Fraley began playing as a young boy, learning music from his father. He may have been one of the last players to have had a chance to learn something directly from Ed Haley, one of the greatest fiddlers of the region.
Considered one of the deans of eastern Kentucky fiddle music, Fraley started working in the coal mines as a young man, but he earned promotion, which got him away from the coal face.
He became a salesman for coal mining equipment, a job which took him not only all over Appalachia but throughout the world, to countries such as Italy, Brazil, and Norway. Thus he didn’t perform much on a professional basis or begin recording until the 1970s.
Since that time Fraley was a huge influence on fiddlers as a teacher as much as a player, with several published collections of fiddle pieces and instruction manuals having a strong focus on the Fraley style.
He also worked hard to provide opportunities for fellow musicians, organizing a regular series of festivals such as the 40 year-old J.P. Fraley’s Mountain Music Gathering at Carter Caves State Resort Park, Olive Hill, Kentucky.
His 1974 album Wild Rose of the Mountain (Rounder 0037), which featured his late wife Annadeene, was greeted with rave reviews. This album was released on CD (Rounder 0372, released in September 2009) with 14 additional tracks recorded by J.P. Fraley with his daughter, Danielle. J. P. and Annadeene. Fraley recorded again in 1994 and 1995 for a follow-up album, the 26-track Maysville, released in October 1995.
Fraley received the Appalachian Treasure Award from Morehead State University in 1998.
Known for his uniquely beautiful tone and his soulful touch on waltzes and two-steps, Fraley’s fiddling can be quite a moving experience. He leaves a legacy of great old-time musicianship that spanned several generations and influenced musicians and listeners worldwide.
Here is a clip of Fraley playing Wild Rose of the Mountain from Aly Bain’s 1985 TV Series Down Home…