Paul Frederick “Fred” McBride, born in Alleghany County in 1924, moved to the Traphill neighborhood in Wilkes County when he was eight years old, growing up hearing old-time music played by relatives and neighbors. When he was about ten years old, Fred started playing on a fretless mountain-style banjo that his father made. Playing the fiddle soon followed. “At that time, you had to play with somebody in the neighborhood,” he said. “We didn’t have any way to go too far away. Any place I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t go.”
Weekend events often included square dancing. “On Saturday nights, we’d go to the neighbors and dance anywhere they had room—the kitchen, wherever it was convenient, outdoors if it was nice.” Fred played banjo with Lloyd and Garr Bowers, and then with Joe, Clell, and Hus Caudill, all well-known and respected old-time musicians in the Alleghany-Wilkes County region. He started playing banjo with the Caudills until the older fiddler passed away, then Fred switched to fiddle.
Fred had many musical relatives, including one uncle, Guy Brooks, who recorded with the Red Fox Chasers from Alleghany County. One member of the group, Paul Miles, claimed that the band entered fifty-six contests at fiddlers conventions, winning fifty-four times. “I used to play with my uncle once in a while, after he got done playing professionally,” Fred said. “I learned a lot from him. He was a pretty good fiddle player.”
When Fred was eighteen, he joined the Air Force and spent time near Nashville where he would frequent the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. He later worked for the Army in Maryland for thirty years, playing only during occasional get-togethers with his musical cousin who was also in the area. The area in Maryland where they lived was a common destination for people from northwest North Carolina. Ola Belle Reed, and her brother, Scotty Campbell, went to school with Fred’s wife, Francis, in Ashe County, and they also lived nearby in Maryland where they ran a music venue that Fred and Francis visited.
When Fred retired, he and Francis moved back to Wilkes County, and Fred started playing regularly again. Fred played with the Rock Creek Band with Bon and Keith Jolly and Judy Holloway. They frequently played for local square dances and at get-togethers at their home or at friends’ homes. Years later, he recorded a CD with Linda McCabe and David and Tammy Sawyer. David Sawyer credits much of his fiddle style to Fred. Other musicians that Fred influenced include Helen White, Glen Worth, and Cecil Gurganus. His repertoire helped popularize some tunes in jam circles in this region, including “Poor White Folks,” “Old Horse and Buggy,” and “Dry and Dusty.” In the last years of his life, Fred played frequently with Lucas Pasley and Iboya Pasley.
Fred McBride passed away in 2006.