21 February 2009

John Fraley

Enda Donnelly of Fair City Grass writes:

John Fraley, musician and mandolin craftsman of Dungannon, VA, USA, died last Monday aged 84 years and was buried today (21/02/2009). John was a wonderful, friendly and kind man, a veteran of the US Navy, and took part in World War 2.

I first spoke to John in 1992 following a conversation I had with Tim Loughlin, a well known professional musician (fiddle and mandolin) who was then with the Lynn Morris Band. Tim had a Fraley F-5; I liked what I heard and asked John to make me one. John was flattered when I asked him and he told me I was the first person outside the USA to have a mandolin made by him.

He had a Gibson Lloyd Loar on loan at the time and made a note of the design features. He put a Adirondack top (red spruce) on my mandolin as Gibson did (it takes them longer to open up, but it was worth the wait). I still have my Fraley F-5; it's been a great workhorse for me all these years. After introducing my mandolin around the Irish bluegrass circuit, John told me he got further orders from Ireland.

During our many conversations he said he went to school and played music with Carter Stanley of the Stanley Brothers. John also made mandolins for Tim Loughlin, Danny Knicely, Eugene Alred (Country Gentlemen), and also for Keith Garrett. Actually you can hear Danny Knicely play on his Fraley F-5 on his MySpace site.

I will certainly miss John, as throughout the years I had many interesting conversations with him and we often exchanged Christmas and St Patrick's Day cards (he told me he had Irish roots). John was a true friend and I am saddened by his passing. May he rest in peace.

Right: Keith Garrett with his Fraley F-5

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At 6:50 am, Blogger Carol Jean said...

Thank you Enda for your kind words about my Uncle John Fraley. I am the daughter of his brother Kermit. John told me about you and he was really pleased and proud that one of his instruments would end up in Ireland.

Uncle John played guitar, mandolin, and sang all the time when I was a small child. Then he moved to Detroit to work as a welder in the auto industry. I didn't hear him much after that until he moved back to our family farm in his later years.

It was a surprise to me when he started crafting those beautiful mandolins. It made me wish that he has spent more of his life making them. I bought one of his early ones and my son in Wisconsin now has it, and has learned to play it. He's so proud to own it.

I will miss visiting and talking bluegrass music with him. We'd talk about the groups we'd seen lately, and I'd always tell him if I'd seen anyone playing one of his mandolins. Most always I made a picture of that person with the mandolin to give to him.

He was a sweet person and our family was and is quite proud of him. We will miss him so much.


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