The Sixties in Folk Music / 17. Jim Greenwell

The Nexus

Jim Greenwell

I arrived in California in September 1961, courtesy of the United States Air Force. I had been sent to Vandenberg Air Force Base at Lompoc after three months of training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. I was born and raised in a small town in Kentucky, in a home without electricity or running water. We did, however, have a console radio powered by a maze of batteries. I grew up listening to the likes of Jimmy Rodgers, The Carter Family, Lester Flatt and Earle Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and a whole bunch of other “country” pickers and singers. The Grand Old Opry was a weekly event. During my teenage years, I was listening to a lot of balladeers that had been influenced by these same folks. The Everly Brothers were from my “neck of the woods.” Artists like Johnny Horton, Jimmy Dean (yes, the sausage king), Hank Williams, and even George Jones, were influencing the admittedly regional music scene. Then, the United States Air Force brought me to California.

At Vandenberg, I was assigned a roommate who actually owned a phonograph, and a rather extensive collection of “folk” music. His rather eclectic and somewhat non-discriminating tastes ran from Billie Holiday to Joan Baez to The Chad Mitchell Trio to Oscar Brand. From these and other influences, I developed a great love for this type of music.

While still in the Air Force in February or March of 1963, a friend of mine, Dave Deras, and I were bar-hopping in Santa Barbara and stumbled across a place called The Spigot, on De La Vina Street, that had live jazz and blues entertainment. From there, we heard about Tony Townsend’s folk club toward downtown, called the Rondo. Our first night there, they had a “Hootenanny,” the first time I had ever heard the term. As I recall, Tony’s club was previously a private residence and still had different rooms. We heard in that single night The Channel Singers, Tony himself, and Don Robertson. One of the patrons told us then about a club in Goleta, the Nexus, that had a group playing called The Terrytown Trio. The next evening, we went to the Nexus for the first time.

The Nexus had been created out of space in an old wooden building at the corner of Fairview and Hollister avenues that also housed a machine shop that manufactured walnut hullers. That side of the building had the most amazing series of wooden pulleys, wide leather belts, and machinery that I had ever seen. The operator powered 14 or 15 different pieces of machinery with one electric motor by smacking these belts from one pulley to another with wooden handles suspended from the ceiling. His product itself was exotic and unique…it would remove the kernel from a walnut half without breaking it. Needless to say, it had a very limited market.

Dave and I were absolutely entranced by the atmosphere at the Nexus. It had originally opened about 1958 as a beatnik coffee house called Contempus. It was carpeted both on the floor and also on slanted seating around the walls. The tables were Formica sink cutouts suspended on 16-inch wrought iron legs, and patrons sat on plastic TV cushions (remember those?). About 1961, a fellow whose name I remember only as “Dave” bought the place and added a beer license. He also installed what at the time was a state-of-the-art sound system, with a turntable and a 100-watt amplifier driving the most advanced speaker system I had ever seen. The entire back bar was monopolized by speaker cases that had to have measured eight feet square. Inside were tweeters, woofers, and God only knows what else. Instead of a jukebox, a turntable behind the bar played folk, jazz, and R & B music according to the mood of the bartender or the loudest patron at a given time.

As we learned from frequent visits from Vandenberg, the Nexus was different things at different times. On a Saturday afternoon, one could find professors from the University arguing with “rednecks” over topics as diverse as politics and poetry; at other times, liars’ poker games and “braceros” drinking Lucky Lager. As day became night, the crowd changed to regulars—school teachers, white collar guys, techies from General Motors, Raytheon, and other companies, as well as construction workers, students, and military people like us. The atmosphere was nearly always electric, or so it seemed to a Kentucky boy who had never experienced anything like it.

After many visits, we had come to know the owner, Fred Foth, who was in real life a union carpenter. Fred worked in his trade every day, but had a lady, Dee White (Blanco), who would open the bar at 4:00 p.m. each day (noon on Saturday and Sunday) and would work until closing at 2:00 a.m. Fred would come in on an irregular schedule, but he would schedule help for her on Friday and Saturday evenings when entertainment was on stage and the crowds were much larger.

Throughout the summer of 1963, Dave and I became such regulars that Fred asked us if were interested in buying the place. He was going through a divorce, had a new love interest, and had lost interest in managing the place. As military personnel, we were making such handsome wages that an investment seemed prudent. As an E-3, I was making $183 per month, and Dave as an E-5 was earning about $300 per month. The sale price of $9,000 didn’t sound unmanageable, and as we joked at the time, we’d get our drinks wholesale. We bought the place and took possession in September 1963. Only Dave’s name appeared on the license because I wouldn’t turn 21 until December 1963. (Did I fail to mention that?)

When we bought the Nexus, it was a paradox from a marketing perspective. It was so wildly successful during the Friday-Saturday period, and so devoid of activity during the rest of the week that it had never generated significant profit. Dave and I devised a two-pronged approach. The walnut huller had given up his space, so we were able to expand into his part of the building, giving us 50 more seats for the peak periods. We embarked on a plan to book entertainment (albeit inexpensive entertainment) during several mid-week evenings. We kept Dee to run the place during the week when we were busy keeping Russia and Red China at bay, then ran it ourselves Saturday and Sunday.

We were successful in our approach to the business, to the point that in November 1963, we were the second largest retailer of beer in the state of California, behind only Mickey Finn’s Dixieland Jazz bar in San Diego. Of course, at the time, a glass of beer was $.25 during regular hours and $.35 with entertainment. A six-glass pitcher was $1.25 or $1.75 during entertainment hours. Of course, happy hour was a buck a pitcher! With these inflated prices, we were now so profitable that we agreed to pay ourselves $100 per month each!

We hired significant folk musicians to play the Nexus. “Joe & Eddie” was the first “big name” that we brought to Santa Barbara. They were not unique, however, as Fred Foth had hired them once before. As I recall, we paid them $800 for a two-night gig. When we could wrangle a night off during the week, we would drive to the Ice House in Pasadena, or even to the Hungry i in San Francisco, to preview acts. We found Phil Campos working as a solo act in a little place in Santa Monica after the breakup of the New Folk Trio. We brought an old fellow named Fred Thompson to Santa Barbara from a little club in Canoga Park. Fred played the most fantastic Martin ukulele that I had ever heard. All the time, we still hired the local acts, as they had great followings and many times would sell more beer than the “stars.” I remember one evening very early in our tenure that Howard Pelky was performing with two other performers. He had already left John Thomas and “The Channel Singers,” and we had hired his new group. The occasion was before the expansion, and we had to set up a portable stage in front of the bar for the entertainers. It was a very poor arrangement, as it cost us several seats at the bar, and also blocked people from buying beer! The group did a rendition of the old Kinky Freeman tune, “Jesus Was a Teenager Too.” One member of the “Religious Right” was in attendance and took great umbrage at the blasphemy. As the altercation developed in the audience, one of the musicians carefully put his ax in the stand and then launched himself horizontally into the melee. Fortunately, I don’t remember anyone being seriously injured or incarcerated.

We had a performing group that appeared at our place one Sunday afternoon. There was no “hoot” going on that day, but they wanted to audition, so we told them to have at it. I cannot remember what they called themselves, but the lead singer was named Ken, his wife was Jody, and the banjo player was Dave. They were quite good and we were very interested in hiring them. As we talked after their audition, we asked where they were from. “Up north” was the response. After quite a lot of digging, we discovered they were both G.I.’s stationed at Vandenberg, the same place Dave and I were from. They worked for us quite frequently after that. They had a style that was not unique, often covering songs that had become popular from The Kingston Trio, the Limelighters, Peter, Paul & Mary, and other big acts of the times. Their real talent was in demanding audience participation, which created a thirst for more beer!

One Saturday night, while Howard’s group was playing, The Kingston Trio came through the front door. They had performed at the Santa Barbara fairgrounds and had found out about the Nexus from someone. Howard was gracious enough (or scared enough) to relinquish the stage to them, and they did better than two hours of music absolutely gratis. At 2:00 a.m., when the authorities said all fun must end, we locked the doors and continued until 3:30 or so. Then, we took two cases of beer and went to one of the customers’ houses up San Marcos Pass, where we continued the party until God knows when. My older sister, Jan, from Long Beach, happened to be visiting this particular weekend, and wound up dating Bob Shane for some time after this weekend.

Sometime in the summer of 1964, a small traveling carnival passed through Goleta, setting up shop, as I recall, in the lot on Fairview west of Hollister that would eventually become the Crown Discount Store. There was a fellow who called himself “Johnny Ringo” who was traveling with the “carny” and came into the bar two or three nights in a row. One night, he brought an old six-string and played and sang from his bar seat. He was interesting and entertaining, and we appreciated him. Lo and behold, Friday came, and our scheduled (and advertised) entertainment called to cancel at 5:30 p.m. Since Johnny was in the place at the time, we offered him $25 to play that night. We figured we would make a decision regarding Saturday after evaluating that evening. Johnny did well in his first set but became very agitated as the crowd grew in numbers and in volume. Midway through the second set, he walked off the stage, disgusted that the crowd was not enraptured by his music. When he voiced this to Dave Deras, Dave said, “I’ll give you $15 more, but if the building burns, you still have to play.” How prophetic. Johnny worked again on Saturday evening, but we also had Sheri Geiger and John Thomas as solo acts in case of another eruption. Johnny delivered a memorable line while Sheri was on stage. His words were something akin to, “She has a beautiful voice, but you can tell she’s never jumped a train.”

One Saturday night/Sunday morning in October 1963, I closed the Nexus alone while Dave went to “breakfast” with a very nice young lady. I cleaned the place and locked up at approximately 2:20 a.m. At 2:43, the fire department cut the lock off the front door and found the place in a total conflagration. We always knew the structure was susceptible to fire. The timbers of the building were soaked in petroleum lubricant from the old machine shop. There was no sprinkler system. The multicolored burlap suspended from the ceiling, while originally treated with fire retardant, had long oxidized to tinder. However, I have long suspected that our dear landlord, who was in the process of divorce, found a convenient method of “liquidating” assets.

The fire occurred the night before we had planned a party to celebrate Dave’s discharge from the Air Force (after 14 years). While I was still in the military, we went to work trying to find a suitable location for the new club. It took a year and many failures before we were able to re-open across Hollister from the old location. However, a year is a long time. I had also been discharged from the military…Dave had married a local girl…I had taken a management position with J.C. Penney on State Street, and the folk scene had begun to disappear. While we enjoyed a modicum of success at the new location, it quickly became apparent that “The Times They Were A’Changing.”

We had booked Hoyt Axton to play the opening weekend of the new location, but Hoyt had a lot of demons at the time that could only be assuaged with alcohol. Repeatedly, he would disappear, only to wind up back in his hometown of Broken Bow, Oklahoma. His agent, whose name now escapes me, would dry him out and the process would repeat every four or five months. Hoyt was on one of these hiatuses at the time, so unfortunately, he never played for us.

Our biggest and most significant act at the new club was to engage Travis Edmonson for a 10-night gig. Travis was arguably the most versatile and accomplished musician Santa Barbara had ever seen. He had grown up in Tucson, and had learned guitar and other stringed instruments working with mariachi bands along the border. He had been classically trained in voice. He also had an advanced degree in Sociology, had written the only existing dictionary of the Yaqui Indian language, and had been the only Caucasian accepted as “blood brother.” Other than that, he possessed the clearest alto voice that I had ever heard. I don’t know if they ever sang together, but I have fantasized a duet of “Amazing Grace” with Joan Baez and Travis.

Because of the monstrous expense, we installed a cover charge for the first time, $1.00 as I recall. Fortunately, we were able to recoup the cost of Travis’ visit at the door, because we sold very little beer. When he began to sing, it was hard to drink with one’s mouth opened wide in awe!

The stage at the new club was across the room from the Dressing Room. Because the seating was on the floor, the crowd really controlled the entertainer’s exit from the stage. After several attempts to leave for breaks, Travis discovered that the most efficient method was to shed whatever instrument he happened to be playing (anything with strings) and wander through the crowd singing a cappella. He would time the end of the song with his exit into the dressing room!

The last significant act that appeared at the club was Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys. Dave had decided that we could follow the changing tastes of our clientele, and still survive. While I thought of myself as more of a “purist,” we still had to meet the monthly bills. I thoroughly enjoyed the group and Linda’s status as a “community project.” If we are to believe her biography today, she was 17 at the time. She did have convincing I.D.

During the six months I was involved with the new club, I continued to also hold my “day job” at J.C. Penney. It paid almost as well as the military, and I had also married in February 1965. Seeing the crowds diminish (and possibly attaining a more mature outlook), I decided to sell my interest in the place to Dave and to focus on a “real” job. I never, however, lost my love for the music. I often have thought that the biggest loss from the fire was the collection of recordings that burned. I have spent many Saturdays at garage sales and second- hand stores replacing many of them. Thanks to the old Napster and Kazaa, I have captured a lot of other recordings that were near and dear.

Penneys transferred me from Santa Barbara to Fresno in 1971, to Hawaii in 1974, and to Portland in 1976. I left their employ in 1980, and have worked in the interior design field and in commercial flooring for the last 25 years. I currently reside in San Carlos, California (Bay Area) with my second wife of 23 years. I am employed as a commercial flooring estimator and my wife is an Episcopal priest (how times change!). We have two daughters, one a senior at Columbia University in New York, and the other a sophomore at Emerson College in Boston.

I have always wondered “why the music died.” My belief is that, being rooted in tradition, the supply of new material simply ran out. Despite the magnificence of Bob Dylan’s new material, and the abundant supply of Woody Guthrie, there simply was not enough available material to interest the casual fan. Peter, Paul & Mary brought a lot of people to the genre with crossover hits such as “I’m in Love with a Big Blue Frog,” but when they went their separate ways, a lot of enthusiasts moved on. Chad Mitchell’s group was so cutting that they were never commercially viable. (But they were great!) I remember the exact moment that I thought it was over…I heard The Byrds’ recording of “The Eve of Destruction.” The amplification had drowned out the story. To my mind, that’s when “the music died.”

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The Sixties in Folk Music / 16. Don Robertson

Folk Scene: The 1960s in Santa Barbara

Don Robertson

 In 1960 I attended Defiance College in Ohio. There was a beatnik fellow named “Doc” there. Both of us lived in WWII Quonset huts over that summer. Doc taught me to appreciate the arts: poetry, writing, music, painting, and from a culinary standpoint, “Upside-Down Pudding Cake in a coffee mug.” He sure gave me the right outlook for life! What I wanted to do began to take shape as a result of Doc’s gentle teachings.

Folk music was gaining in popularity and I loved the songs of Joan Baez and The Weavers, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger on the radio, and record albums…better known today as CDs. I also had an up-close encounter with folk singer Guy Carawan, who came to Defiance to do a concert that fall. It was on that evening I met someone who would be a lifelong friend, a hound dog by the name of “Ole Blue.” We wound up doing a lot of gigs together, and every now and then, when things are jest right, I can still hear him paddin’ alongside-a-me, lookin’ up, smilin’ and droolin’!

In the fall of 1960 I went back to the East Coast and took a four-month course in Commercial Photography at New York Institute of Photography, on 34th Street in New York. I met a young man by the name of Hayes, who one evening said, “I’d like you to come to dinner in Brooklyn and meet my uncle.” We took the subway there, and that’s how I met Lee Hayes, the large man with a deep bass voice; the anchor for The Weavers. I’ll never forget that night. Also there was Cisco Houston with raw tape of his upcoming album devoted to Woody Guthrie. From that point on, I was hooked on folk music.

The younger Hayes was also responsible for introducing me to Greenwich Village, and especially Gerde’s Folk City. We went there every Monday night for the Hoot. The house act was a black blues singer known as Brother John Sellers. He was backed by a guitar and harmonica player who later became singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. I never heard him sing, or talk at all, at those Monday performances. He sure made up for that later, and still continues to.

A Chronicle of History

What made folk music, to me, was that people listened to the songs, even if they were very long, as were many of the English, Scottish, Irish, and French ballads. They were stories of events that happened; bore repeating to others not yet informed; a river of music that flowed from country to country, continent to continent. Folk music was the email of the Middle Ages:

What news, what news my bully boy; what news you bring to me?

My castle burned, my tenants robbed, my lady with baby, my lady with baby?

(Matte Groves: Child # 81)

Many of those old songs went through transformations, depending on when and where they were being sung. Foreign songs migrated to the United States along with the people of many countries, and were popular throughout our history. They took on the local color of that particular location. Most of them were passed down from generation to generation; even to these, our autumn years. From California to the New York Island, backwards.

In January of 1961, I drove the old Route 66 west to California, to work for American Machine and Foundry Company at Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was a trip that brought the words of Woody Guthrie to life, for I’d never experienced the physical wonders of the United States.

The Iopan—Santa Barbara, 1961

Throughout it all, I’d never been to a “coffee house.” I’d heard about a place called the “Iopan.” It was located in a beautiful white Victorian house on the corner of Chapala and Micheltorena streets. I walked into a large room warmly lit by candles in red glass holders on each table. There was a low, well-lit stage on the street side of the room. Someone was singing, and the customers were paying rapt attention.

Iopan co-proprietor Marilyn Berner brought me coffee and chatted. Later I met her husband Bill Berner and third partner Dan Barrows. Marilyn and Bill went from table to table, chatting with customers.

Dan eyed the instrument lying on the table in front of me. “Just what is that?” he asked. “It’s a uke with a hormone problem,” I chuckled, “a baritone uke.” “Do you play it, sing?” he asked. “A little,” I said, and meant it. Dan shook his head, smiled, and walked off. Soon he was back and asked, “What’s your name?” “Don Robertson,” I said, “I really like your place!”

People came and went, and the entertainer was in the middle of the second set. Dan sat down. After a while, he casually asked, “Would ya like to sing the break? Do maybe two or three songs?”

Folks chuckled as I walked up to the stage. I made a strange sight: a fat guy clutching the neck of a smallish baritone uke! I opened with an upbeat version of “Pretty Polly,” followed by a slower song, and finally said, “Ladies and gents, I’d like you to meet my dog…and sang my version of “Ole Blue.” At the end, there was silence…and then the crowd broke into applause. I think we stunned each other. It was my first gig in a coffee house; my first in Santa Barbara, California.

The Berners and Dan Barrows were the people who started me on a folk-singing career. They were not only starting a lot of local talent out, but brought in some great acts as well.

Johnny Swingle was one of my favorites. He was the only entertainer I knew that played the zither. It looked like an Autoharp but had no buttons. It was played by laying one’s hand on certain sections of the strings. Johnny also played the Autoharp, and knew a lot of old Mountain and Child ballads, singing them with a rich baritone voice. Johnny was tall and lanky; looked a bit like Abe Lincoln.

Phil Campos was a hard-singing-and-guitar-playing entertainer who could really hold an audience. His renditions were full of emotion and heartfelt soul. He also had a group called “The New Folk Trio,” which sang in Santa Barbara as well.

Joe & Eddie came up from LA and put their wonderful sounds and arrangements together, trying them out on a very willing Iopan crowd. Bill and Dan had found them at the Troubadour in Santa Monica. They established a large group of fans, many of whom went to see them when they returned to the LA-area folk clubs. They started recording and became a very well-known act. Joe & Eddie contrived some of the best folk arrangements I’d ever heard!

Local acts included Tony Townsend, Todd Grant’s Terrytown Trio, with Phil Pritchard and Bud Boyd; and flamenco guitarist Chuck Kaiser, a great talent.

I’m sure there were many more, and hopefully other contributors will be able to identify them. There was René Leyva, who had a quick wit and could sing anything, and Bill Thompson, whose renditions of “A Cockney Funeral Dirge” and “When You’ve Got a Viper” knocked the crowds out.

There was one other aspect of the Iopan’s history that certainly bears noting. One night, while singing the last set there, I noticed a group of men come in, all carrying instruments—jazz instruments. They sat down quietly while I finished several songs.

Coming off stage, one man came up to me and said, “Man you are great! I’ve never heard anyone sing with as much ‘soul’ as you do!” The man’s name was Chico Williams, a stand-up jazz bassist. He and the other musicians were in the Air Force, based at Vandenberg Air Force Base. They asked if they could “play a few,” and the owners agreed. Oh man, did these guys play jazz!

They were so good they played many times at the Iopan. Chico Williams became a good friend, teaching me whatever I still retain about soul and jazz. He took me down to LA one night to some jazz clubs and gave me an introduction to what it is, that I have never forgotten. He also introduced me to LA’s best fried chicken at The Golden Bird. Chico’s definition of jazz was pretty simple: “It’s the changes, man! Ya got to know the changes! That’s all.” After-hours jazz became popular at the Iopan; musicians dropping in after playing their own gigs.

Early Folk Clubs in Santa Barbara

There was a pizza bar up on the Mesa called “Bud’s Place.” The Terrytown Trio sang there a lot. And I think it was the place that saw the birth of The Mountain Dew Boys, along with the inception of the popular soft drink. The group featured Todd Grant on guitar, Chuck Flannery on five-string banjo, Phil Pritchard (The Kid) on bass, and Doug Sherwood on fiddle. They would set up on an old flatbed truck sporting hay bales and sing in shopping malls all over town. Naturally, their theme song was “That Good Old Mountain Dew.”

Either Todd or Chuck wrote this novel verse (I think!):

Why the science guys got hot,
they sent up an Astronaut,
he must’ve gone a mile or maybe two!
And if you wondered what propelled it,
all you had to do was smell it!
It was that good old Mountain Dew!

This group evolved into The Floyd County Boys, who are still bringing good bluegrass and country music to audiences today; over 40 years later. Now that’s a long gig! It was my pleasure over the years to share the stage with these good friends on rides in Orange County and with the Rancheros Vistadores in Santa Ynez, where we made many good friends and had some of the best times of our lives! We also sang together at Santa Barbara’s famous Fiesta celebration.

I became a member of a folk trio called “he Freeway Singers. The customers at Bud’s Other Place gave us the name by voting on it one night. The place was located on the corner of Milpas and Carpinteria streets. The group was made up of Riley Jackson on bass, Bob Hoffman on five-string banjo, and Robertson on guitar. We held forth there many a weekend and had a lot of fun imitating The Kingston Trio. Folks loved us so much they’d shout, “Go out and play on the freeway!” It was close by.

The folk evolution went from coffee house to beer bar as time went on. One of the great folk bars downtown was the Rondo. It was opened by a German couple and was then bought by Tony and Tim Townsend (The Townsend Brothers). I became a regular there.

Don Robvertson with Tony Townsend

Don Robertson with Tony Townsend

The Rondo was unique in several ways. You had to sit on the floor (pillows provided), and no clapping was allowed. Instead, customers were told to snap their fingers. If someone was really good, it sounded like a giant rattlesnake was loose in the place. There was a beer bar in front and a showroom in back with a stage. Behind that was a room for entertainers. In those days I was not a lightweight. I was rotund, corpulent, downright fat. Tim used to take great joy in yelling up at me on stage, “Why don’t ya paint USN on your sides and go hunt submarines!” He was always quick with a quip, but in reality he was a salesman…and beertender.

Audiences never tired of hearing Tony Townsend perform. Many of the songs he sang were ones he’d written, about all kinds of life situations, accompanied by his excellent guitar, banjo, and mandolin work. He was a number-one song weaver that led the audience on wonderful journeys into the fanciful and the real. He is an artist to this day.

The Earth was located off Milpas Street, down a long alley. One evening I opened for Hoyt Axton there. By chance, my parents, Don and Gertrude Robertson, had come into town. They had never heard me sing professionally. After I got off the stage, I sat down with them. My mother said, “I always knew we should have given him musical training….” My dad said, “You did very well, and the people seemed to like you.” Dad had been the leader of a small band when he was in college; played the violin. They didn’t say much more about it.

Gatsby’s—Santa Barbara lawyer Tom Salmon opened a Roaring Twenties theme club on Cota Street. It was the only bar in town that had a drum-fed .45 Thompson submachine gun on the wall behind the bar–1920s style. Salmon loved all kinds of music, including folk and Dixieland jazz. It was pretty noisy, but a fun place. After Gatsby’s, Tom opened John’s at the Beach in Ventura.

Don & Tina

I had met a talented woman named Tina Fletcher, and we decided to put a duo together. We worked long hours and learned a lot of good folk songs that featured some very tight harmonies. I had learned about different mountain harmonies from Peter Feldmann, and we worked toward a “sawmill” harmony in our arrangements. We also wrote some songs together. Several of them were about young kids, with us portraying six- and seven-year-olds. In another song they were eight and ten. Tina was raising two girls by herself. I loved that family with all my heart.

Late in our relationship we were invited to join a folk tour and drove to Kentucky to sing at Kentucky Wesleyan University in Owensboro. Some other acts had left before us on a bus. We were to meet them there. The others never showed up! KWU had no knowledge of any of us singing there! My parents wired some gas money, and I drove from Owensboro to Santa Barbara in a little over 48 hours in a VW bug against a stiff headwind all the way!

The last job we played was at The Commercial Hotel in Elko, Nevada, for two weeks, on a stage built behind the bar. After that, we parted company on returning to Santa Barbara. Tina traded singing for a paintbrush and proved that she was a fine artist as well.

Pure vs. Commercial

There were several big rivalries that were part of the folk scene. One of the largest was the hassle between entertainers that sang “pure” folk and “commercial” folk. Seemed to me it was a tempest in a teapot! There were a lot of purists that lived up on Mountain Drive in Santa Barbara. It was a very arty community known for its “Pot Wars” and “Grape Stompings.” They also turned out a group of incredible musicians.

A lot of musical talent from the Drive became known when Peter Feldmann bought The Bluebird Café. Peter was a self-taught ethnomusicologist who played everything with strings draped off of it, well. He also sang well. He not only knew about some of the best-known mountain instrumentalists and singers, but blues singers of all ilks. He featured many of them at The Bluebird. He taught Santa Barbara what purist folk music was all about. He also featured locals from the Drive. Big Jim Griffith offered a variety of cowboy and old-time mountain music. Kajsa Ohman sang alone or teamed up with Gene McGeorge and Peter as The Scragg Family. They were one of my favorite acts. Kajsa had one of the fastest picking hands going.

Don Robertson, bartender at the Bluebird Café, along with Misha and Peter Feldmann, 1972

Don Robertson, bartender at the Bluebird, along with Misha and Peter Feldmann

The Scraggs presented their audience with a great time; a combo of good clean comedy and wonderful pickin’ and song.  Peter also introduced me to Mance Lipscomb, Bill Monroe, Mike Seeger and his sister Peggy, and many other famous artists.

In 1963 I started a folk radio show, “Folk Sounds,” on KGUD FM One day Peter Feldmann dropped in, and became my permanent co-host. He educated Santa Barbara on how folk music evolved through the ages. We made several trips to the Monterey Folk Festival, meeting and interviewing some of the biggest folk acts of the 1960s there. Tony Townsend and I met Bud & Travis there at Denny’s late one night and had a good talk. The funny thing about that is, neither Tony nor I knew either one of them! I saw Bud come through the door, stood up and yelled, “Hey Bud! C’mon over and sit with us!” He did, andTravis was not far behind. Nothing like a little friendly assertiveness!

Some years after that I got to know Trav better than Bud. They parted company. But every now and then Travis came to play in Santa Barbara, and I’d always go see him. He played the Yankee Clipper on upper State Street one night. Two gals sat at the bar talking. Trav ended a song and one of them turned and asked him to play a song he was well known for. He agreed and went right into the song. The woman turned back to her companion and started talking again.  Travis got past the halfway mark of the song and just stopped playing, staring at the woman. She turned around with a stunned look on her face and asked heatedly, “Well aren’t you going to finish it?” Trav stared at her, shaking his head back and forth.  “Lady,” said Travis, “why don’t ya stick your thumb in your ear and go bowling!” The whole place roared with laughter and applause. The woman and friend stalked out. If you request a song from someone, you should have the common courtesy to clam up and listen to it! Just plain old common sense, wasn’t it?  Another night at the same place, the bartender managed to bug Travis. In turn, Trav locked the bartender in the club, somehow! The cops had to come and set him free.

Tina and I went to the El Paseo when we heard Travis would be performing there. We walked in with our guitars, having sung earlier for some kids. Travis waved us over to his booth. “Sit and have a drink,” he said amiably. “You two can do me a big favor, if you would. I just drove in from Colorado and I’m dead tired. Would you two do my show for me tonight? I’ll get up and introduce you, myself.”  We did three sets that night and at the end of it got a standing ovation! I couldn’t believe it! Tina and I went to see Trav work the following night. They stood and clapped for him too! Oh boy, did they!

Isla Vista

During the folk infusion, little clubs sprang up all over Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Isla Vista, the University of California’s bedroom-mate-community. I used to sing at a coffee house sponsored by Saint Mark’s Catholic Church there. I also recall Linda’s place, Borsodi’s, where most of us sang. At various times there were three or four coffee houses tucked away in IV: the Fishbowl, the Limbo, and Omtae, were a few (thanks Tony!).

Goleta

In Goleta, there was a very popular beer bar called the Nexus. It was a great place to sing. One night after it closed, it burned down! I recall doing an obit via telephone the next day from a booth across Hollister Avenue from the site for KIST radio.  But happily, the Nexus rose from the ashes, directly across the street from the old site, under new owners Jim Greenwell and Dave Daris. It was my favorite folk bar in Goleta at the time and also the place where I met Bob Lentz, who played jazz. We put some tunes together and enjoyed delivering them as The Bob Lentz Trio. It was a lot of fun; a lot of straight-out wingin’ it! Much beer flowed there; a lot of laughs, and good music. I think most of the Santa Barbara entertainers sang there.

Louie Velliotes had a place called The Timbers on the outskirts of Goleta. It was a very good restaurant that had a wonderful bar in the back. Outside of the great food, it was also known for its collection of newspaper articles and artifacts from the Ellwood Oil Field shelling by a Japanese sub in World War II. That site was located right across the 101 Freeway from The Timbers, fronting the Pacific Ocean. The Timbers opened in 1963, but folk music didn’t start there until 1966 or ’67 and flowed into the 1970s.

Louie was Greek, loved people, a good joke, good times, and good food always! One evening I popped in there and we talked. I asked if he’d like some music in his bar. He creased up his head and thought about it but never said yes or no. But Louie was a good businessman. I offered to come in and give a little show one night. Right away he said, “You betcha!”  When I came in, I unlimbered my 12-string and sat at the end of the bar. I asked the barmaid to tell Louie I was there. “Just start playing and he’ll be in,” she said with an impish smile. Her name was Karen. I broke into an opener, singing out in full voice.  Karen’s jaw dropped. Folks started drifting in from the dining room and ordered drinks. The growing audience gave me a nice hand.  Louie came and sat down the bar looking at the people who continued to come in, listen, order drinks, and applaud. He was now grinning. “You’re great, man! I love it!” he said, his head nodding up and down, “when can you start?” “I think I just did!” I quipped.

I don’t know how many years I worked for Louie. I got some other acts to come out and sing, and The Floyd County Boys were very popular there on the weekends. During the week you got Robertson. Eventually The Timbers closed. The CHP picked up more and more drivers leaving by hiding in the Union Oil station on the corner. It was like shooting fish in a barrel, with hand grenades! But Louie opened another bar on Hollister in Goleta called (strangely enough) “Louie’s.” I not only sang there but tended bar and made meatloaf sandwiches and high-powered chili at Lou’s famous barbecues. Between the two places, I came to know and love many of the steady customers and staff. Louie would throw a “Que” for any birthday, anniversary, or anything else that came to mind, at one of Goleta’s wonderful parks. A jam session was always part of those affairs, featuring musicians from all over Santa Barbara just having a good time together, and with everyone else.  Louie is still having “Ques” once a month just off the beach in Santa Barbara. He and his dad, Sam, taught me how to play pool. He taught his son and me how to tend bar…and a whole lot of people how to drink, and eat, and most importantly–laugh!

Cold Spring Tavern was the most picturesque folk venue in the county. The facility was a stagecoach stop and jail a long time ago. Audrey Ovington was the owner in the ’60s. She was a one-of-a-kind woman with a sharp mind and keen business sense. Her dad Earle was the first man to fly airmail. I sang there a lot in the middle to late 1960s.

The regular customers were a colorful lot: cattle ranchers, pig farmers, cowboys, and Indians. I learned to drink whiskey there. A fellow by the name of Gunner Johanson saw to that. He liked to buy the boys a drink, and if you didn’t join him in knocking one back, it was said he’d turn you into raw hamburger and roll you to the bottom of the ravine the creek had carved out. It was a long way down! Everybody drank with Gunner!  I was working up there one Sunday when the peaceful silence was shattered by the roar of motorcycles, a whole lot of them, snaking down Cold Springs Road from the top of San Marcos Pass. One by one they pulled in and parked; a rough-looking motorcycle gang. They wore colors and some had German helmets, others just bandannas tied around their heads. It was like something in a movie.  I’d never seen anything like it and wasn’t sure how to handle it! I walked out the door and started playing “This Land Is Your Land.” They all stared at me, even when I finished. Then one guy started to clap and they all clapped and whistled. Their leader liked it, so they all did too! Yep, it was right out of a script. They hung about for the whole set, then “Brando” got up and they all mounted up and roared away down the mountain. Bill the bartender came out, looked at me incredulously and said, “I can’t believe you did that! Come on in. I’ll buy you a shot!”

When The Floyd County Boys played outside there in the afternoon, people would get the word and flock to the place from both Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez. Cars and pickups would be parked up around the curves of the road and there would be a huge crowd jammed into very little space. The CHP became very upset with all that. Bill got hammered one day and kicked us all, crowd and performers, out. So FCB packed up, and there was a huge caravan on the 154 headed for Santa Ynez, where we unloaded, set up, and played until the place closed! Not one bar customer had stayed at Cold Spring! You never knew what would happen next up there. But it was always a good time.

1969

The Great Oil Spill took place in Santa Barbara on January 28, 1969. It killed off a lot of wildlife and made a mess of the beaches from Pismo Beach to Oxnard on the Pacific Coast. An anti-oil group called GOO (Get Oil Out!) sprang up, and Todd wrote a song that would become the unofficial anthem of that movement: “The Union Oil Song.” One of my greatest memories of that time was singing at a “Hoot” at Earl Warren Showgrounds. Someone passed a note up to us late in the show. It said: “See the guys in white shirts and ties in the front row? They’re from Union Oil. Sing it!” Todd and the group did just that, after dedicating it to those gentlemen, who became livid by song’s end, crying out, “Lies!” The crowd drowned them out with cheers for the song and well-directed “BOOs!” as the Union Oil contingent stalked out.

The 1970s

Rex Johnson is a fellow that liked to see different places and meet people he didn’t know. He always had a guitar on his back or by his side and wore a white porkpie hat. Rex could play it, blow harp, and could sing well too. We met each other at East Beach leaning against the wall jamming. It wasn’t long before we were working a various bars and the pier. Rex didn’t really make the scene until the 70s. But he was there for The Floyd County Boys 25th Anniversary! Everyone liked him.  One day we were playing out there and I saw a guy tie up a pair of dogs outside one of the restaurants. “Look at that will ya?” I said, “I bet those dogs can sing! Let’s see.” I started playing chords and yowling like a dog, quickly joined by Rex. The dogs leapt up from a prone position, immediately lifted their heads, and joined in. It sure was pretty. Their owner came smoking out of the eatery, yelled some things, shaking his fist, and rudely dragged the animals away! People all around us were really laughing hard. I turned casually to them and said, “Gee! I thought they were great, didn’t you?” Last time I heard from Rex, he was singing in Czechoslovakia. I really miss him.

Radio

Outside of “Folk Sounds,” Tina and I were invited to do a late morning show called “The Brunch Bunch,” geared toward women at home. The show was hosted by Anne Lincoln, a witty, well-educated woman who appreciated our music and shared it with her live and listening audience.

There was a wonderful Santa Barbara poet; an Irishman named Tom McGann. He already had a growing family, and his wife Diane informed him he would soon be a father again. Eight months into the pregnancy, Anne Lincoln decided to have a surprise baby shower On the Air. I wrote a song as my present: “Lullaby for Diane McGann.” Tina and I sang it in public for the first time on that occasion. It was also included on my record album. The baby girl that joined us all a month later has grown into a beautiful young lady, making her parents very proud.

Hal Bates, a popular disk jockey at KIST, loved music of every kind and was very well known in Santa Barbara. He enjoyed his life and mixed well with everyone he came across. He also helped a lot of local musicians, including me. Somehow my song, “Yesterday’s Rain,” magically made it to the top of the KIST charts…and stayed there for several weeks! I sure didn’t understand it, but later found out the old axiom “Money talks and BS walks!” was absolutely true. I honestly don’t know if Bates had anything to do with that. He was a friend. When I found out he had died, I cried. Indeed, he was everyone’s friend!

In Closing:

I know there are people I have skipped or forgotten here. Kenny Maytag comes to mind. He helped me to write songs and just plain live. There are entertainers that I have skipped over mainly because I don’t know enough about them, or they too will be contributing to this book. One of the groups was the Finch Family—George, Ray, and Rosemary Finch—who sang at a beer bar known as “30 West.” Their sound was pure and natural. I really enjoyed them a lot. Zarita also sang there. She had an operatic voice. Here was a woman with an operatic voice singing folk music into a mike taped to a broomstick! What an image! Is that class, or what? The owner’s name was Frank Heinz.

As far as I’m concerned, the 1960s were the best years of my life. It was the only time I was happy, the only time I ever did something I was any good at; the only job I ever loved!  People were more concerned with one another back then. It is the kind of thing we are witnessing today in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Folks concerned for those in need; wanting to help any way they can. But we really need to ask what is going to happen to all those who lost their homes, jobs; their ability to exist.

Over time, New Orleans will probably be rebuilt. Developers will buy up land destroyed or abandoned and build hotels, casinos, and business sites. A lot of money will be made. Those displaced will have little desire to return to The Big Easy. It doesn’t seem like things have changed much at all, does it?  As Dylan sang, the times they are a-changin! You better believe it! Look what has happened to our globe since the 1960s. A whole lot of Bad, and not a lot of Good. We should try to change that!

Yesterday’s grey clouds have scattered and gone. The sun rose this morning, a rosy pink dawn.

We met and we loved, but we’ll not meet again; except for the mem’ry of Yesterday’s Rain. ©DSR

Hope we can get together again. Many thanks to you all!

God Bless!

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The Sixties in Folk Music / 15. René Leyva

Playing Around

René Leyva

My first experience on stage was at an assembly when I was in kindergarten at 32nd Street School in Los Angeles. The most memorable part of this première was that after my brother and I finished each song, we kept saying, “and we know another one.” We were only supposed to do one song, and they couldn’t get us off stage. So I can honestly say that I’ve been singing ever since I can remember.

The next time of any significance that I remember performing was at the Thunderbird Dude Ranch in Palm Springs in 1949. What made this performance so memorable was that Bing Crosby was in the audience along with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. This was before “Thunderbird” became a nationally known golf course. At that time Palm Springs had only two golf courses in the area; now there are over 130 and still building. During those years in Palm Springs, I began to study the trumpet and marched in many parades on Palm Canyon Boulevard with the Frances Stevens Elementary School Band. I stayed with the trumpet for quite a few years, but on New Year’s Eve in 1964, I played professionally for the last time, at a club owned by Frank Sinatra. I knew I wanted to sing, and you could get hurt if you tried to sing while playing the trumpet.

Between those years, we had moved from Palm Springs to Santa Barbara, via a short stay at St. Agnes School in Los Angeles, where I played trumpet with the high school orchestra. What can I say—it was a small school. I could have said that I was so great that they needed me, but I’m sure that was not the case.

Once in Santa Barbara, it didn’t take long before my debut on stage at the historic Lobero Theater. My brother and I opened a variety show that was produced for “Fiesta.” The high point of the evening was when Governor Knight entered the theater during our first performance. Right in the middle of our song, the band broke into a rousing chorus of “God Bless America,” and I vowed to be a Democrat from that time on.

It was while going to high school in Santa Barbara that I first saw John Thomas (JT). I was the representative from Santa Barbara Catholic High to the Youth Recreation Commission at the Rec Center. During one of our meetings, John and his buddy provided us with a concert. I was hooked; it was all I could talk about for quite some time. When we moved to Santa Barbara, singing took a back seat to athletics. The sad part is that it wasn’t my decision. Yes, I still continued to study trumpet, and I continued to sing, but I was not doing what I knew I would always want to do. Like I said before, “we know another one” was my way of saying that I love the applause. Yes, I knew I wanted to perform from the time I opened my mouth. I lettered in football and baseball for three years, earning six letters. The reason I mention this is because it was a complete waste of time and caused me a great deal of pain. I was hospitalized twice for severe cerebral concussions and a broken wrist, followed closely by a fractured elbow. I look back on this period fondly, like a pleasant nightmare.

Anyway, I did take about four guitar lessons in 1953 from Secundino “Cubby” Gonzales there in Santa Barbara. Six years later I was stung again when I discovered a coffee house, the Noctambulist. It was there that I first saw and listened to Tony Townsend. I say “listened” because in those days we did listen rather than hoot and howl and make more noise than the performer. Tony played guitar, banjo, Autoharp, and mandolin. I recall he wrote most of his tunes but also did a lot of Tom Lehrer. That New Year’s Eve I spent listening to Tony; by then I was a regular. Every once in a while Tony would do a folk-type sing-along. On this particular night, among those of us singing was a typical Brooks Brothers-clad young lad named David Crosby. I thought he had a good voice, but that was all.

Being inspired by both Tony Townsend and JT, I picked up one of my dad’s guitars, only to look at it. I didn’t take the guitar seriously till about three years later when I teamed up with my brother and Todd Grant. If it hadn’t been for Todd, we would have had only one-half of a guitar playin’, but thanks to Todd, we had one and a half. I’ll never know why Todd put up with us, but I thank God he did. Like all of the above names, Todd had patience and was unselfish in leading me on.

Somehow or other I learned one chord, then two, soon followed by a third. I was on my way. Voilà!—with those three chords and a capo, I got my first job as a singer/guitarist. My first gig as a soloist was playing during cocktail hour at the then-“World Famous El Paseo” in Santa Barbara. When I say “first,” I mean this was the first time I got paid for my trouble. The pay wasn’t much, but the experience was invaluable and one I’ll remember fondly for the rest of my life. I was earning ten dollars a night singing from 5:00 till 9:00 (no, not 9:00 to 5:00 like real people) Monday through Friday; and on Thursday nights I’d join a three-piece group as a stand-up singer. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights I’d work from 5:00 to 9:00 alone, then from 9:00 till 1:00. I learned more during that time from some wonderful musicians.

The leader of the group was Val Zuniga, a marvelous musician and teacher who has since left the planet. One night he said he’d have to send in a substitute—what can I say, but in walks Leroy Vinegar, a jazz legend who is best known for his association with Les McCann. What a time we had. Another time we were doing the floor shows that we’d have to produce during Fiesta week, at which I would be the MC. During those shows we’d have Spanish dancers, flamenco guitarists, mariachi groups, and naturally I’d sing a bilingual ballad or two. One time, we had in the audience the great José Greco, who had been featured on the Ed Sullivan Show quite often. I made the great mistake of asking him, without clearing it with our featured performer, to come up and do a number for us. When everything finally cleared, we were left without a show. It seems that among those who dance, José Greco is not held in very high esteem. Evidently José Greco isn’t Spanish at all; he is from Puerto Rico. I could go on, but I’m just beginning to realize that this is more than anyone needs to know.

The most important event that happened to me while performing at the El Paseo was on a weekday night when it was very slow and I decided to take a break and go for a walk. When I returned, I could hear that someone was playing guitar and singing. Being insecure, I quickly assumed I was about to lose my job. The little I could hear told me this guy was much better than I, so I gathered up some courage and walked in to see who it was. Not only was this guy singing, but he was playing my guitar. I had been used to all of the Mexican trios and mariachis walking in carrying their own instruments, ready to play. This is something, though, that I never got used to. It seemed to me quite rude, and I must say that I’ve never done this.

Anyway, I turned to see who had my guitar—and was stunned. There before me was my idol, Travis Edmonson. I had heard of Bud & Travis a couple of years before from an old friend of my father’s, Lalo Guerrero. Sitting with Travis was a local beauty I’d known for some time in Santa Barbara, Patty Devaney. God bless her, she was beautiful.

Travis was very polite as is his custom, and I quickly felt like a jerk. We sat and talked, then we just started singing some old Mexican songs together right there at the table. I don’t remember what time we stopped, but I do know it wasn’t till after 4:00 in the morning, because the cleaning crew had come in.

This was the first of many long, wonderful sessions with Travis….

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The Sixties in Folk Music / 14. Phil Pritchard

Bass Man

Phil Pritchard

Henry Phillip Pritchard–known as Phil. Born January 3, 1947, in Yuma, Arizona. I lived in Carlsbad, New Mexico; Clovis, New Mexico; and El Paso, Texas. My family and I moved to Santa Barbara, California, in 1950. My father was a heavy equipment operator and got a job working on the Bradbury Dam project. Mom fell in love with Santa Barbara and said, “This is it. We’re not moving anymore.” After El Paso, who could blame her.

I have an older sister, Francis, and an older brother, Michael. We all grew up listening to Country and Western. When we finally got a TV, we watched “Cal’s Corral” and “Town Hall Party”—live C&W. At some point we got a little RCA 45 rpm record player. I remember there being a good selection of Country and Western and Rock-and-Roll: Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog,” and the Everly Brothers. I noticed some 45’s actually had four songs on them. One of my favorites was a Country record by Eddie Arnold. On one side it had “Cattle Call” and “Got An Angel On My Shoulder.” The other side was “Just a Bummin’ Around,” and I can’t remember the other unless it was “Down In The Caribbean.” These songs—on the records, on the radio, and on TV—had a major influence early on in my life musically.

My music career started at a young age. Right—I bet every person in this book says that, but it’s true. My first performance was in a barbershop quartet at Hope School in the first grade. The quartet consisted of Donald Nunn, Tony Rose, William Levy, and me. It was a special show in conjunction with the local Barbershop Quartet Club or something like that. I don’t remember how or why the other three and I were chosen. It might have had something to do with the real adult quartet that was there. On stage, the adult quartet reminisced about when they were kids singing together. The stage lights faded out and came back on—and there we were—handlebar mustaches, bowler hats, the whole deal. One of my little buddies was sick that night just before the show; maybe a case of cold feet. The three of us did a great job—we belted it right out. We sang “The Syncopated Clock.” I still have the Santa Barbara News-Press picture of us getting our makeup on. I wanted to keep the mustache, but they made me give it back.

Next up was the Goleta Boys Club Drum Corps. I was a marching snare drummer. There were about twelve of us—eleven snares and one bass drum. We traveled all over southern California playing in parades. My first Santa Barbara Fiesta Parade was with these guys. That was around the second grade. What a lot of fun.

I started the trombone in the third grade. I played it in school bands to the end of the ninth grade. My parents must have gotten tired of hearing me blow on that trombone, because at Christmas when I was 12, they gave me a steel-string guitar. It was a Silvertone, auditorium size, arch top, “F” hole, cable action guitar. The action was so stiff, I don’t think I ever played a clean-sounding first position “F” bar chord the whole two years I had it. After that I stepped up to a Kay brand flat top. Much easier to play.

My mom set up guitar lessons right away with a lady named Ann Tischer. She didn’t play the guitar herself. Actually, she was first viola with the Santa Barbara Symphony. It didn’t matter, she was a very good teacher. I would go to her house on Saturday mornings and she would have me sit with my guitar at the piano, on the piano bench. Mrs. Tischer had two large Siamese cats that hated my guts. They would sit way too close and sometimes growl at me. Those two big cats scared the hell out of me, and she knew it. Sometimes she’d say something like, “I’d like to see you work a little harder on your key signatures,” or whatever, and then give her huge, bloodthirsty cats a sweet little smile. Mrs. Tischer helped me learn any song I wanted to learn. In the process, she taught me to read treble clef. She also made me memorize all key signatures. She made me learn all the chords for all the keys and their relative minors and learn how to figure it out myself in case I forgot. When I got my first string bass at 14, Mrs. Tischer was my teacher. No, she didn’t play bass either. I really owe a lot to Ann Tischer.

Me N Ed’s Pizza Parlor was just down the street from my Boy Scout troop’s meeting hall. I loved Boy Scouts, but I couldn’t wait for the meetings to end so I could hurry over to Me N Ed’s to watch Bill Dodds. Bill played the piano and sang. For solos he’d reach over and grab his cornet or valve trombone and play a great break, never missing a note with his left hand. He really wailed. One evening I finally spoke with him. “Ah…Mr. Dodds…I play guitar.”

“That’s nice, son, But you know, you really should learn the string bass. There just aren’t that many string bass players around. You’d be in demand all the time. You could probably work your way through college. You don’t want to be a baseball player or a football player. They’re seasonal. You want to be a musician. They’re popular with the girls all year ‘round.”

I was sold. It just so happened that my assistant scoutmaster, Mr. Don Becker, had his old string bass for sale because his wife had bought him a new Bavarian bass for his birthday. I think I paid $125 for it. This bass was old when I got it. It’s a “King Morton” by E. B. White Co., Chicago, Illinois. It had obviously been played a lot too. I was very blessed to get this bass. Not only is it loud, but it’s got great tone to boot.

Mr. Henry Brubeck was in charge of band and orchestra at San Marcos High School. I played bass in the orchestra from ninth through twelfth grade. I also played in the dance band. I don’t know why they called it by that name—I don’t remember ever playing a single dance. Our sheet music was old swing tunes from the forties. I loved it. Mr. Brubeck gave me the guitar chord charts instead of the bass sheet music parts: “Pritchard, I want you to learn how to create your own bass parts.” Thank you, Mr. Brubeck. Thank you. He knew what he was doing.

I used to have an old Zenith radio from the twenties or thirties. It stood about five feet tall and about two feet deep. It had three speakers and a rich tone. I’d crank it up and play my new bass with the songs on my big radio. This was an enjoyable and challenging way to learn string bass. It was also a very fast way. Sometimes I wouldn’t quite be in tune with the next song, so I would have to tune very quickly—which was also good practice. I would do that for hours at a time.

The first professional job I had was with a band called The Starlighters. They had been together for quite a while before I met them. These guys were already very accomplished on their instruments. There was Todd Crow on piano, Fal Oliver on drums, Bob Iorio on either baritone or tenor sax, and Eddy Avakian on alto sax. We played dances at the Cabrillo Auditorium and other places. I think I met these guys in the summer between ninth and tenth grades. I used to hang around Bonnie Langley Music Store quite a bit, playing her guitars. Bonnie didn’t mind me playing her guitars, but she told me that if I was going to do that, then she wanted me to tune them. All of them. Every time I came in. My kind of job. One day while tuning Bonnie’s guitars I met a guy named Bud Boyd. He said he played guitar too and that he played folk music with a guy named Todd Grant. Somewhere along the line I mentioned that I played the bass. With little time lost, I was soon practicing with Bud and Todd. I was 15 and they were both 22. This was the beginning of the Terrytown Trio.

We used to practice in Todd’s basement over on the east side of Santa Barbara. We practiced long and hard, usually past midnight, and then play weekends. Sometimes it made it pretty hard to get my schoolwork done. By eleventh grade we were playing three nights a week at George and the Dragon in Ventura. Two of those were school nights. I can’t believe my mom allowed me to do that. There were two other acts besides us, so I would do as much homework as I could in between shows. George and the Dragon was the first place I saw live Bluegrass. This would have been about ‘63 or ‘64. I don’t remember their names, but they were good. They really impressed me with their tight harmonies and precise picking. One night I saw them in the dressing room all together. I just wanted to tell them how much I really liked them. I blurted out, “Hey—you guys are pretty good.” I didn’t mean for it to come out like that. I think I pissed them off.

One of the things I liked about the Terrytown Trio was the close harmonies. As much as I enjoy singing, I don’t consider myself much of a singer. Todd Grant and Bud Boyd have good voices. They blended well. They also made me sing. I was just a kid and had no choice. I got stuck singing all the high parts—a burden I still carry today.

Of all of the places that we played locally, I think the Nexus stands out the most—probably because we played there the most. We also met a lot of other folk singers there. It would be impossible to remember everybody, and I would hate to upset anyone by leaving out a name. Let’s see, I remember The Channel Singers. a trio composed of Ernie Brooks on string bass, John Thomas on guitar, and Howard Pelky on 5-string long-neck banjo-—fun group. There was a beautiful blonde lady, Sheri Geiger, who played the guitar and sang. There was also this skinny, foul-mouthed woman with short, dark hair who didn’t have a lot of patience with the audience. Words that started with “F” were some of her favorites. The Nexus is also where I met my friend Don Robertson—“Big D.” What a voice. What a songwriter. What a guy. Years later I played on his album—mostly his songs. We’ve played a lot of fun music together over a long period of time.

Who could ever forget Tony Townsend once they’ve heard him. I remember Tony as the most professional-sounding folk singer in our area. Tony played great guitar, had a great voice, and wrote super songs. He would play and sing his songs perfectly. Todd Grant and I had the honor of backing him up on a couple of occasions.

The Terrytown Trio was together for about two years—two fun and exciting years for a high school student. We played everywhere and everything, from my high school to bars, pizza parlors, a female prison, the Troubadour, coffee houses, colleges and universities, The Ice House, and hootenannies. I think “hootenanny” is just another word for folk music festival.

In the summer of 1964, Todd Grant and I started playing Bluegrass with a banjo player named Chuck Flannery, from Kentucky. Forty years later, The Floyd County Boys are still at it. But that’s a book in itself.

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The Sixties in Folk Music / 13. Todd Grant

I guess it all started when I was about 10 years old. That would have been 1951. Lots of Hank Williams on the radio, Ernest Tubb, Benny Goodman—you remember the days. I lived on the east side of town, down a dirt road. Summer was three months of beach and Sinseri’s hamburgers at the harbor. I refused to wear shoes all summer, except for Sunday’s church service. My grandpa would drive my bros and me to church in an old Buick. He rode herd over us until afternoon, then the ties and shoes came off for another week. My heroes were the cowboys in the movies (not a Willie song), and I loved Gene Autry and the songs he sang. I still enjoy the old Western songs to this day.

My mom dropped a hint to Uncle Fred and Aunt Anna Lambourne to find a guitar for me, and they did. For my birthday that year I was given a new tenor guitar. Uncle Fred was the golf coach and music teacher at Menlo Boys School in Palo Alto, and he was a great musician. He wrote out some chord patterns as well as music notations for my practice time. Mom helped me with the learning of the songs. My mother says that the next school day I had “guitaritis” and stayed home and played all day. The first song I ever learned was “Streets of Laredo,” next were “Waltzing Mathilda,” “The Fox,” “Old Faithful” (written by Red River Dave), “High Noon,” “Vaya Con Dios,” “When It’s Roundup Time In Texas,” and “I Love My Rooster.” My Burl Ives songbook came next, and my love for folk music was now in full bloom.

By the time I was at Santa Barbara High, I was playing and singing at small parties. Elvis was going strong, and soon … The Kingston Trio. Wow!! I loved that sound. My Uncle Fred later told me he had two young men in his boys’ chorus by the names of Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane who always remembered his efforts to perfect the voices of the chorus members. Later on at The Nexus in Goleta, I was performing with The New Group, and Bob and Nick came in. The Kingston Trio had been at UCSB, and they were looking to party in Santa Barbara. We were about done for the night, and I rode with them and took them to a party on Conejo Drive. The party was a typical Saturday night bash, complete with beer and young women. I never saw them again … but I followed their career with interest.

I jumped ahead a bit. Singing around at parties and out of high school, I met Byron (Bud) Boyd. He was a tasty classical guitar player with a really nice voice. He and I could harmonize instantly. This would have been about 1962. One afternoon he showed up to practice with a high school kid and his bass. This was the first time I ever laid eyes on Phil Pritchard. Soon, with three-part harmony and that solid bass, we became The Terrytown Trio.

We were always busy and traveled around Southern California. Some of the clubs that featured us: The Ice House in Pasadena with Hoyt Axton, The Golden Bear in Hermosa Beach, The Meeting Place at Mount SAC College, and The Troubadour near Hollywood. We were often at The Nexus in Goleta and did many a week night in Ventura at the George and The Dragon.

We were always at any Hootenanny and met and performed with all the local folk singers. What a great group of talented people. My fond recollections include my dear friend Don Robertson; Tony Townsend; The Scragg Family; The Channel Singers—John, Ernie, and Howard; Cecelio Rodriguez; Bill Thompson, an a cappella singer whose voice would fill any room; and Chuck Kaiser, flemenco guitarist. René Leyva and brother Bert and I would sing together as a trio. Again great harmony from these two brothers. Later on René would become a great friend, and I would duo up with him many a night. Phil Pritchard remembers “Donna, Donna” as a song on our list.

Phil and Todd

Bud Boyd was called to the mission field by his church and left for Finland in ‘64. Phil and I would back up other singers or play two guitars and sing. Soon, though, we hooked up with Howard Pelky and The New Group was born.

The New Group

I really loved working with Howard Pelky. His influence on me was always positive and he was ready to practice anytime. Phil and I learned what it was like to have a banjo in the band. We would play the “old Nexus” and many private parties. I remember Howard’s version of “Roddy McCorley” and “Wild Mountain Thyme.” The crowds were loud and raucous and would sing along with us. We were a good solid group at that time.

Don Robertson

I first met Don in the Rondo at a hoot. I loved his voice and delivery of songs. We would play at various locations and got to know each other. When Phil and I were doing duo work we would sit in with Don and play backup and sing behind him. I was doing a lot of finger-picking style guitar in those days, and it fit well with Don’s songs. Phil and I would go into the studio with Don and help with his album, Yesterday’s Rain. Don Robertson is a great songwriter, and I have always loved his songs. He is truly an icon of Santa Barbara Folk Music.

The Floyd County Boys Bluegrass Band

This would shape and define my part in folk music. In 1964 I went into carpentry apprenticeship and would work 40 hours a week for a contractor and go to school two nights a week at SBCC. In this class we were seated in alphabetical order. On a typical night we would study and ask questions and take tests. I had bought a C.F. Martin 0018 guitar that day from Bonnie Langley Music. I did not want to leave it in my truck, so I packed it into the class. At break, a cabinet-making apprentice asked if he might play it . I said “Sure” and I met Chuck Flannery from Floyd County, Kentucky . He told me he played banjo, would I like to jam. I said “Yes” and “Oh! I work with a bass player.” This would start a 40-year journey for The Floyd County Boys.

Floyd County Boys, 1966. Chuck Flannery, Doug Sherwood, Todd Grant, Phil Pritchard

Floyd County Boys, 1966. Chuck Flannery, Doug Sherwood, Todd Grant, Phil Pritchard

We started as a trio. I was learning bluegrass guitar and songs as fast as I could. I would get home at night and listen to Jimmy Martin, The Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Doc Watson, Hilo Brown, and De Wayne Ware fiddle tunes. Soon Chuck, Phil, and I were showing up for any kind of hoot or jam, just to pick and sing. We teamed up with Tom Goux and were regulars at the new Nexus, across the street from where the old Nexus had burned down. There was a stage at the back corner of the room, and people sat on the floor. I remember David Diaz and Jim Greenwell were the owners. The band would tune up in a beer storage area near the stage. Then Dave would stick his head in the doorway and say, “Two minutes show time.” The room was live and the crowd would listen to all music and jokes. It was here that I met Travis [Edmonson] as he was about to do his show. One night after our usual Friday or Saturday night, Dave told us he didn’t take in enough money to pay us. Chuck chased him around the room, ready to punch him out. He somehow found the night’s pay and we went home with our money.

Tom Goux went away to school and we were back to the trio. I remember appearing at a coffee house in Isla Vista called “Borsodi’s.” Our trio fit well there. College kids liked bluegrass back then, and we were the real thing. I still remember working on the Bank of America in Isla Vista –I was on the crew that built the vault. I would sit on a pile of forms at lunch time and pick my guitar. Soon I was joined by a mandolin player, Jim Pelzner. He lived in IV and we would go to his place and jam bluegrass tunes after I got off work. This all brings to mind the pizza parlors. Folk music was featured quite a bit in pizza parlors. The Floyd County Boys entered a Pepsi-Cola search for talent contest. Still a trio, we worked our way up to the top tier and won the contest. Soon we were on the back of an old Model T Ford flatbed as The Mountain Dew Boys. We would play weekends at supermarkets all around the county and locally weekdays … really fun stuff.

We met Doug Sherwood and added fiddle to the band, and we would go on to perform at Knotts Berry Farm, Norco Bluegrass Festival, Venice Bluegrass Festival, Topanga Canyon Banjo Festival, Cal State Expo, and many, many more venues all over the USA. Doug moved and Peter Feldmann joined us for eight years. We started our recording with Pete. Next, Carl Blevins was on fiddle and mandolin as well as harmonies.

The Coffee Houses, Clubs as I recall them:

The Rondo – a feeling of no-nonsense performances and acts. When at the Rondo, a person better be ready to present the songs as rehearsed and as polished as possible. I am not implying that it was rigid, but all those performing were at the top of their games. Tony Townsend was always so professional and smooth. The stage was in the corner of the room and people would sit around the stage, with a side room with tables that could see the side of the stage. The entry was small and opened into the main room. The Terrytown Trio played here several times with other groups.

The Nexus—a former walnut-shelling building in Goleta, had a great atmosphere, with the entrance on Hollister Avenue (it is now Taco Bell) and a back entrance. This drew not only the UCSB group but some of the local drinkers too. I don’t remember the owner’s name, but he was a decent guy. The customers would sit at low tables, and the stage was in the corner as you entered the building. This was a rowdy crowd into quaffing large amounts of beer and singing along with the band. I remember one afternoon when everyone was tanked, The Terrytown Trio took the mike stands, moved them to the back of the stage, and turned our backs to the crowd and did almost a whole set to the wall. I can’t remember if this made any difference at all to them.

This was the place where Bud and I had our Goya guitars stolen—heartbreak time for us. We had left our cases in a hallway that led to the rear exit. Someone just waited for us to get done singing, put them back into the cases, and walk toward the front to get a Coke—and then they grabbed them. Not too bright on our part. This would set me up for a lifetime of always knowing where my instrument is at all times. Phil and I would do many shows there with The New Group, and the stage was moved to the center of the room by then. This building was to burn down later, and a new Nexus was opened across the street.

The new Nexus was a large room with a stage near the rear of the building. From the stage I could see all who were entering the club. It would fill up by about 8:30 and the group would start at 9:00. When there was a special event, like Travis, people would stand in the back along the entry and watch the show. The Floyd County Boys were a regular event, usually always on Fridays and Saturdays .

The Establishment on Milpas Street – This was a small one-room club and coffee house with the stage against the back wall as you walked in. It was lit with candles and had some art on the walls. The sound system was a bit sparse, but there would be an enthusiastic group in there on weekends. They would listen to all you had to offer.

Don Robertson, Phil, and I would alternate sets and then get together for a threesome to end the night. I also remember a young blues guitar player named Tim Williams in that club. I think he went on to cut an album of his music. Later this club was called “The Earth.”

The Iopan was a total atmosphere. The mood was really great in there—I remember watching a woman who had written her own music and thinking how I wished I had that talent. I do not remember her name. The building was quite unique on the exterior. Very warm and inviting place. I didn’t perform with Phil or Chuck there, but I think I did some guitar backup behind Don at some point.

George and the Dragon was on Main Street in Ventura. This club was in keeping with the times—tables and chairs and a stage with a curtain. Good crowds and a mellow atmosphere. The shows were usually 40 minutes long, and then another act would follow. The Terrytown Trio was there Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights for a while. This is where I first heard bluegrass music live. I can’t remember the name of the band, but I think it was some of the Kentucky Colonels Band. Great!!

The Noctambulist was in the little alley right at the Lobero theater. Sit on the floor and the stage was at the far corner. I remember listening to many local artists there. Drinking hot cider with cinnamon sticks. Kind of dark, lit with candles and low lights. A true coffee house.

Baudelaire’s – This was 10 East Cota Street, formerly Ali Baba topless bar. This is where you would find late-night music and Hal Bates. The Terrytown Trio did many a night here. The format was hoot oriented. A group would get up and do a set, then a single and another group. It was mainly a bar, and the atmosphere was one of drinking. Hal Bates was a master of ceremonies and a master of getting the public in the door. I really don’t remember getting paid in there, but it was fun anyway.

Mountain Drive was a real folk scene. The folks were living it right on the Drive. There was what the locals called Happy Hour. It would be at a different home, house, tent, property, or a bend in the road. All would attend—young and old. Ed Schertz would have a keg of York Mountain Zinfandel that he would bring down in an old pickup truck from Templeton, or someone would have something else to drink or smoke. If there was a pool or a hot tub nearby, all would disrobe and get wet. Being a guitar player and singer, I would attend many of these functions and sing. At this time in my life I was living with my wife and two children in a dormitory close to Westmont College, just off Cold Springs Road. I rented the top half of the dorm, and Doug and Leal Grant were in the lower half with their family. We all used to go down to Summerland and watch The Scragg Family at the Sandpiper. When the Mountain Drive folks would have a “pot sale” (ceramic, that is), Peter Feldmann and the Scraggs would provide music. If one would buy a vessel at the sale, the wine was free.

UCSB has always been a folk music resource for locals. I have played many a night at a function or a campus night coffee house. Set up with stages and couches, dim lights, and a sound system, even an unused classroom can be converted to a folk venue.

I will agree with my good pal Don Robertson—these were great times. I remember a rally for the Southern Christian Leadership Council up at SBCC—out on the lawn, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Barbara harbor. We had speeches, music, poetry reading, and fund raising for a group who were going to march on Washington, DC, in protest for equality for African Americans.

When that same ocean and harbor were oozing with oil slime, and birds and seals were washing up on shore dying, Phil Pritchard and I wrote a song for the rally to the tune of “Penny’s Farm.” We called it “Union Oil.”

I went for a walk on the beach last week, the oil and the tar was a coverin’ up my feet, coverin’ up the birds and the seals and the sand, offshore drillin’s done ruined our land. It’s a hard times in the county, thanks to Union Oil.

©Union Oil/T. Grant, P. Pritchard

I have written about the many local folk scenes that I was involved in during these years, and other things were happening as well. Bars are what come to my mind—small local bars who would hire a folk singer or group or a bluegrass band. The Canteen on Anapamu Street would have Chuck, Phil, and me in there on weekends—no P.A. system and a tip jar. This later became known as The Bluebird Café. Duffy’s Tavern on upper State Street—Phil was 19, and we had him in a bar pickin’ and singing.

Having said all that, I am reminded that the folk song process is always with us. All we have to do is pick up a pen and write about something that impassions us or just stick with a type of music and share this with others.  My involvement in these years leads me to yearn for more, just to hear a song sung with guitar and bass and harmonies—simple, honest delivery and the sound of truth in the voices makes me want more.

I still get up there and sing, play, and harmonize. You can find me pickin’ with a group of bluegrass musicians at the Farmers Market, or in a recording studio with a new songwriter, practicing at my desk, learning new songs or writing my own. On Sunday you can find me in the middle of the worship team praising our Lord Jesus.

Folk music has blessed my life—I pray it has blessed yours.

Todd
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