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Fred Cockerham

Fred Cockerham

 

Fred Cockerham

(November 3, 1905 – July 8, 1980)

Photo credit: David Holt

 

Born on November 3, 1905, Fred Cockerham was raised in the Lowgap community of Surry County and later lived in Belews Creek near the Stokes-Rockingham County line. Fred probably started play­ing the banjo around 1912, and was heavily influenced by Charlie Lowe, who also influenced Tommy Jarrell’s banjo playing style. Fred always played a fretless banjo and in a bluesy style. The absence of frets on the banjo enabled him to more closely match the notes the fid­dler was playing, and capture those notes that were “in-between” frets. Fred’s signature tune on the banjo was “Roustabout,” which highlight­ed his double noting technique. Fred played with Tommy Jarrell, was a member of the Camp Creek Boys, and also had his own band called the Virginia-Carolina Ramblers.

Fred was also quite well-known for his fiddle playing, which was more modern than Tommy Jarrell’s. Fred’s fiddling was highly influ­enced by Arthur Smith, a fiddler who made many commercial record­ings and played on the Grand Old Opry, which was broadcast over WSM from Nashville, Tennessee. Fred used a long-bow fiddle style and his fiddling had a bluegrass flavor; he played with both old-time banjo players as well as bluegrass banjo players.

For much of his life, Fred made a living making music with vari­ous groups on area radio shows and programs throughout southwest Virginia and the North Carolina piedmont. For a short time during World War II he traveled with Kyle Creed and Paul Sutphin to Nor­folk, Virginia, to build Quonset huts for the Navy.

In addition to appearing on the Camp Creek Boy’s recordings, Fred’s music is documented on several recordings released on the County and Heritage record labels. Fred’s banjo was donated to the Smithsonian Institution at the same time as Tommy Jarrell’s fiddle in 1988. Fred passed away at age 74, on July 8, 1980.

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