Article rédigé par François Jim Galland
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When Frank Lee arrived from Atlanta in 1992, to work at the "Great Smokey Mountain Railway", he had twenty years of bluegrass banjo playing behind him and had never played in frailing. His meeting with David Bass in 1993 at the "Old Time Fiddler’s Festival at Laurel Bloomery" will be crucial and will give birth to "The Freight Hoppers" band.
They spent the night playing and it worked from the start. The banjo and violin sound was exactly what Frank had always dreamed.
They started working and recruited two other musicians :
Cary Fridley, guitarist and singer quit her music teacher job, and a danish student, Hanne Jorgensen joined the band on the bass.
The Freight Hoppers were now a full band and were soon going to meet success.
At the time, there were excellent Old Time bands, but none could make a life playing full time, and they did not travel across the country. But the Freight Hoppers will be asked to play everywhere. They were also different in that they were cheerful and full of energy. They really took the stage. David Bass did "flat footing" while playing the fiddle and Frank Lee's drive was impressive. He has his own style, and it is inimitable. It is a blend of, Round Peak*, hippy lick** and cluck*** (see notes at the bottom), and done at stunning speed.
In 1995, they record : "Going Down The Track With A Chicken On My Back", but it is mainly with two albums at Rounder Records that they will achieve success. "Where'd You Come From, Where'd You Go?" (1996) and "Waiting On The Gravy Train" (1998). Meanwhile in 1997, they meet Jim O. Keefe who becomes the band bass player. Frank releases an instruction video at Homespun Tapes, with a bonus concert "Live at the Bearsville Barn".
In 1999, Cary Friedley and Jim O. Keefe leave the band and are replaced by different accomplished musicians and, after a last concert at Merlefest 2000, David Bass has to stop playing to undergo a heart transplant.
The band, then, takes a break until 2007.
Frank Lee is also an excellent blues guitarist and uses this time to begin a solo career, focused on Country Blues, a style he has always loved. This experience allows him to highlight his voice, having until now done mainly harmonies with the Freight Hoppers. In 2004 comes the excellent solo album "Artseen" (Apple Music), and in 2005 "Two Mules", an Old Time duet CD with the fiddler Adam Tanner.
In 2007, the Freight Hoppers start playing again with two new musicians : Isaac Deal (vocal and guitar) and Bradley Adams on bass. A new album titled "Mile Marker" comes out in 2010.
The Freight Hoppers are headlining at a small festival in Indiana, and a local female band "The Whipstitch Sallies" is also scheduled. This band was founded by the guitarist and singer Allie Burbrink.
Video : The Whipstitch Sallies.
Both bands get along well and Frank Lee offers to help the Whipstitch Sallies to help find gigs in North Carolina for the next summer. The tour happens and later the same summer, the Freight Hoppers are again headlining at the same festival in Indiana, with the Whipstitch Sallies following. After the festival, Frank, Allie and Isaac Deal jam and sing together for the first time.
In 2013, Frank invites Allie at his place in Bryson City during a rehearsal with the Freight Hoppers.
In 2014, Allie quits her job as an English teacher to work on her band full time, but in 2015 the four girls decide to split and give the band a last year.
In October 2015, Allie registers for the banjo workshop at "Augusta Heritage Center" in Elkins, WV, where Frank teaches the banjo. Between the classes, they play and sing together and perform on stage for the other students.
Since Allie is unemployed and the "Whipstitch Sallies" are soon going to split, Frank offers her to join him for a scheduled tour in Kansas in January 2016.
In December, they spend a few days rehearsing at Frank's in Bryson City. The concerts go well and they are warmly received by the audience. Once back home, Allie decides to launch a tour in Indiana to return the favor, and maybe to see Frank again as soon as possible...
Frank then offers her to replace Isaac Deal's who had left the band in 2013, since he had already left the band in 2013. Since then, Allie has been the Freight Hoopers' lead singer and guitarist.
At the same time, Frank & Allie formed a band and have been touring since january 2016. The repertoire features songs and instrumentals, Country Blues, Bluegrass, Folk and of course Old Time. Frank plays the guitar, slide guitar and banjo. Allie plays the banjo, guitar and harmonica. Vocal harmonies are superb and they are requested everywhere in America. Allie's good mood and gaiety are a real "plus" of the band's dynamics.
They tour in France in May 2018 and get married during fall the same year.
In addition to their playing as a duo or with the Freight Hoppers, Frank & Allie design their own T-shirts and arrange an Old-Time meeting twice a year in Bryson City : "The banjo-Fiddle Frolic".
Video : Frank & Allie Lee "Lost John".
* The Round Peak style comes from Surry County, NC (west from Mt. Airy). Among the first musicians to play that style were Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Charlie Lowe etc.
Nowadays players include Kirk Sutphin, Kevin Fore, Andy Edmonds and many more.
** The "Hippie lick" or "Popcorn style" is played on the banjo on the high part of the fretboard, with a lot of 5th string, unfretted or thumb fretted. Tom Riccio is a representative player of this style. Listen to the tape "Impeached" by the "Red Hots" band, with Riley Baugus on guitar.
*** The cluck is done around the 19th fret on the banjo. The middle and fourth fingers strike the strings perpendicularly. The sound is short and blocked, contrary to the brush. Most banjo players use the "cluck".
Among many, listen to the "Cluck Old Hen" version by Laura Boosinger in the "Mountain Treasures" album with George Shuffler.