from “Making Round Peak Music,” by James Randolph Ruchala:
“Clawhammer Banjo,” County 701, opened with Wade Ward’s “June Apple” and “John Lover’s Gone,” two Virginia favorites. Then, a bold contrast, comes Kyle Creed’s “Darlin’ Nellie Grey,” a banjo solo based on a popular song written by one Benjamin Hanby in 1856. Wade Ward’s banjo performances are driving, rhythmic powerhouses, with a twangy, echoing timbre. Ward plays the main notes of his melody, and brushes across multiple strings to play chords in between the melodic phrases.
Creed’s performance displayed all the hallmarks of his style—melodic more than rhythmic, with a frequent use of the fifth string as both a drone and a melody string, many slides and open strings, very few chords. Creed brushes across multiple strings, too, but does so more slowly than Ward, creating the effect not of a chord, but of a melodic grace note.
But what really stands out after Wade Ward is Kyle Creed’s mellow timbre, reminiscent, perhaps of a xylophone or some other percussion instrument. This full and round timbre was what he called “plunky” and it would come to be an influence on players and builders of banjos, as will be shown in chapter six.
“Darlin’ Nellie Gray” is followed by “Ducks on the Millpond,” an old dance tune popular in Virginia and North Carolina, and Kyle uses it to demonstrate the lick that would come to be known, inaccurately, as the “Galax lick.” This move involves brushing across the long strings of the banjo before plucking the fifth string squarely on the beat to play a melody note, usually the high A.
Three tracks of Fred Cockerham’s wild fretless banjo playing follow Kyle. “Pretty Little Miss,” “Long Steel Rail,” and “Little Maggie” show Fred’s bag of inventive tricks: bluesy slides, wild intonation, very low drone strings for some tunings, strange noises and “clucks” that defy notation, and Fred’s low-pitched and expressive singing. If Kyle was the precise and
plunky side of what would come to be called Round Peak banjo, Fred was the bluesy and inventive side.