Latest Release

1. Solid Gone (3:29) Bill – Guitar, Fred – Banjo and Vocal
2. Black Bear On The Mountain (1:36) Fred – Banjo
3. Kitchen Girl (2:35) Bill – Mandolin
4. East Virginia Blues (3:02) Bill – Guitar, Fred – Banjo and Vocal
5. Bonaparte Crossin’ The Rhine (2:28) Bill – Mandolin, Fred – Banjo
6. Uncle Ned (3:23) Fred – Banjo and Vocal
7. The Loaded Lion (1:39) Fred – Banjo
8. Smoke Town Strut (1:38) Bill – Guitar
9. Pretty Maid (2:08) Bill – Mandolin
10. The Boatman (2:17) Fred – Banjo
11. On Top Of Old Smokey (2:36) Fred – Banjo & Vocal
12. Sally In The Garden (2:54) Bill – Banjo
13. June Apple (3:03) Bill and Fred – Banjo
14. Single Girl (1:55) Fred – Banjo and Vocal
15. Rocky Mountain Goat (1:35) Bill – Banjo
16. I’ve Always Been A Rambler (2:07) Fred – Vocal
17. Angeline The Baker (2:27) Fred – Banjo, Bill – Mandolin
18. Cold Frosty Mornin’ (1:48) Bill – Mandolin
19. Elk River Blues (4:12) Bill – Mandolin, Fred-Banjo

Song Histories

It’s more about the feelings, friendships and memories more than it is about archiving a song or a tune’s history. So, Fred and Bill have written about the collecting of the tunes and the story behind each song. They wanted to share with you a little about where they learned these tunes and the stories surrounding the people from whom they were collected. They hope you enjoy what they have spent a lifetime collecting and sharing with others.

1. Solid GoneFred learned this tune from Aunt Jenny Wilson. Aunt Jenny lived “up the head of the holler” on Peach Creek in Logan County West Virginia. She was a fine “banjer picker” who welcomed Fred in to her home and taught him many tunes, stories and songs. She was a powerful influence on Fred’s music and life. Aunt Jenny died in 1991 at the age of 91. She is sorely missed by all who knew and loved her. You can find Fred’s collection on the Field Recorder’s Collective (FRC408– Aunt Jenny Wilson). Fred is in the process of writing stories about Aunt Jenny found in the Fred’s Stories section of this website.

2. Black Bear On The Mountain – Fred first met JP Fraley at the folk festival at Greenup, Kentucky, and, until that moment, had never heard anyone do “smooth” fiddling. Fred has never been shy so he introduced himself to JP and, for the entire weekend, they exchanged tunes and, over the succeeding years, developed a lifelong friendship that bridged the sadness of parting and the ravages of time. While he was in high school, every Friday or Saturday night, depending upon JP’s work schedule as a mining engineer, Fred used to drive across the river to Rush, Kentucky, to JP’s welcoming home. It was a welcoming place, not only for the shared music, but also because his wife, Annadeene, was a fabulous cook and willingly opened her home to Fred as a young musician. She was a solid backup guitarist and was a great platform of steady runs and rhythm for JP’s smooth style of mountain fiddling. She would have made any fiddler proud. JP was a wiry man with a contagious smile with a twinkle in his eye and had a good word to say about everyone. He was like a magnet, drawing people to him because of the positive energy he gave to others. He also was one of the best smooth fiddlers in Appalachia.

In the 1990’s, Aly Bain, a world-class Scottish fiddler, visited JP’s home to learn more about his style of playing. View the You Tube session. For someone with the world-wide reputation of Aly Bain to visit a small village in Kentucky and record JP Fraley is validation of JP’s renown as a smooth fiddler, in and of itself. But, then, Fred knew this long before JP was “discovered”. One time at the Fiddler’s Grove, North Carolina, festival, a playoff was required to determine the Master Fiddler for that festival – the year was 1971. The playoff was between JP and Mac Snodderly, a dentist from Ashville, North Carolina, who had studied under the great western North Carolina smooth fiddler, Tommy Hunter (Example of Tommy’s Fiddlin’)but it takes a while to load). It took seven playoff tunes before the judges finally awarded JP the Master Fiddler prize.

Black Bear On The Mountain is a tune that Fred and JP played for many years, both in JP’s home and on stages around Appalachia. Annadine died some years back and JP had a severe stroke a few years ago and is unable to speak or play now. But he can hear. So, when Fred called JP’s home not long ago to check on him and spoke with JP’s daughter who is taking care of him, she said, “let me put JP on the phone” and she did. Fred spoke with JP for a while, albeit a one way conversation, and when JP’s daughter came back on the phone, she said, “This is one of daddy’s good days because he had a big grin all over his face and he was nodding and making sounds for nearly the whole conversation and he never does that. Fred, he knew you.” Friendship conquers all barriers.

3. Kitchen Girl Bill learned it from his associations with other Old-Time musicians and does a fine job on presenting this unique tune. Fred first learned this tune from Alan Jabbour when he fiddled with the Hollow Rock String Band. Alan said the tune was originally one of Henry Reed’s tunes and made its way into the Old-Time scene over the years. It is found in the Library of Congress collection: Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection.

4. East Virginia Blues – Fred has always liked this tune and learned it at an early age. There are two versions which Fred plays and sings. The version presented here comes from south central Virginia and is a softer version than the one Fred learned growing up. The West Virginia version Fred learned as a young man is played and sung in a mountain modal key, recorded in the late 60’s at his stage performance at the Folk Festival of The Smokies, and has a hard driving rhythm. .

5. Bonaparte Crossin’ The Rhine – Fred truly wishes he could remember exactly when and where he learned this tune. He just can’t. However, the two-finger style of playing he uses to both begin and end the tune comes straight from his father, M. Fred Coon, who had learned it from his Uncle, Otis Green, in the late 1920’s at the family homestead near Pond Fork, West Virginia. Pond Fork is a stone’s throw ffrom White’s Branch, just across the creek from Bob White. The big city of Madison is a few miles down the holler. This style is found in a few places throughout Appalachia. This style is mostly prevalent in West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina.

Fred’s long-time friend, David Holt, a superb banjo player and four-time Grammy winner, interviewed Wade Mainer about his two finger style. As you can see from the video, Wade moves his first finger in and pulls up on several of the inner strings, while Fred uses the thumb-lead style that his family plays in which the thumb stays and the first finger both pluck the strings in a syncopated manner to deliver the melody and the rhythm.

In the second part of this tune, Fred switches to his “claw-like” two finger style. Claw-like because it looks clawhammer to those who are looking on and it sounds like clawhammer to those who are listening. But in many a jam session, those banjo players sitting near Fred will invariably stop and look at what he is doing because his hands are moving almost opposite of what is expected from a clawhammer style player. What they discover is that Fred is playing with his first finger striking down on the 1st through the 4th strings and, once in a while he will pull up on the 1st string with his first finger to keep the rhythm going. In his “claw-style” playing his thumb strikes and plays only the 5th string. Bill Burke does a masterful job of showcasing Fred’s two distinct playing styles demonstrated for you in this tune.

6. Uncle NedFred collected this from Tab Ward of Sugar Grove, North Carolina. When Fred he was visiting Doc Watson and staying with Willard and Ora Watson, Doc’s first cousin on Wildcat Road, Fred asked Doc if anyone in the Boone, North Carolina, area had any interesting tunes that they might play for him. Doc told him to go see “old man” Tab Ward. The time Fred spent in Sugar Grove that afternoon was a folk music collectors dream. Tab was open, willing to share and a nice man. Fred cherishies his collection of Tab’s tunes, becuase Tab’s style was so representative of the songs sung in Western North Carolina for generations. Tab told Fred the story of Tom Dula. Fred says that sitting there and listening to Tab make that story come alive, it was as if it were today, and not over 160 years ago. Check the site in the future for a recording of that story as told by Tab Ward. Fred has cherished that series of tapes in his collection for many years.

Tab said that he had seen the words to this tune in a newspaper once, many years earlier, but had “always knowed” the tune and so put these together and that is what you are hearing in this selection. Now, for the rest of the story. Pat Stein, Bill Burke’s wife, gave Fred a book that she had purchased at a garage sale. It was a collection of Stephen Foster songs. Low and behold, when Fred was turning the pages, there it was. Uncle Ned. The version that Fred plays is as close as he can come to the one played and sung by Tab Ward.

7. The Loaded Lion – Fred learned this tune from Winfred Moore who was a coal miner living with his family on Dry Branch Road in Lincoln County, West Virginia, whose only fuel against the cold and often bitter West Virginia winters was the coal that was pouring out of those West Virginia mountains.. Winfred and his son Ira used to pick up coal from from the train tracks running near their home. The tracks were rough and sometimes the coal would “slosh” out coal as they moved along. Fred is inclined to believe, based upon stories he heard from other folks on Dry Branch, that it was a engineer who would stop the train for a minute or two and “discover ” a Mason jar full of moonshine lying beside the tracks, for his kindness in stopping. Winfred also “worked his coal bank,” up the holler from his house. See Fred’s Stories section about Burl and Winfred’s Coal Bank.

Fred was collecting central West Virginia tunes when he first met Winfred in the late fall of 1964 at the home of Burl Farley at a Friday night jam session with neighbors from the Lincoln County area. Winfred played a two-finger style on a homemade banjo, as did Fred’s dad and Fred’s Uncle Otis who lived in Boone County, West Virginia, the bordering county.

Every time Winfred played this tune a slight smile would appear on this face. One day Fred asked him why he always smiled when he played this tune. When Winfred’s wife left the room to fix supper, he leaned over and whispered to Fred, “imagine a big drunk lion amblin’ down the middle of the street trying to ‘work off a bad drunk’ – now don’t that want to make you smile too?” Fred has smiled while playing this tune, ever since. In case you are wondering why Winfred waited until his wife left the room, it seems that she was Church of God Holiness member and she forbade drinking or mentioning moonshine in her home. Burl Farley was a community leader in the Dry Branch area and introduced Fred to many people who told stories or played music. Burl also knew all the moonshiners, both commercial and independents who made, distributed and transported white lightin’ throughout Lincoln County. Be sure to read Fred’s story about “Who Ere Ye“in the Fred’s Stories section of this website.

8. Smoke Town StrutBill finger picks this great tune. The man who first introduced the guitar on record, and recorded this tune as well, was Sylvester Weaver. He produced a significant body of work at the dawn of the blues recording era but remains little remembered today. The tune comes from In Louisville, Kentucky, where he lived all his life. In Louisville, for generations leading up to the 1920’s, African Americans lived in separate districts: Uptown, Downtown and Smoketown. Most of the area’s blues artists came from Smoketown which acquired its name from the dirty smoke from the many small industrial plants burning soft coal for power and heat. Thanks to Sunday Blues for this piece of history.

The fantastic sounding guitar you are listening to on this cut was made by Bill in his Flagstaff workshop. One day, Bill found a unique looking piece of mesquite wood. However, he knew that mesquite doesn’t bend well and tended to split when it was bent. However, Bill being Bill, accepted the challenge and produced one of the prettiest and best sounding guitars around. The volume and clarity of this instrument as well as the range of tone are characteristic of same balance and tone Bill achieves from all of his instruments. This accounts for the fact that Bill’s instruments are highly sought after by musicians wishing to have a great tone and outstanding stage playability.

9. Pretty Maid (Milking Her Cow) This is a Tune of Irish origin. Bill plays this on his favorite mandolin, the one he made and was too good to sell. The Celtic name is Cailín Deas Crúite Na mBó. Here are two verses from the tune as copied from MetroLyrics.com:

It was on a fine summer’s morning

The birds sweetly tune on each bough

And as I walked out for my pleasure

I saw a maid milking a cow

Her voice was so enchanting, melodious

Left me quite unable to go

My heart, it was loaded with sorrow

For the pretty maid milking her cow

10. Boatman – Learned from John Fitzgerald Hilt of Tannersville, Virginia. Fred first heard Johnny play this tune during a visit to John’s home. Johnny was a wonderful fiddler and a “peach of a feller” (Johnny’s expression when he liked someone) and you can read more about John on the Fred’s Stories section of this website. A few of the tunes from Fred’s field recording sessions at John’s home on Clinch Mountain are preserved in the Field Recorder’s Collective (FRC407– Franklin George with John Hilt). Johnny and Fred formed a bond, like Grandfather and Grandson, before Johnny died in 1972. Even though their friendship spanned a short period of time, Fred still misses him terribly to this day.

11. On Top Of Old Smokey – An Aunt Jenny Wilson tune. Some say this is a variant of Pretty Polly or Wagoner’s Lad, but this is the way Aunt Jenny sang it. It is certainly not the popular Gene Autry song with which most people are familiar. The poetry and verse construction are moving and rival the tune Oh Death, for descriptive phrasing about two of the emotional extremes of life – love and death.

12. Sally In The Garden An Eastern Kentucky tune that is also found in West Virginia. Bill does a nice job of this one on Fred’s 1927, 11 13/16″ Vega White Ladye banjo. The tune was orginally collected from fiddler J.D. Cornett who played a very up-tempo version which can be heard at, Sally In The Garden, on Smithsonian Folkways. The up-tempo version by Cornett on the Smithsonian recording is more akin to Sally Ann, in that it is played much faster than Bill plays it here. The original verses and tune are Irish in origin.

13. June Apple – The first year Fred attended the Galax Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in Galax, Virginia, he arrived a day early and, after checking into the Galax Hotel, drove to the ball park at the other end of the main street, where the festival was being held and had been a gathering place for local musicians at this festival for two generations or more. Driving through town, he stopped off to see Bob Wagner, who owned a plumbing company of the same name. Bob was the Chairman of the festival committee that year and Fred wanted to pay his respects. In the ensuing conversation, Fred asked Bob if anyone was playing around that day. Bob said that some guys were talking about setting up on the lawn of the courthouse that day. Fred said thanks and beat it up the street. Sure enough, there were these “OLD MEN” sitting in chairs on the courthouse lawn, just by themselves, playing music.

As is done in the mountain tradition, Fred stood back, banjo case in hand, and waited for an invite to join them. At the end of their tune, they asked him to join them. They were fabulous. Driving rhythms, bow work in the sawmill style, crisp clawhammer playing and solid, single run guitar accompaniment. It was heaven for any young person who wanted to learn from men who could really play. Fred was nervous. His banjo style was different than the old man who was playing banjo so he wasn’t sure they would like his type of West Virginia music. As is always the tradition of the mountains, they made him feel welcome and even asked him to lead a tune or two during the session. They all agreed to get together the next day, at the start of the festival, and play together again.

For years, Fred played with these “old men” each year at the festival and it was always a joy to sit together or lean against the back tailgate of someone’s pickup truck, or gather in the tent when it would rain, and just learn from them and have a whale of a good time. Now, you need to understand that these “OLD MEN” were the same age as Fred is now. They were farmers and factory workers, but they later became some of the American icons of Old-Time Music. They were: Uncle Wade Ward, Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Oscar Wright. What an exciting influence on a young man growing up and developing his style of banjo playing. Not many Old-Time pickers ever got that chance. Fred is very grateful for having had this experience of a lifetime. Oh yes, June Apple was Uncle Wade’s signature tune.

I wish I was a June Apple, hangin’ on a tree

and ever’ time my true love came, she’d take a little bite of me

I wish I had a needle and thread, as fine as I could sew

I sew ole’ Cindy to my back, and down the road I’d go

Chaiile he’s a fine ole’ boy, Charlie he’s a dandy

Charlie he’s a fine ole’ boy, feeds them gals on candy

Over the river to feed my sheep, over the river Charlie

Over the river to feed my sheep, feed them out on barley

14. Single Girl – Aunt Jenny Wilson liked this tune and often talked about how hard it was for a woman in the mountains of West Virginia who wanted to find a man ’cause they was scace” (spelling is correct), since most were on the bottle or lazy. She married Frank Wilson, a “good man”, early in the 20th century and when Frank was “kilt” in a coal mine accident, Jenny never remarried. “Don’t bother me none,” she said. Most men today are either drunkards, lazy or on the “dole” ’cause they don’t know how to plow a straight furrow anymore”.

15. Rocky Mountain Goat – Bill plays this tune which is found in the Library of Congress collection, The Hammons Family: The Traditions Of A West Virginia Family And Their Friends. It is a really catchy tune that was performed by Lee Hammons (no relations to the Hammons family) in that original collection.

16. I‘ve Always Been A Rambler – This tune, like most old-time tunes, migrated throughout the mountains and gained popularity. It was first recorded in 1928 by G.B Grayson and Henry Whittier (reissues on Old Hat CD-1001, Music From the Lost Provinces: Old-Time Stringbands from Ashe County NC and Vicinity. The mountain ballads have always attracted Fred. Most of these types of tunes seem to revolve around murder or love, unrequited love or a combination thereof. The high lonesome sound achieved by Roscoe Holcomb, who hailed from Eastern Kentucky, and performed by many a mountain singer at home, inspired Fred to attempt this tune unaccompanied, in the tradition passed down in his family for generations

17. Angeline The Baker – Fred first learned this tune from the great banjo player, Tommy Thomson, in the 1960’s. Frank George played it with a B-minor chord as did Henry The Fiddler whom Fred met at the Galax, VA festival many years ago. The version you hear in this collection adds a major, not minor, chord which was introduced to Fred by his long-time friend, Gord Ackre, of Ackre picks. Something clicked when Fred heard Gordies version so Fred interpolated the two versions into what you hear on this CD. As for Tommy Thompson, he went on to form the band The Red Clay Ramblers. They eventually wound up on Broadway in the play Diamond Studs.

But, long before stardom, and many years ago in a land far away, one evening at one of the many camp sites in the field behind the fire station where the original Union Grove Old Time Fiddler’s Convention was held, in Union Grove, North Carolina, Fred first heard this tune. What a festival it was. It was one of the early gatherings of “hippies”, farmers and “rednecks” all in one place. For three solid days, the farmers and mill workers would welcome “them Yankees and hippies” to their festival, and the flag of truce was hoisted up by both sides. In the 1960’s, putting that many people together in such a small place, a time that was filled with anxiety, racial mistrust and prejudice, could have become a potential powder keg for violence.

Instead, the Union Grove Fiddler’s Convention helped both sides understand that real people of vastly different persuasions could get together in one place with common goals, no visible politics, no distrust, and constant laughter and sharing of some of the greatest music ever played by “musicians” assembled in one place. Founded in the 1920’s and discovered by generations of mountain musicians and young people from around the world, the focus of each Union Grove Easter weekend served, for all who attended, a single purpose only – – have a good time, share your love of old-time music and whether anyone admitted it or not, come away with new friends and mutual respect for and appreciation of the differences in America.

Oh what times those were. Maybe we need to get all of the politicians in Washington, D.C., together for a “Union Grove Experience” and see if they can come away feeling as inspired as we once were in those glorious days and maybe they could try to do something right for America instead of serving their own personal interests.

18. Cold Frosty Mornin’– Bill plays this tune on one of the mandolins he makes. It is a simple tune and has variations in other Appalachian tunes such as the great reels, Salt Creek and Frosty Mornin’. Fred first heard this version of the tune played at the Galax fiddler’s convention. He learned a tune, Frosty Mornin’ from Frank George, a West Virginia native who is a musical historian and virtuoso on the banjo, fiddle, bagpipes, and hammered dulcimer. The tune hails from Scotland and was played to remember the battle of Culloden Moor which took place on the morning of April 16, 1746 when an English Army of 8,000 massacred a Scottish army of 7,000. This battle ended the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland. These Scotch-Irish tunes were brought to Appalachia by the settlers making their way into these rugged but bountiful mountains.

19. Elk River Blues – This is a tune written by Ernie Carpenter, a wonderful fiddler and musician from “up on Elk River” in North Central West Virginia. Around 1764, near the end of the French and Indian War, Fred’s family migrated from York, Pennsylvania and built a fort “near to a bear wallow” on Bingham Creek, and eventually the town of Fairmont, West Virginia, grew out of those first settlers attempts to conquer the wilderness. Ernie’s family settled a few years later on the Elk River in Braxton County. Ernie’s family lived on the same farm until 1961, when it was condemned and taken by the government under the Laws of Eminent Domain. It was designated to become Sutton Lake Recreation Area and was to be used for boating and fishing. To create this pleasure park, they built the Sutton Dam.

That single act forever changed generations of history. Even after the condemnation, Ernie kept on fighting the battle and kept finding ways and paths back to the homestead. One day upon returning home, he knew he had lost the battle when he saw water on the porch. Fred’s family farm was also taken by the State of West Virginia under the same set of laws. It was beautiful and the 254 acres of the best bottom land in Jackson County is now part of Interstate 77, at Grass Lick, near Fairplain, West Virginia.

These two tragedies, driven by the progress of man, were a great loss to both Ernie and Fred. For those folks that have not owned and worked their own family land, it is a hard to understand the feelings this type of loss creates. It is like something is ripped out of you and cannot be replaced. the sadness is indescribable. The first evening Ernie spent on the porch of his new home, he played this tune. He said it was the saddest day of his life. You can sense that as you listen to the tune. Fortunately for following generations of musicians, his sadness was transformed into one of the most beautiful and haunting tunes Fred ever heard. It resonated in his heart and now it is one of the tunes he plays at every stage performance. Memories of in the heart and of home never die, no matter how far you roam.

Bill Burke and Fred Coon