Barren County, Kentucky
Pat Kingery was born in 1912. He lived most of his life in the little community of Nobob, in Barren County, Kentucky. As a boy he learned tunes from his mother’s whistling, and from his uncle Jodie Matthews who came to visit occasionally from Wayne County farther east. As Pat grew older, he was influenced by many excellent local fiddlers, including the well-known Carver family, and Page Ellis, who represented Barren County in the regional contest sponsored by Henry Ford in the 1920s. Pat eventually played semi-professionally and was to be influenced by Tommy Jackson and other fiddlers around Nashville in the ’40s and ’50s. He played for years around the southern part of Kentucky in a band called "Pat Kingery and His Kentuckians." As a result, Pat had a large and varied repertoire, ranging from the rare local tunes to more modern radio music. He was one of the many fiddlers of his generation caught between the romance of the old traditions and the allure of professionalism. But he remembered vividly what it was that kept him attached to his roots:
"I had a hard way to go to get started. My daddy died when I was real little. There was nobody left but me and my mother and my brother. Back then, you made a quarter any way you could, and you could sell possum hides and stuff like that, you know. My dad used to trap, and we had some traps back here, so I set them traps out, caught some possums and stuff, two or three skunks one time. There was an old feller lived down across the way, bought furs. So one day I went to see the old man and take my furs to sell a few. I walked up on the front porch, and I heard something and I stopped. And I had never heard anything that sounded as pretty. Well, I forgot about being cold. I forgot about everything. I just stood there. By and by, he quit, and I knocked on the door, and he said, ‘Come in.’ And I went in. And he was sitting over in a chair in front of the fireplace, and he had this thing in his hands. And I never said, ‘I got some furs,’ nor nothing. Said, ‘What is that you got?’ He said, ‘That’s a fiddle.’ And I said, ‘Is that what I heard a while ago?’ He said, ‘Yep. Did you like it?’ I said, ‘I sure did.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ll play you another one, then. Then we’ll look at your hides.’ So he set there and played ‘When You and I were Young, Maggie.’ That was the first time I ever seen a fiddle or ever heard one. But it done something to me that I never could get rid of. It created a desire that some way, some how, I knew I had to play a fiddle.
"I was about nine years old then. So you know how they used to send out in the mail these Sears and Roebuck catalogs. My mother had one of them. And she had it spread on her lap. And turning the pages of that catalog, I seen a picture of a fiddle. And it drove me crazy. I wanted one, said I’m gonna get me one. Well, it must have been about this time of year (January), this magazine came out. It had an advertisement in it that said, ‘Sell thirty packages of garden seed to get this violin.’ I begged my mother to let me do that. And she finally agreed to it, sent off and got the seed. And of course the neighbors felt sorry for me. They bought ’em right off. And I sent it in, and I waited and waited and waited ’til it come. And it finally got here, the whole thing wasn’t but about that long [twelve inches]. Just a little bitty toy. And that’s what I started to learn to play the fiddle on.
"When I was about eleven years old, they let me have a few rows of tobacco across the tobacco patch. And I sold that tobacco. It brought twenty-eight dollars. And I got the Sears and Roebuck catalog and bought my first fiddle."
Pat’s health was very poor. When I went to his house, he would drag himself up out of the bed and stand in the middle of the room, swaying back and forth, and play until he gave out. He knew I was interested in the older tunes and would think about them between times that I saw him, and try to play them for me when we got together. I guess he understood that this was his last opportunity to pass his music on. The last time I saw him was in 1976. His brother Edgar told me he had been put into the hospital in nearby Glasgow, so I went to see him there. I was leaving for the summer to work up north, and I pretty well knew I’d never see him again. As we parted, I told him, "I’ll play one for you." He said, "I’d like that."
Unfortunately, there are no commercial recordings of Pat Kingery that are currently available. Some of his tunes were included on the vinyl 2-LP set " I Kind of Believe It's A Gift", published on Meriweather records. These recordings were published in limited quanitity, and originally produced for libraries and educational institutions, but fell into the hands of many Old-Time Music fans.