Traditional banjo player and ﬁddler.
Born November 3, 1905, reared near Low Gap, North Carolina, and later residing in Blues Creek, Fred Cockerham was an inﬂuential Appalachian instrumentalist best known as a ﬁddler. He married Eva Galyean, the daughter of Civil War veteran and ﬁddler Houston Galyean, who was the source for a local, Scottish-inﬂuenced ﬁddle tune called “The Drunken Hiccups.” Cockerham learned the banjo style known as frailing (or framming) about 1912. Later he learned the double- noting clawhammer (drop-thumb) style from Charlie Lowe and Lowe’s protégé Tommy Jarrell. Always playing a fretless banjo (at one point utilizing a banjo with a Formica ﬁnger- board made by Kyle Creed), Cockerham performed with Jarrell on short-bow ﬁddle, achieving a high-pitched intensity and setting the standard for ﬁddle and banjo music in the Round Peak area of North Carolina. Often one of the musicians played on the high strings while the other played on the low strings; then they would switch.
Inﬂuenced by ﬁddler Arthur Smith in the 1930s, Cockerham adopted the ﬁddle as his primary professional instrument. Although this modern style was quite different from his earlier music, Cockerham continued to retune the ﬁddle in the old open-tuned way for tunes in the keys of A and D. His recordings document his modern ﬁddle style as well as his older approach to the banjo, a style echoing the bluesy bends and slides of that instrument’s African American heritage. Cockerham died July 8, 1980, but his inﬂuence can be heard in the music of such younger instrumentalists as Gilmer Woodruff, Blanton Owen, and Mike Fishback.
Cite this Entry
"Fred Cockerham," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 23 Sep 2018 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=56>
"Fred Cockerham." (2018) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved September 23, 2018, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=56