J. P. Fraley played many times. There is a trio of seldom-heard tunes later on the CD including “Uncle Ned,” taught to Fred by Ted Ward on a visit with Doc Watson, the banjo instrumental “The Loaded Lion” from the playing of Winfred Moore and “Smoke Town Strut” a guitar tune fingerpicked by Bill and originally recorded by Sylvester Weaver.
The CD concludes with one of my favorite tunes: “Elk River Blues” from the playing of West Virginia’s Ernie Carpenter. Black Bear On The Mountain is a simple but no less exceptional recording of two friends trading tunes either solo or in that special harmony that only musicians of a common mind can bring.
President, Rocky Mountain Old-Time Music Association
Reviewing: Black Bear On The Mountain
“I first met Fred Coon through a great old-time mandolin and guitar player named Les Preston. Les literally taught me hundreds of tunes and introduced me to a young, and at that time, widely unknown banjo player named Adam Hurt. When Les moved to Phoenix, AZ, our picking days became limited to visits from him and his wife Lou Ann whenever they made it back out to San Diego. Unfortunately Les died soon after- suddenly, and at a young age. I drove out to Phoenix for the memorial service, and it was there that I met both Fred and Bill Burke. That day Fred taught me a tune called “Black Bear on the Mountain”, which he learned first from JP Fraley. I was an immediate fan not only because of his fantastic banjo playing, but also because JP was one of my favorite fiddlers; Fred’s connection intrigued me.
I eventually learned that Fred hadn’t played much since his teens and twenties, which he spent traveling throughout Appalachia collecting tunes from and playing with the likes of JP Fraley, Aunt Jenny Wilson, John Hilt, Frank George, Tab Ward, Winfred Moore, Wade Ward, Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Oscar Wright, Doc Watson, and many others. Having not played often in his adult life, and having declared that day we met that he might not ever play again with Les gone, Fred seemed to me a barely cracked time capsule.
Fred and Bill Burke had recorded for others and performed live together at various events for quite some time, but with Bill living in Flagstaff (and despite much encouragement from friends) they hadn’t seriously considered recording for themselves. This changed suddenly a little over a year ago when they accepted an invitation to conduct old-time banjo workshops and to perform at the 27th Illawara Folk Festival in Bulli, NSW, Australia. The audience response at the festival was so great that these two fine musicians were finally persuaded to spend time in the studio for a CD of their own.
Listening to this CD takes me back to my childhood in east TN, and the “mountain music” I sometimes heard there. It is music that makes me stop and listen because it seems to speak about something important I’ve always known but forgotten. Most of the tracks are solos, either banjo or mandolin. Occasionally Fred sings or Bill plays guitar or banjo. Sometimes they play together in various instrumental configurations. Bill, a well-respected luthier, plays on mandolins and a guitar he crafted himself. The liner notes relay rich stories of the tunes and how Fred and Bill learned them, as well as stories about the people they learned them from.
The tunes themselves are a mixture of 19 well-known standards brought once again to new life (Angeline the Baker, Kitchen Girl, June Apple), lesser-known tunes held captive by Fred’s until-now-barely-cracked time capsule (The Loaded Lion, Aunt Jenny’s On Top of Old Smokey), an Irish air (Pretty Maid), and a tune from early blues guitarist Sylvester Weaver (Smoke Town Strut). Aside from the title track, two of my favorites are Bonaparte Crossin’ the Rhine and Elk River Blues, both featuring Fred and Bill together playing banjo and mandolin, respectively.
I admit Fred is my friend and I’m therefore biased- nonetheless, I must say this CD is a gem. Like the tunes themselves, after hearing the album it took me a moment to remember that it hadn’t always existed. Listen to it while relaxing, when you have time to really take it in. Beth Moscow” Thanks Beth!
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Review Posted in Banjo Hangout
Reviewing: Black Bear On The Mountain
“I just posted a review of a new CD by two exceptional and genuinely talented and traditional Old Time musicians: Fred Coon and Bill Burke. Much of their work can be viewed on YouTube and other sites, but this is their first album, and it is truly a treat for those of you that love traditional Old Time clawhammer: My review appears under the reviews section of BanjoHangout, I should add also that I have no affiliation with either Fred or Bill; I’m just a fan of their music.”
Here is the start of the review: “Some of you may have heard of two Old Time Traditional musicians: Fred Coon (two-finger clawhammer banjo, vocals) and Bill Burke (clawhammer banjo, mandolin, guitar). Both are superb musicians, and quite a number of their offerings are on YouTube.
The have just released a new (and first) CD, “Black Bear on the Mountain.” It is excellent — the real thing, traditional Old Time music in the true sense. Their cd contains nineteen tunes. Most are instrumentals but a few feature Fred’s vocals as well. Bill’s playing is not only incredible, but features instruments he has made.
This album is a great addition to the truest, purest of traditions of Old Time Music, a cd not to be missed.” Thanks Dan!