Updated: Sep 11
High atop Juniper Ridge, just outside Rio Rancho, New Mexico, Fred Lopez reflects on the amazing life he has lived. He shares a home with his 96-year-old father.
“I learned about music from my mother,” he recalls. “She taught me how to play claw-hammer style on a Martin ukulele that her mother got for her.” Fred says his mom also played old-time fiddle, and she had a guitar. “I wanted a banjo, so I saved my money over a lot of summers to buy one.”
Fred grew up in Kensington, Maryland. “My mom was Irish, and her father was in the Navy, so they traveled a lot. She was classically trained on the piano.” When Fred was “either 12 or 14,” his mom sent him to take music lessons, but that didn’t work well for him. “I played two-finger banjo, and scratch guitar I learned from my mama. I loved country blues and bluegrass, as well as religious and old-time music.”
Over the years, Fred made a point to go hear some of his favorite artists play. He grew up listening to artists from the D.C., Virginia and Maryland area including The Seldom Scene, The Country Gentlemen, and the Johnson Mountain Boys. Among his biggest musical influences are The Stanley Brothers, Martha and Eddie Adcock and Tom Gray.
“I asked people I admired to sign my stuff. Some people even recorded using my instruments.”
Fred’s parents retired from working for the Government and moved to New Mexico. “I came out here in 1985 and started working at some ranches.”
About ten years ago, Fred says he had an idea to start recording some of his bluegrass heroes. “My idea was to bring people together through music.” He had such a great response that instead of one album, he is breaking it into two. “One is the Mountain West sessions, and the other is the Mountains East sessions.” So far he has recorded with 22 musicians from both sides of the country. “I’ve put 67,000 miles on my car,” he laughs.
He has recorded a variety of artists. “I’ve got people from age six up to age 92.” Fred invited the six-year-old into the studio during a recording session and asked her to sing a line. “It was as pure a voice as I’ve ever heard,” says Fred. The producer of the Mountains East album is Tim Coffey, and Dave Barklay is producing the Mountains West album. One of Fred’s favorites so far is Jay Lewis, and 82-year-old who hasn’t recorded in twenty years. “He did an off-the-cuff recording that was very meaningful to me. It’s neat to capture these people. They are getting older, you know.”
Fred says David Castle in St. Paul, Virginia has the masters for the albums. “He has been very gracious to me all these years. I didn’t even realize we had enough material for two albums until David mentioned it.” The songs on the album are all very special and meaningful. “Each song was selected by the artist, and each song means something special to somebody.”
Proceeds from the sale of the albums will go to “some very talented kids,” says Fred. “We want to help them record. We try to help because we can all look back and remember all those who helped our careers.”
Fred says he stopped playing music for a few years. “I had surgery in 1997 and I had to learn to play all over again.” The guitar is Fred’s primary instrument. “I also play old time claw hammer banjo a little. I was asked to go on tour playing guitar with a rock-n-roll fellow and we toured all over the country. But bluegrass is what I love the most. I mainly stick with old-time.”
Fred is excited about his album project, and he is playing more these days. “I’m getting back out there. Last year I had a few people ask me to play with them at Ralph Stanley’s festival.”
His two sons, Adam and Fred Jr., are grown with children of their own. Fred is now a grandfather as well as a great-grandfather. “I’m very content with my life,” he says. “I just wanted to make a record before I died. I love all kinds of music and I wanted this project to be collaborative, something to bring people together. There are going to be 16 cuts on the first album. Sixteen. I have such great people in my life. I am very blessed.”