July 2018 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Fiddlin’ Around on Farm and Fun Time

After taking a month off, Farm and Fun Time was back in full swing on July 12! From close sibling harmony to red-hot fiddling, this Farm and Fun Time showcased the diverse sounds for which the show has become known. Thanks to our sponsor Eastman Credit Union, Radio Bristol was able to bring the show not only to those who joined us in the audience or tuned in to WBCM-LP, but also to viewers far and wide via Facebook Live. Be sure to like WBCM – Radio Bristol on Facebook and tune in every month!

Host band Bill and the Belles set the stage for a night of music filled with youthful enthusiasm. After kicking off with the children’s classic “Polly Wolly Doodle,” silliness soon turned sentimental with a heartfelt rendering of Alfred G. Karnes’s “Days of My Childhood Play.” Our “Heirloom Recipe” presenter for the evening was Ken Monyak, a long-time homebrewer who opened Bristol Station Brews and Tap Room, the Twin Cities’ first craft brewery. Ken presented the recipe for his seasonal “Strawberry Pail Ale,” named for the buckets filled with locally grown Scott’s Strawberries that give this brew its distinctive summertime kick. As an ode to this fine local beer, Bill and the Belles performed “Bye Bye Bill,” in which a beer-drinking whale sends a well-meaning swimmer to his untimely fate when he presents the whale with a stout instead of the local pale ale, the favorite beverage of whales everywhere. Remember that for your next whale encounter!

Left-hand picture shows the four members of Bill and the Belles -- Carl on bass, Kalia on fiddle, Kris on guitar, and Grace on banjo; the right-hand picture shows Ken Monyak at the microphone telling his beer story.
Bill and the Belles got the audience started with their distinctive harmonies, followed by the story behind Bristol Station Brews and Tap Room’s “Strawberry Pail Ale,” a local favorite. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Our first featured musical guests were The Brother Brothers. Originally from Peoria, Illinois, twins Adam and David Moss achieved successful music careers separately; they are now blending their voices in a near-perfect sibling harmony that dazzled our audience. Performing on fiddle, guitar, and cello, The Brother Brothers lean more to the darker, moodier side of traditional music in their original compositions. The duo sang “Cairo, Illinois,” “Bird in a Tree,” and other tunes off their 2017 Tugboats EP. Look for a full-length record from these guys soon!

Three photographs: Detail of David on cello; a photograph of Adam singing and David on guitar; and a detail of Adam on fiddle. They are identical twins.
The Brother Brothers evoked some deep emotions with their moving songs. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Our “ASD Farm Report” segment usually focuses on fostering sustainable agriculture, but this month’s segment focused on growing the next generation of traditional Appalachian musicians! We spoke with the instructors from the Birthplace of Country Music’s acclaimed Pick Along Summer Camp about their role in helping to preserve our region’s musical heritage and passing the knowledge on to future stars. Working hard all week, campers from the intermediate camp session produced and performed the first ever live “Farm and Fun Time Jr.” segment. Combining musical performance, history, and a catchy handwritten jingle, the show truly brought some extra fun to Farm and Fun Time! You can check out their segment here.

A shot of the Pick Along Summer campers on stage with Kris Truelsen; the kids are all wearing their red Pick Along logo shirts and have their instruments with them, ready to play.
The “Farm and Fun Time Jr.” campers delivered their show like seasoned performers – and the audience loved it! © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Our final musical guest of the evening might have come from just down the road in Piney Flats, Tennessee, but his fiddle is making him a name known around the world! Carson Peters has played on The Tonight Show with David Letterman, Steve Harvey’s Little Big Shots, and even at The Grand Old Opry with Ricky Skaggs, and tonight, he wowed the Farm and Fun Time crowd with his virtuosity. At only 14, Peters is already a seasoned entertainer, and his band Iron Mountain knows how to put on a show. Performing everything from the bluegrass standards of Flatt & Scruggs and Mac Wiseman to a capella gospel songs, Peters and Iron Mountain captivated the audience with their sound and showmanship. Though he’s already done a lot, expect more great things from this fiddlin’ phenomenon in the future!

Two images: left-hand detail of Carson Peters fiddling, and right-hand image of the full band behind him as he sings.
Carson Peters and Iron Mountain are always fan favorites, displaying a dizzying array of skilled playing, and July’s Farm and Fun Time was no different. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Thanks to everyone who came out made this a wonderful evening of fun and music! If you couldn’t join us this month, tickets are now available for August’s Farm and Fun Time featuring Che Apalaché and Jesse Lege and the Old Fashioned Aces!


Celebrating You! The Birthplace of Country Music’s Favorite Holiday

Happy Get to Know Your Customers Day! Or at least one of them (they happen every third Thursday of each quarter)! While every day is special to us because of the people who walk through our doors, it seems only right today to share a celebration of these customers – near and far, young and young-at-heart, new visitors and old friends – who come to see us at the Birthplace of Country Music.

And so I decided to consult our frontline staff, our best and most relatable customer associates, to ask them about their experiences working at the museum and their favorite moments with our patrons. I hope you enjoy learning about their experiences as much as I did!

A photograph of the three frontline staff associates standing in The Museum Store.
Frontline staff Cheryl Wedel, Baylor Hall, and June Marshall. © Theresa Mitten

I met first with Baylor Hall, our museum manager. A native of Lebanon, Virginia, Baylor oversees all of our frontline staff, assists in customer service and special events, and keeps The Museum Store stocked with a variety of wonderful gifts and souvenirs. Baylor has been working as BCM’s museum manager since January 2018. At first, when I asked her about her favorite museum memory, she drew a blank – it was hard to pinpoint just one! Then she went on to say that “things are exciting and always changing,” which she likes, but she has found that a high point of her position is being able to meet the many artisans that partner with us to sell their work in the store as they are always so thankful to have an opportunity to showcase their work here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

Baylor also always enjoys interacting with our museum visitors and seeing how music can be a unifier for all types of people. She said, “One day a couple who loves country music came in and they were talking about when they saw Johnny Cash at The Carter Fold. Another customer in The Museum Store had also been there as a bassist and one of our guest DJ radio hosts had been there too, enjoying the same musical experience.” Baylor thought it was wonderful to see three strangers bonding over their shared musical ties!

Four photographs: 1) Several Japanese university students standing in front of the instrument case in the museum's permanent exhibits; 2) BCM staff striking funny poses in front of the Big Idaho Potato truck in front of the museum; 3) Several WOW motorcycle riders, all women, standing outside the museum beside a Welcome sign; 4) A view from the frontline reception desk into the lobby, filled with group tour visitors.
Just a few of the visitors to the museum over the past few years, clockwise from top left: Students from Nagoya University Bluegrass (Country Music) Circle in Japan; the Big Idaho Potato, which got our staff pretty excited; Women on Wheels, a women’s motorcycle organization; and a tour group from Excursions Unlimited. © Birthplace of Country Music

Next, I spoke with Cheryl Wedel and June Marshall, two of our other welcoming frontline associates, both from Bristol, Tennessee. Of all the frontline staff, Cheryl has been at BCM the longest, with this year’s Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion marking her third year with the organization. Cheryl told me that her favorite part of the museum is the Immersion Theater, which screens The Unbroken Circle film, and that her favorite part of her job is encountering people from all over the world – the museum has seen visitors from all 50 states and over 45 countries! Cheryl’s only wish is that locals were more aware of the museum and what it can offer them. And despite the museum’s many world travelers, one of her favorite customer encounters isn’t one from across the world, but one in our own backyard: “There were two elderly ladies from Southwest Virginia that came in one day who told amusing stories about going to music performances in the late 1980s. They were so full of excitement as they reminisced.” This story underlines the enthusiasm our visitors have for the music of this area and how a visit to the museum often prompts them to share that love and enthusiasm with us – a real perk of our jobs.

June began working at the museum in October 2017 and thoroughly enjoys working with customers daily. When I asked what her favorite part of her job was, she emphasized that it was both fun and exciting. One of her favorite facets of the museum is that it has a working radio station as part of its permanent exhibits – Radio Bristol – which gives visitors the chance to see the work of the station and often to see and hear the music it plays live. She also has many great memories about her customers, but one sticks with her the most: a visitor named Ellie. She met Ellie, a woman from Australia, one day when she was visiting the museum, and the two instantly hit it off. Recently, Ellie got married in the museum’s chapel exhibit, and she still continues to catch up with June on her visits here – the beginnings of a beautiful friendship!

The bride and groom can be seen facing each other during their vows through the small chapel window in the museum exhibits.
Our first wedding at the museum with the happy couple viewed through the chapel window, part of the museum’s permanent exhibits. © Birthplace of Country Music

I also spoke with Tracey Childress – she works primarily at the BCM offices as the administrative assistant and group tour sales associate. Tracey has been with the Birthplace of Country Music for five years, and her favorite memory is of her very first day working for the organization. She said, “I was so excited and honored to be a part of this organization; I was over the moon!” Tracey feels privileged to meet people from all over the world, but some of her favorite customers are a sweet set of twins that come to visit her every year to buy tickets and a poster for the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival. They could do this online or at the museum easily, but they come to the offices so that they can take the time to visit with Tracey.

A picture of the Scouts posing with their sled in front of the museum -- the sled looks like a guitar laying on its side with a musical note as the handle.
A local Boy Scouts troop participating in the Klondike Derby in downtown Bristol tricked out their sled in honor of the birthplace of country music! It’s wonderful to see the inspiration our visitors get from their musical heritage.

Finally, Scotty Almany, formerly a frontline associate and now the museum’s digital resources manager, joined the museum in July 2014 right before it opened. As a frontline associate, Scotty’s favorite part of his job was interacting with visitors, learning about what brought them into the museum, whether it was a planned or spontaneous trip, and hearing visitor reactions to the museum before and after their tours.

Scotty has also enjoyed meeting country music fans from across the world – especially from Scandinavia, where country music is alive and thriving! His favorite customer memory, however, is of a man from Northern California who knew all about the Birthplace of Country Music’s content – a true fan of the history and the music – and was on the board for a shipyard museum. They kept in touch, and the man helped Scotty during a project for his master’s degree in Museum Studies.

As the collections management intern here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, I loved hearing from our staff about their daily happenings and the incredible people they get to meet every day. I don’t get to meet our visitors as frequently as I’d like, but I’m always glad to hear about you from our welcoming staff. I hope to get to know more of you soon!

A picture of two of the signatures on the museum's interactive Green Board -- one from someone in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the other from someone in Edinburg, VA!
Our frontline staff love meeting visitors from near and far. Above, visitors from Edinburg, Virginia, and Edinburgh, Scotland unite over their visit to the museum. © Birthplace of Country Music


Let’s Make Beautiful Music Together: The Whys and Hows of Community Jams

The museum has recently started a monthly community jam, inviting budding and expert musicians alike to come to the museum and make beautiful music together.

So, what exactly is a “jam,” you might ask. A quick search of the internet will return many theories on how the term “jam” originated. My personal favorite is that after a night of shows in the early jazz clubs, members of several bands would gather or be “jammed” together on small bandstands to improvise and play as a group, and thus the jam session was born.

A better definition for jamming would be an event where musicians come together to play and sing music with and for each other. The musicians may or may not know each other and will typically have varying levels of expertise and playing ability. There could be those that just come to listen and observe, but the common goal for a jam is to have fun playing, singing, and listening to music together.

A photograph of a group of jammers in the museum's Learning Center -- they are arranged in a circle of about 10-12 musicians.
The first monthly jam session at the museum brought out a diversity of musicians and quite a few people who were there just to enjoy good music. © Birthplace of Country Music

In a jam, it helps musicians to get down to the business of playing music together if they have an idea in advance of what to expect. In other words, having a basic understanding of what is going on in a jam helps facilitate the playing and the flow of the jam. And there is a general jam etiquette that pickers try and follow, giving everybody the best opportunity to participate.

So let me act as your etiquette coach and share the important elements of what you need to know to get the most out of a jam and to be the perfect jammer!

The Three “Musts”

  1. You must be in tune. Before starting and throughout the jam, use an electronic tuner to keep yourself in tune.
  2. You must be on the right chord. Do your best to pick up on the chord changes as quickly as possible. It helps to know the common guitar chords by sight even if you don’t play guitar. You can then watch a guitar player who knows the chords and follow him or her.
  3. You must stay with the beat. Try not to rush, drag, or lose your place in the song.

The Circle

With jams, players arrange themselves in a circle so they can see and hear each other as they play. How large the circle is depends on the preferences of the players. Songs are selected and lead by individual jam members one at a time, going around the circle. The player whose turn it is selects the song and tells everyone the key he or she will sing or play it in. That person is now the leader of the song. Follow the leader!

A photograph of a circle of jammers, with a bass on the floor in the foreground.
The circle of jammers may start off small, but it can grow as more join the group, or you can even have breakout groups with different musicians joining together for different songs and styles of playing. (c) Birthplace of Country Music

The Leader

Ok, it’s your turn in the circle. So what do you do? First, you need to tell everyone your song selection and the key it’s going to be played in. And then you must lead this song. This is accomplished by first briefly discussing things like how fast the song will go, who will be kicking off (starting) the song, and any other information that might be helpful to those who may not have heard or played the song before.

Playing Together

Once the leader shares the musical details, the song kicks off – and you are off and picking! A song that is sung will typically start with the kick off and a short instrumental break (solo), followed by a verse and the chorus, and then repeated with break, verse, chorus, break, verse, chorus with different instruments providing the breaks each time.

Body language and eye contact play a very important role in deciding who will play a break in a song. While the song is being sung, the leader is looking around the circle in search of those who would like to take a break (solo). Pickers that feel comfortable playing a break will also be making eye contact with the leader. After a verse and chorus have been sung, the leader will nod toward the picker he or she has chosen for the break to take the floor – the melody and chords of the verse are typically played during this solo interlude.

After the break is played, the singer will sing another verse and chorus, and another picker will be chosen for the next break. These steps are repeated until all verses are sung and everyone who wants to has had a chance to take a break. Pickers that are not comfortable playing breaks simply avoid eye contact with the leader – so keep your eyes down until you’re ready! (It makes me think of what happens at an auction – where it’s best to sit on your hands so that you don’t accidentally buy something…) However, if you make eye contact by accident and the leader should give you the nod and you don’t want the break, a simple shake of the head signals to the leader that you want to pass. After the final break has been played, another chorus is sung signaling the end of the song.

Instrumental songs are led much the same way, minus the singing, of course. After everyone has had a chance to take their break, the picker that started the song with the kick off will play the last break and signal the end of the song, typically with an outstretched leg into the circle.

Two photographs: The left-hand photo shows a group of jammers in the Jam Tent at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival, while the right-hand photo shows a groups of jammers performing on stage at the festival.
Besides the monthly community jams at the museum, BCM also hosts a Bluegrass Jam Camp right before Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion each year – and then players from the camp, and others at the festival, get the chance to make music together throughout the weekend, sometimes even on stage! © Birthplace of Country Music

Give It a Try!

The museum’s community jam is open to everyone of all talent levels. I can’t think of a better setting to sharpen your playing skills than a local jam. For the beginner, lessons are where you start but once you have mastered the chords of your instrument, the real fun begins when you get out and begin playing with others!

So mark your calendar for the third Saturday of each month from 2:00 to 5:00pm, and come join us at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum for our community jam — the next one is on Saturday, July 21. The museum is a great space for us to come together and pick, to learn from one another, and to have fun – all you need is your instrument and the courage to jump straight in. And remember listeners are also invited to attend. Come and enjoy!

Remembering Fred Cole, A Rock & Roll Renaissance Man

Our Radio Bristol DJs are a diverse bunch – and they like a huge variety of musical genres and artists. In our “Off the Record” posts, we ask one of them to tell us all about a song, record or artist they love.


“This is my chance, this is my life
And my opening hour
This is my choice, this is my voice
There may be no tomorrow
This is my plea, this is my need
This is my time for standing free

This is my step, this is my depth
In a world demanding of me
But it’s okay…”

My memory of the first time Fred Cole impacted my sense of hearing, stirred me emotionally, and forever won my allegiance as a fan is tied to the lyrics to the final verse of the Dead Moon song “It’s OK,” although these lyrics are usually sung by wife Toody. I can’t specifically pinpoint that moment – it was sometime in my very early twenties – but I remember knowing that I had just uncovered something special. Known historically as something of a garage rock guru (he was there at the genesis and never strayed throughout the rest of his life), Fred Cole was my instant choice when I was asked to write an “Off the Record” blog post to coincide with the launch of my new Radio Bristol show Scotty’s Tune Up, which launched yesterday and is focused on this genre.

Frederick Lee Cole was born on August 28,, 1948 in Washington state – and his musical story is one worth knowing. At some point over the next 15 to 16 years, he made his way to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he began his music career as a member of several bands, including the Barracudas, the Little Red Roosters, and the Lords, a group he joined in 1964 and which was the first band where he would gain real tangible experience. He also played shows as a solo R & B artist at the age of 15 under the moniker of “Deep Soul Cole” – indeed, he was touted as “the white Stevie Wonder.” A pretty impressive résumé at that age!

In 1966 Cole joined up with a crew of peers that became known as The Weeds. His tumultuous tenure with The Weeds brought more opportunities for shows and records; a later management switch resulted in a record deal with UNI Records and a name change to The Lollipop Shoppe. This is when most people agree that Cole’s music career solidified and began earning recognition. It was also during this time, in the late 1960s, that Cole met a young lady named Toody Conner who was working at a club in Portland called the Folk Singer. This meeting became very significant, to say the least.

An old black-and-white photograph of several band members together, some sitting and some standing.
Photograph of The Weeds and Scatter Blues together in 1966, Las Vegas, Nevada. Fred Cole can be seen at top left. Public domain photograph by Michael P., Wikimedia Commons

Cole and Conner married in 1967. After the breakup of The Lollipop Shoppe in 1969, followed by some short stints in the Yukon and Los Angeles, they ended up settling in Portland, Oregon, with their two young children sometime in 1971 or 1972. There they opened an instrument shop called Captain Whizeagle’s. Captain Whizeagle’s would also grow to become a record label, which put out Cole’s new band Zipper’s record in 1974 as its first release.

Toody is to the left with Fred's arm around her; he has on a hat.
Fred Cole and Toody Conner, December 21, 2016 in Tokyo. Photograph by Masao Nakagami

In 1979 Cole and Conner became more than just spouses when he recruited Toody as bassist and co-vocalist in a new musical project – The Rats were born! The Rats played together for about four years, and then the couple went on to start a new project in 1985 called The Western Front, which was a country & western-inspired punk rock sound. By this time they had moved Captain Whizeagle’s outside of Portland to a town called Clackamas where the shop and label became known as Tombstone Music. Around this time, they also put together another short-lived western-sounding project called the Range Rats – it was pretty simple, just the two of them and a drum machine.

Once the Range Rats had run their course, Cole and Conner met a local bartender and drummer named Andrew Loomis. Their first attempt together at a similar country & western rock sound did not work out, but later on they decided to give it another go, creating Dead Moon in 1987. For the next two decades, this mighty trio played some of the most sincere and fiery rock & roll ever summoned and developed a huge cult following starting in the Pacific Northwest and spreading all over the world. Dead Moon always stayed true to the underground philosophy that propelled them, but something changed in late 2006. After a couple of months on tour in Europe, the band returned to the United States, cancelled their upcoming tour dates, and announced retirement after 20 years.

Three Dead Moon band members grouped around the drums during a live performance.
Dead Moon, Go Sinner Go!! This photograph was taken in 2015 in Sala Caracol, Madrid. Photograph by Dena Flows

I was lucky enough to see Dead Moon live a few times over the years, always in very small venues. Cole and Conner would always be sitting at the bar talking to all comers, while Andrew ran wild causing seemingly good-natured mischief. They even remembered my name as time passed and the cities changed for the shows I attended. This memory and connection to their fans was yet one more reason to love them.

Thankfully, Dead Moon’s retirement was not the end of the story. In May 2007 a new drummer, Kelly Halliburton, was introduced, and they started playing shows under the name Pierced Arrows. They continued to play together until 2016. Dead Moon (with Loomis) also began playing select reunion shows for a while.

Fred Cole on stage singing at the mic and holding his guitar.
Cole with Pierced Arrows at Dante’s Inferno, Portland, Oregon, in May 2008. Photograph by Lisa

One of the main things that I immediately admired about Fred Cole was his true DIY ethos. He exhibited a level of commitment to his craft that is rarely seen – from starting and keeping a music shop and label going for so long, touring relentlessly past an age that most would have quit, and recording and cutting a mono master to lacquer on a lathe that Conner had gifted to Cole (and was coincidentally the same machine used to cut the original master of “Louie, Louie”!). The world lost Dead Moon drummer Andrew Loomis on March 8, 2016 to health complications after a long fight with lymphoma. Fred Cole died November 9, 2017 from kidney disease at the age of 69. Toody Conner continues to carry the torch – or candle melted on the bottom of a whiskey bottle as the case may be – and is involved in the release of a 2 x LP and book retrospective set later this summer. Of course, I pre-ordered my copy months ago.

There’s so much more I could say about Fred Cole’s discography and history, and about how much his music has meant to me, but my goal for this blog has been to provide just enough of his story to pique your interest so that you can decide to explore Fred’s musical story on your own and learn more! To help you on your way, check out this Spotify playlist for some of my personally recommended Fred Cole music. I have certainly enjoyed my time with Fred’s tunes and have no plans to stop listening!

And finally to see Dead Moon in action, the video below is of them playing at Knoxville’s Pilot Light in 2011. I actually attended this show and can be seen in the second row back…

Pedro Cooper: Music Remade

Franklin County, Virginia, is at the eastern end of The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Today it’s known for good fishing and boating on Smith Mountain Lake and Philpott Lake, located at the northeastern and southwestern edges of the county.  Before the lakes were created, Franklin County was known for its tobacco, dairy farms, apple orchards, and moonshine – indeed, it is called the Moonshine Capital of the World. A number of woodworking and textile plants were located in Rocky Mount, the county seat, and nearby companies like DuPont and Bassett Furniture competed for factory laborers.

But Franklin County isn’t just famous for moonshine and outdoor pursuits. It has also been home or the home-away-from-home for a number of storied musicians, not least of which was Charlie Poole (1892–1931), the North Carolina singer and banjo player. Charlie’s friend, musical partner, and later brother-in-law Posey Rorer (1891–1936), was born in Franklin County. Both would have been familiar with the musicians in the area – and, of course, the famed local moonshine.

One of Franklin County’s finest musicians, however, was a man you might not have heard of – Avery Nelson “Pedro” Cooper (1924–2001), a self-taught musician who played banjo, guitar, Dobro, mandolin, and fiddle. Pedro was born without a left hip joint, and at that time, there were no surgical options. According to his brother Cash Cooper, when Pedro was born, the doctor told his mother that “if he lived to be 12 years old, they would be fortunate to have him that long.” Pedro wore a built-up shoe to give him a “more steady walk.”

According to his 1942 Selective Service Registration, Pedro worked for barber Eldridge Martin. Cash reported that Pedro did shoeshining at the barber shop and did pretty well in tips. An article about the Palace Barber Shop in the September 17, 1953 “Tobacco Market Edition” of the Franklin News Post reports that “’Pedro’ Cooper has his shoeshine stand in the Palace Barber Shop and is known for the best shoeshines in town. He is also considered one of the better musicians in and around Franklin County.”

Left image is advertisement for the Rocky Mount Tobacco Market, which lists Pedro Cooper as "shoeshiner.' The right image is a clip from the paper describing Pedro Cooper's work as a shoeshiner and musician.
The September 17, 1953, edition of the Franklin News Post highlighted Pedro’s work as a shoeshine man.

Pedro was particularly enamored with the banjo, especially with Earl Scruggs’s three-finger roll technique. He was in several bands through the years, playing for dances and other events. One of the bands he played with performed on WMVA radio out of Martinsville, Virginia, and on WREV radio in Reidsville, North Carolina, in the 1950s. Pedro often had friends over to jam on Sunday afternoons; fiddler Tommy Magness and banjoist Rudy Lyle, both of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys fame, would visit and play with Pedro when they were in the area. Magness left Monroe to play with Roy Hall and his Blue Ridge Entertainers (based for a time in Roanoke, Virginia) and later with Magness’s Orange Blossom Boys. Magness also played shows for WDBJ in Roanoke (just north of Rocky Mount). Lyle was a Franklin County native and would return to visit family and friends, with visits documented in the local newspaper.

In 1972 Pedro married Doris Thurman, relatively late in life for both of them. It was their first and only marriage. Doris also loved music, and she and Pedro met at a friend’s while he was playing music. At local jams and get-togethers, you might hear Doris say she wasn’t feeling good, but when the music started, she’d frequently get up and flatfoot a bit!

At some point, Pedro went to work at Lane Furniture as a cleaner in the machine room – sweeping up the sawdust, clearing the wood scraps, etc. For those who have not been in a woodworking factory, it’s often hard, repetitive physical work on concrete floors. It’s usually either hot or cold, quite dirty, and one works around noisy and dangerous machinery. For Pedro, it had to have been more difficult work without his left hip joint – constantly bending and stooping, and walking and standing on unforgiving cement floors.

Machine operators are supposed to turn the machines off and turn on locks to stop the various blades when they step away or when the machine area is being cleaned. But people don’t always follow the safety rules, and accidents happen. And so one happened to Pedro in 1974 when he lost his left hand and forearm at a bandsaw machine. Afterwards he was fitted with a prosthetic hook that enabled him to grip items. Pedro’s brother Cash states: “He didn’t make any music for a good while, but someone mentioned or inspired him [to use a wooden peg].” Pedro would lay the instrument (banjo, guitar, or Dobro) across his lap and would use the wooden peg or dowel in his prosthetic hook to note the instrument.

The back cover of the 1976 Pumpkin Vines album with the photograph of Pedro Cooper sitting with his banjo across his lap and the pegs that helped him play attached to his prosthetic hook, the song list for both sides, and a biography of all the band's members.
The back cover of the 1976 Pumpkin Vines album bears a photograph of Pedro Cooper sitting with his banjo across his lap and the pegs that helped him play attached to his prosthetic hook. Album released by Outlet Records

While he couldn’t navigate the fretboard as he did before, he developed a new technique and continued to perform with The Pumpkin Vines, a band he and fiddler Elva Phillips had established. The band was named after the Norfolk & Western railroad line that went through Franklin, Henry, and Patrick Counties in Virginia, and was called the Pumpkin Vine because the route twisted and turned like a growing vine. The Pumpkin Vines released two albums on Outlet Records (out of Rocky Mount, Virginia) in 1976 and 1977 featuring old-time, bluegrass, and gospel tunes. Live recordings of Pedro and the Pumpkin Vines, made at the 1982 Blue Ridge Folklife Festival at Ferrum, Virginia, are available through the Digital Library of Appalachia. The tunes “John Hardy” and “Under the Double Eagle” are particularly fine examples of Pedro’s post-accident banjo style.

The photograph shows six band members -- five women playing autoharps, guitars, and fiddle, and Pedro on banjo. They are posted standing on a railway line.
The front cover of the 1976 Pumpkin Vines album: the band stands on a railway line, presumably that of the Norfolk & Western. Album released by Outlet Records

I was lucky enough to know Pedro and Doris as family friends; we went to the same church, and our families were often at the same events. People would bring food to share at these gatherings, and a core group of folks brought instruments and played music together. When the music was particularly tight, some folks would get up and flatfoot. Pedro and Doris visited at my parents’ home in Rocky Mount one summer. I had a tape recorder and asked permission to record the music. My father had been after me to learn to play “Down Yonder” as Del Wood did on the Grand Ole Opry, and so he asked Pedro to play it for me on the banjo. I don’t know that Pedro had ever played it, but he gave it a go in the home recording below with my mother accompanying him softly on guitar. At the end you can hear Pedro, ever humble, saying: “That’s not exactly right, either.”

Pedro Cooper made music a big part of his life while facing disability and hard times, and he then later overcame a horrible factory accident to remake his musical self, not letting go of the songs and tunes he’d played his entire life. And so remember Pedro should you travel the eastern end of The Crooked Road, near the route of the Pumpkin Vine rail line.