Many listeners associate bluegrass with the Appalachians, to the point where one school of criticism insists that the weirdos out in California couldn’t possibly play it right. That mountain range does eventually wind its way up into New England, so it is perhaps no surprise to find pickers of the quality of this double threat bluegrass artist in New England. Guitarist and five-string banjoist Fred Pike was born in Rhode Island but his folks soon were heading North, about as far North as one can go without leaving the United States for good. One of biggest wheels on the Maine bluegrass scene, Pike was exposed to music at a very early age. He was next to the youngest in a family of a dozen children, each egg in the carton musically inclined. He was only five when he began picking out tunes on the piano, and four years later he was already playing stage shows and dances. Of course there were members of his family at his side on the bandstand and this fact was kept no secret. Their first band was called the Pike Brothers and the Pine Hill Ranchers, a name that if announced to a maitre’d would certainly lead to the largest table in the restaurant being set. Playing guitar, Pike and his brother Earl formed this group in 1947 and it lasted a decade. The breakup of the group was something of a turning point in Pike’s musical career. It led to him teaming up with Randy Hawkins to form a band called the Country Nite Hawkes. More importantly, this new band provided an inspiration for Pike to stretch his musical wings and take up the five-string banjo. After releasing a series of popular 45 rpm recordings, Pike began concentrating his attention on another group, the Kennebec Valley Boys. He started the first bluegrass festival in Maine with this new band in 1976 and also won that state’s award for the best bluegrass band of the year. It was Pike’s almost constant touring with this group that really helped this genre gain a foothold in Maine, and once a local interest was established for bluegrass, it never died out. But it wasn’t always the case when Pike started out his activities. In a 1980 interview with the Maine Sunday Telegram, Pike explained the early days of his music this way: “When I started playing bluegrass in Maine, it was so new that people thought it was something you smoked.”
In 1977, Pike organized Back Porch Bluegrass, which went on to win that year’s Maine Country Music Association award for bluegrass band. Pike has also performed with the hot banjo player Don Reno, sterling vocalist Mac Wiseman, bluegrass mandolinist and bandleader Bill Monroe, and country artists such as Dick Curless, Gene Hooper, and Jud Strunk. Although basically known as a traditional bluegrass player, he has managed to keep up with the progressive mob on projects such as the acclaimed Jimmy Gaudreau Mandolin Album. The lion’s share of his recorded output is in the traditional vein, and fans seem to really like his guitar album, Fred Pike and His Flat-top Guitar, released by the Revonah label in 1978. Up until his death in the mid-’90s, Pike held the Salty Dog Festival on his farm every year to celebrate the music he loved and had done so much to establish a following for up North.
Artist Biography by Eugene Chadbourne