Fred Cockerham (1905–1980)

Updated: February 28, 2011

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.

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"Fred Cockerham," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 23 Sep 2018 <>

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Fred Cockerham