A short interview with Frank Wakefield
conducted by Jim Moss 10-25-97:
Please understand that to get the humor of Frank Wakefield you have to include his rather
sophisticated use of hill talk. Therefore I felt it necessary to include in the text his corruption
of the English language. If, at times, it seems that the text is not making sense, read it again
it is probably Frank talking backwards and creating a double entendre.
JM: Frank... Tell me about your earliest musical instrument..
FW: I had a guitar that I played with a case knife
JM: What's a case knife?
FW: A butter knife, a lot of people call it a
case knife... a regular butter knife that ain't sharp.
You've seen those right? know what those are?
JM: Yeah, I have them here.
FW: Ya do...? What do they call them out there?
JM: ahh.. Butter knives...
FW: Oh.. Ok.. fact that is probably what it was.
JM: So you use to play with that? You didn't pick up a piece of pipe or a bottle?
FW: Nooo. We never had no bottles around... moonshiners..
We had moonshiners around
that would buy old bottles from you. ha ha ...
JM: Is that right? Was there a lot of moonshiners there back then?
FW: Yeah, they had to have bottles of glass, they
would use quart bottles, gallon bottles,
milk bottles... anything that was glass. There wernt no plastic in those days... everything was
JM: So what would they do just come by asking for them?
FW: Yeah, they'd give you a nickel for a glass bottle, that was a lot of money back then.
JM: They couldn't buy the glass I guess cause...
FW: No... they would get caught that way... have
em.. put em in jail.
My first cousin he drank it, he drank a pint of that moonshine. He died right after
he drank it. He paid for someone to drink some first.. in case something went wrong.
JM: It's an interesting part of Americana isn't it?
FW: Yeah it is.. them Ole billhillys
JM: So at that time you started playing this little
guitar and using this knife to play slide with..
What kind of songs were you doing back then?
FW: I believe it was stuff like ahh Wildwood Flower...
JM: Did you listen a lot to the Grand Ole Opry back then?
FW: When a radio would work!
JM: So then you progressed up to what? mandolin?
FW: When I moved up to Dayton Ohio when I was 16.
JM: Yeah,,, well that's fairly old 16.
FW: Yeah.. that's old age back then.. Old __ man back then
JM: ha ha ha... and .. I mean all the woman must have been married off by then.
FW: Yeah, my ten sisters was. They were
all raising families then. All of them are
older then me and alive and healthy.
JM: So there you were sitting on the porch with
this mandolin probably owned it
a few months or so...? Where did you get it from?
FW: Right. I got it from my brother in-law
Otis Shear. I had a guitar and got tired of
it wanted to play the mandolin cause no one was playing one I guess.
JM: That's what Monroe said, that there was no
competition within his family
with the mandolin so he went for that.
FW: Did he? Actually you know... that
is something isn't it. ha ha
I never seen a television before 1952 and when I did see a TV what was on, we happened
to turn it on.. was Jim and Jesse that was on. I mentioned that to Jesse at the festival (IBMA).
He don't look a bit different then he did back in 1952. You couldn't see wrinkles and things
on TV back in the 50's. Probably wasn't that good!
JM: Yeah, that's right. The resolution was not that good.
FW: Yeah... Old evolution's tough ain't it? (laughing)
JM: yeah! (laughing)
FW: I guess through that evolution TV got better huh? (laughing)
FW: Which ever one works the best... (laughing)
JM: yeah! (laughing) so... So Red was about 21 or..
FW: He was about 6 years older then me so if I was 16 he ot be around 22.
JM: Was he working?
FW: Red? No he was just playing the bars.
Don't think he had only one job his whole
life. Oh yeah, he got his finger cut off, he quit working.
JM: What job was this?
FW: NCR where Bobby and Sonny was working.
JM: What was he trying to do?
FW: Drill press got to him... He got that Peal
Press got in the way of his fingers...
so his fingers probably didn't take it off...
FW: Yeah, Bobby and Sonny worked there for a while.
So, I guess they went and
saved enough money to seek their fortune and fame. Bob drove taxi a lot. He would
pick me up occasionally down at the bar... we'd pick a little.
JM: When you first started playing out bars were your first gigs right?
JM: This was about what year?
FW: Probably about 51. Cause I remember
I wasn't old enough to go in a bar. Red then
managed to get me in cause I was a musician. Had to be at least 18 to get in a bar.
JM: Yeah, what's the story I know in California
you can perform in a bar before you are
21 but you have to leave as soon as you are done.
FW: Yeah! I didn't leave. I left with a bottle of beer! (laughing) I was learn'n to drink then.
JM: So then you moved on to.. well, when did you start playing festivals
FW: Probably 70 or 72 I believe cause they hadn't been started long before then.
JM: Did you do concerts or anything other then bars back before then?
FW: Yeah, I did lotta TV shows.
JM: TV shows.. What TV stations were you on?
FW: I did one I don't know if you remember, the
David Frost Show. He use to get people on
he had Joan Biaz and the Everly Sisters. So, they was there. I got the Everlys and Joan Biasters
to do some Jesus music with myself. I didn't recognize Everly I did Joan I known here a real
long time. They was tickled to death to do it. They wasn't scheduled to play they was..
ah I think it was Don Everly he told me about the write up in Rolling Stone,
he said "How you doing?". He knew me, I didn't know him.
JM: You had a write up in Rolling Stone? What year was that?
FW: Probably 1972. I think me and Dylan
were the only ones that were on that....
and ah.... So, I let him play my mandolin. He was tickled about that, he played the
mandolin a little bit. Me and him and Joan we did, The Banks of the Ohio. I forget
what else, Silver Threads and Golden Needles... We did a couple of Buddha tunes.
JM: Of who's tunes?
FW: Buddha! That's what Peter Rowan
told me, Buddha loves his mandolin player number 1, 2 and 3.
I never knew who Buddha was 'til I was in Japan.
Then I did a PBS special out of Pittsburgh.
They was shown around the country. Still showing it.
I ain't seen it lately but they still show it.
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Wakefield mandolin instructional tapes
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Frank also has his " HMIC classic live recordings " cassettes available.
JM: Ok well Frank let me put this up on the site for now..
FW: Ok cause a girl gave me some of the stuff you have on there.
FW: Yeah, lets see if this is what you say... Says Dear audience,
JM: Dear audience?
FW: Yeah, I will be making another Bluegrass Fill
instrumental album this November.
This happens every ten years... or 120 months whichever comes first.. (laughing)
Did I get that right? Says we are gonna have gig.. there is gonna be some good musicians.
It says Bob Black and Paul and Jeff Jones on the mandolin and Wake Frankfield on the
mandolin. It says don't you buy this record when it comes out cause we got the Ole colored
fella .. (laughing) I couldn't believe you writing that about me...!
FW: I couldn't believe you writing that about me... there!
FW: I said, dog gone Jim Moss didn't do none of that!
JM: (laughing) I never said that! but I should put that in there!
FW: The last part says if there is enough interest
expressed by A-mail we are considering
and IMPROMPTU interview with the group, beer and concessions.
FW: It says, "Can you imagine a musician interview
of say Wake Frankfield whose
an Ole colored boy and ain't changed for a hundred years. Just let us know."
Zhat read soundable?
JM: (laughing) Its read soundable....
FW: It's close! I thought I'd read it backwards
to ya! When she read me that down I said
hell that's probably Moe in there.
FW: I told her that's probably Moe in there cause
she's like you she's not use to the language.
She said More? She didn't know what Moe was. So when she heard that we-ins be playin,
she didn't know what I meant when I said, probably be Moe in there. She said, who's that?
So when she heard we was going to do a show she said, well who all's playing? and ah the
first thing they said, they said u-ins, you know that's how I always talked you know when I was
down south, you know down in tuck. They still use that like I do... So she said, who's uins?
Actually, I know a person's name that is Mr. Eunes.
I learned some stuff from him, not very
much cause he is the one i seen playing the Dobro guitar... years ago, his name was mister
JM: You remember his first name?
FW: Ah no I don't I just called him Mr. Eunes,
the Ole white guy. yeah, he was a real nice fella
you know, time I'd go by and he's playing, ya know when your six, seven, eight years old music
always fascinates ya! Ya know ya sneak up and listen.. Yeah boy that was something!
He played what we called an old Hawaiian guitar back then.
JM: That sounds great! Did you have a lot of blues going on down there near you?
FW: Years ago, alot of it... yeah.
You would always hear the St. Louis Blues... stuff of that time.
Them old guys that's all they had was those good blues songs. They didn't have no radio, they had
to make everything up, wornt no radios hardly.
JM: That was actually a more pure form of the
music back then. You didn't have all of this
FW: Yeah it really was, when you think about it,
it really was. Boy in that way ya know they
really come up with some pretty tunes. I bet that's where all the music came from, in fact it
had to didn't it? From people like that.
JM: I think so, I think from that early stuff.
It drove Rock and Roll and Bluegrass when it
was combined with folk music of the Irish and British Isles.
So early on when you first met Monroe had you ever met anybody else like Flatt & Scruggs?
FW: No, I hadn't met nobody but Bill when Ed Mayfield
was with him. I only met him one time.
Red took me to introduce me to Bill. I got to pick his mandolin a little bit, Red took me to see
his show. Me and a little guy named David Harvey. His sons backed me up down there (IBMA)
he played fiddle with me. He's a super fiddle player and mandolin player. His name is David
Harvey Jr. His father and I learned a lot of stuff together. Cause he had two mandolins, he had
an F5 and F12. I would play the F12 and he'd play the F5. He was the only kid and so his mom
could afford to buy him a good instrument.
JM: So the first record you did, that was the one with Red Allen right?
FW: No, the first one was right around 1953 or 54, it was "The New Camptown Races".
JM: It was just a single?
FW: Yeah, I did I think two or three singles up
there. I think I did, "Your The One I Seen
In My Dreams". I think the other one was "Tell Me Why My Daddy Don't Come Home".
I forgot what was on the back of that. Those were decent records, I did them in Detroit,
called Wayside Records.
JM: So at that time what would it cost you to make a record?
FW: I don't know but I got paid $20.00 and that was a lot of money then.
JM: To get some idea of what that would mean in
today's dollars, what would
a quart of milk cost back then?
FW: Oh about ten cents. Dozen eggs about
12 cents. A big steak less then a dollar.
A loaf of bread about 13 or 14 cents.
... end ...
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