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.

About Peter Feldmann

Peter Feldmann has long been a musical mainstay in Santa Barbara and Southern California. Besides actively performing bluegrass and old time music with a variety of groups, Peter is also known as a bluegrass historian, collector, music consultant, teacher, and producer, both of live concerts and radio/tv programs throughout the area. His music has been heard in clubs, concerts, saloons, universities, pre-schools, at weddings, wakes, parties, barn-raisings, calf-ropings, rodeos, auctions, fund raisers, wine tastings and chili cook offs. Peter founded Santa Barbara's Old Time Fiddler's Convention (1972), UCSB's Old Time Music Front (1964), and The Bluebird Cafe (1971). Through these and other outlets, he was the first to bring many prominent folk, blues, and bluegrass artists, including Bill Monroe, Mance Lipscomb, The Stanley Brothers, The New Lost City Ramblers, Fred McDowell, Furry Lewis, Rose Maddox, the Balfa Brothers, and many others to the Santa Barbara area. Peter also helped others access the music by teaching privately, and in group classes for Santa Barbara Continuing Education, UCSB Extension, and McCabes Guitars. He was the first on the West Coast to produce and market instruction Lps - three on How To Play Country Fiddle, and one each on Clawhammer Banjo, and Maybelle Carter Style Guitar. He still presents lectures on country music history at UCSB, Santa Barbara area libraries, and for various interest groups, festival workshops, etc. In 2006, he presented his monograph titled "The Big bang Of Bluegrass Music" (describing the origins of bluegrass 1938 - 1946) to the worlds first International Music Symposium at the University of Kentucky at Bowling Green. He has also been very active in radio, television, and film work, producing weekly shows on country and bluegrass music over a 21 year period on various commercial and public stations. Peter currently maintains three music-related websites, a music blog, and an entertainment service company, "BlueGrass West!", based in the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. Peter performs tunes and songs from the heart of America's musical treasure chest. His shows can include fiddle, guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Well-known as a historian and teacher, Peter is first and foremost an entertainer, sharing his respect, energy and love for the music with his fellow musicians, friends, and audiences.
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