Fred Roupe was born about twelve miles outside of Sparta in Alleghany County, and he was exposed to traditional music at a young age. His father played oldtime banjo and fiddle, and Fred was interested enough to start playing clawhammer banjo at age six. He heard Garr Bowers playing a three-finger banjo style at a jam in the Traphill community of Wilkes County, and Fred was hooked. He started working out his own three-finger style immediately.
Although Fred made his living as a plumber and electrician, for years he was a performing musician. His first performances were in a group with Del Reeves. They played on radio stations in Galax and North Wilkesboro. He also played music with Howard Joines, a popular older fiddler in Alleghany County, in a group called Little Brown Jug Fiddlers. Most of Fred’s gigs with Howard were at the VFW on Saturday nights where a long-standing square dance took place every week. For years, Fred was a frequent participant in the jam sessions in Sparta. He also played in the local band, Swamp Grass, for about twelve years. The band included Wade Petty, Dennis Joines, Tony King, and Eddie Hines. Parkinson’s Disease gave him problems with his left hand, so he rarely played the banjo in his later years, but people in the area still comment on his fine three-finger picking.
In the late 1970s, Fred developed skills in repairing and making instruments. “Nobody around worked on anything,” he said, “so I started working on my own instruments.” Over the years, Fred repaired instruments for many musicians in the area. He also made hundreds of banjo necks, about twenty-five complete banjos, thirteen mandolins, and a couple of fiddles. “Mandolins are the hardest thing I’ve tried to make,” he said.
Fred Roupe passed away on May 22, 2008.