Photos courtesy of Mark Freed
Types of Artistry
Boone, NC (Watauga County)
John Cockman has been playing and singing bluegrass and bluegrass gospel music with his family and other groups since he was a teenager. His mother taught him to sing harmony with his sister at a young age.
When John's three younger brothers came along, he had more voices to harmonize with, and they started learning songs. "We learned songs out of a church hymnal," he remembers, "or we learned choruses that our mother taught us." A barbershop-quartet-singing uncle provided some inspiration, but it was a bluegrass album that inspired him to start playing fiddle in addition to singing.
"I wasn't really inspired to make music until I heard a group called Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver when I was thirteen years old, and it really woke me up to how good traditional-style bluegrass could sound," says John. He was excited about the four-part harmony singing, and he started working out the singing with his brothers. "By fourteen, I was singing bass because there wasn't another option... the other guys were twelve, ten, and eight," John says. "I was by default the bass singer."
At about this time John, found his instrumental niche. "I was about fourteen when I got my first fiddle, and I have been in love with that instrument ever since," John says. He started visiting a local fiddler named Joel Little, after they met at a fiddlers convention. "I visited him every Thursday night for about two years. He taught me probably a couple hundred (old) fiddle tunes, and tunes by more contemporary artists like Chubby Wise, Kenny Baker, folks like that."
John and his brothers started singing in church. After positive feedback at fiddlers' conventions, the family was hooked, and they all started performing together as a family band. When the brothers' voices changed, their sister began to sing with them. "We had two basses and two tenors," says John, "but no lead." The family performed professionally at festivals, churches, and events all over the country.
After the siblings grew up and started having children, they slowed down on touring, and today they play about a hundred dates a year at local and regional venues and events. John also plays fiddle with Amantha Mill, a Boone-based bluegrass and Americana band. John is currently teaching his daughters to play and sing and has started a band with them called the Butterpats.
John loves the music. "The most enjoyable part for me is just the jam," he says. "When you get together with similar musicians of the same ability with the same repository of songs, and you play for a couple hours... that's the most enjoyable part for me."
John Cockman is available for performances solo, with the Cockman Family, or Amantha Mill. He is available for workshops, demonstrations, and in-school performances. He is also available for private fiddle lessons on a limited basis.