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Winfred Frye leaves a legacy of music
In Oct. 9 Issue
Russell County News

Winfred C. Frye, a well-known local bluegrass musician, music instructor, and a retired Pulaski County School bus driver of 32 years, passed away Friday, Sept. 10, 2010, at the Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, at the age of 78.

He was born in Vinnie, Ky. and became interested in playing the banjo at an early age.  Times were hard growing up, so family entertainment depended on school and church socials, and porch "pickins."

His first banjo was an open back, cat-gut banjo the family has as a reminder of his humble beginnings.

"Papa made his own banjo to learn how to play banjo as a young boy," said grandson Kyle Perkins.

Uncle Dave Macon was instrumental in Winfred's decision to play banjo in the early days.

He loved listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the WSM radio station in Nashville, TN.

As he progressed at mastering the banjo, he became rooted in the Earl Scruggs style of playing.

In later years, J.D. Crowe helped to inspire Winfred with his syncopation and timing in the bluegrass songs of the '70's.

He soon learned the claw-hammer style of "pickin'" and advanced to the next level.  Most banjo players used the three finger style, but Winfred developed a style of his own, using only the thumb and second finger to attain the same sound.  

Musicians were astonished at his method and many failed to reproduce his sound.  He was constantly experimenting with different licks and techniques.

Winfred was also a master of the other stringed instruments, and taught his three children to play, as well as his only grandson, Kyle Perkins.

Kyle's inherited musical ability paved the way for him to become a member of several well known professional bluegrass bands.

"Anytime I wanted to learn how to play a song," Perkins said.

"I could go to him and he'd show it to me. He was about like a computer when it came to music."

"He could just listen to a song one time and play it. He could play any stringed instrument and was self taught on all of them."

Winfred had the opportunity to travel on the road with various groups, but chose to stay near his family.

Although he never graced the Grand Ole Opry stage, he was able to "live the dream" through his grandson, Kyle, getting to see him perform numerous times on the Grand Ole Opry and at the Ryman Auditorium.

"I knew he would've liked to have been up there himself but he was glad to see me up there on stage at the Opry," said Perkins.

Frye was known to his many friends as "Pick" a nickname he picked up along the way and used as his CB radio handle.

His musical talent is well known throughout surrounding counties and states, playing at school and church functions, bluegrass festivals, and social gatherings.

Groups that he performed with through the years include the KY Gentlemen, Cumberland Grass, Melody Trio, Cumberland Valley Quartet, Bluegrass Survivors, Larry Beasley and Friends, Lonesome Hollow, Harold Austin and First National Grass, Oak Hill Grass, and Finis Beasley and Lake Cumberland Barn Dance.

In his later years, he gave music lessons in his home and at local music stores.

He continued to perform bluegrass music for 15 years at the South Fork Railroad Depot in Stearns, entertaining people prior to their departure on the train.

Winfred's love and dedication to keep bluegrass music alive was a prevailing part of his life and his legacy.

He was always ready to pick and sing, whether leading his own group, as a guest with others, or jamming at his home with family.

"Every time I visited his house, we'd play music for an hour or two," said Perkins. "We visited at least 3 times a week."

Many times, the jam sessions became friendly competitions to see who knew the most songs or to try and find a song that the other didn't know.

Frye used the time to hone his grandson's ability to join in and play any song in the bluegrass tradition of improvisation.

"He'd play something to see if I could follow him or if I'd ever heard it and of course, I'd do the same thing with him with newer songs," Perkins said.

Kyle, made a shadow box in memory of his Papa including cherished items such as his Big South Fork Scenic Railroad name tags, banjo picks, his Pulaski County bus driver key ring, his monogrammed belt buckle, and coins he always carried in his pocket with the faces nearly worn off.

Frye was honored throughout his life for his service to his community.

Being commissioned a Kentucky Colonel was an honor he richly cherished along with receiving the 2009 Pulaski County School System's Volunteer of the Year Award.

Lake Cumberland Bluegrass Festival was the last festival he attended and he saw both his son Randy Frye and his grandson Kyle perform with bands at the festival. He stayed for the last show of the night even though he didn't feel well. Though his life was shortened by health problems, his love of bluegrass music will continue to live on and to remind us of our family roots and traditions.

He leaves a lasting legacy to the numerous lives he touched with his musical talent.

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