The Sixties in Folk Music / 18. Sheri Geiger-Odenwald

From Blue Onion Carhop to Folk Singer

Sheri Geiger-Odenwald

I was on stage for the first time in 1960 at the Noctambulist in Santa Barbara at the age of 14. I was married and already pregnant with my first child, Theresa. I had known from the age of four that I was going to sing or dance. I didn’t play an instrument, but folks were glad to back me on songs like “Summertime” and “House of the Rising Sun.”

By 16, I was divorced (my husband had run off with a woman who owned a Jaguar) and I had a two-year-old and a nine-month-old child. I was singing at the Nexus, putting my kids to sleep on the pizza table in the kitchen so I could sit on the stage and sing with all of the best of the best in Santa Barbara.

I had so many heroes then: The Floyd County Boys, The Channel Singers, and Don Robertson, who gave me my first guitar. I was working as a carhop at the Blue Onion. After work, a bunch of the local musicians would gather in the parking lot, sitting on cars, and have jam sessions. It was then that I finally felt I was really going to be a singer.

I took my two young children to Hawaii to stay with my mother, who was then married to her fourth and last husband. She gave me a place to get my new life together, a job, a place to live, and a babysitter. I joined a band called The Elites. We did more practice than anything else, but we did play some of the service clubs on the Islands. I also worked at the Geedunk, the eatery at Pearl Harbor for enlisted men. “Sherry Baby” was a hit at the time, so all the guys would come in singing to me as they ordered their lunch. It was a very special time in my life. All the band members were in the service and they often went out to sea. Eventually, the band just disappeared.

I was “discovered” on the beach at Waikiki by my future managers, Hank Bryan and Al Cohen. They put me together with a paramarine named Tom (Pussycat) Taylor, and we were now known as “Tom and Sheri.” Hank and Al also handled another duo named Forrest and Randy. We all played the big clubs around the Islands. We became quite well known. When Tom was out on maneuvers, I performed by myself. I had three gown changes a night and jewelry that had to be locked up at the end of the night. I signed autographs and even met the astronauts.

I returned to Santa Barbara, and my manager, Hank, moved to LA. Shortly thereafter, Forrest moved to Santa Barbara and Hank put us together. We played at the new Nexus, as the old one had burned down. I was so proud to do lead-ins for the likes of Joe & Eddie, Travis Edmonson (of Bud & Travis fame), and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary even sat in on one of my sets. Forrest and I often traveled to LA to push our original songs. We were almost picked up by a couple of major labels, but it never quite happened. We married and continued to sing together in Ventura. When the twins were born, he got a real job and I continued on by myself. I performed in Ventura at John’s at the Beach for a few years.

Forrest was a great father, but we were now living more as brother and sister than husband and wife. We divorced when the twins were three years old. I left him the house and furniture, took the kids to the Santa Ynez Valley, and began my life there as Sheri Geiger, performing at Mattei’s Tavern, which had started out as a stagecoach stop. I let my hair grow long and I watched as my four kids thrived. I sang there until it was sold to the Chart House. I also sang at the Mollekron in Solvang and at the Union Hotel in Los Alamos. Then I got a gig at Cold Spring Tavern. I lived on the river by day and sang at the “Tav” by night. I also went into Santa Barbara and sang at Ace Diamond’s Teaser. I moved around a lot in those days until I actually lived in the cabin across the street from Cold Spring Tavern. Four kids in two rooms!  Those were some of my best years, both musically and in time spent with my kids. I learned a lot about building my own fires. Chopping the wood and building the fires from scratch—the only heat we had. It is a good memory, but I’m happy to have a thermostat these days. When I went to the mountains, I left the TV behind. In our house we played music, backgammon and chess, and had great conversation.

After Cold Spring, we moved to Cambria. I had been under some major stress, raising my kids by myself. No child support and singing five and six nights a week to make ends meet. I moved to Cambria with a friend and severed my ties with the Santa Barbara area. I told no one that I was a singer. I took my first real job at the desk of the Cambria Pines Lodge. The wonderful man who played piano and sang there, Howard Davis, became very ill, and the manager found out that I sang. She asked me to fill in till he got better. Well, that never happened. So I began singing again. I also tended bar and did the front desk as well. Good years. New and wonderful friends. I sang at the Lodge, as well as Corfino’s at the Holiday Inn in San Simeon, just north of Cambria. What fun those days were. I held a Talent Night every Wednesday and got the good, bad, and the ugly. It was especially fun when Highway 1 closed down, which happened more often than not in those days. Also, power outages were fun—sitting in the dark with friends and strangers singing and trading stories.

I met the Love of my Life in Cambria and married him. My wonderful Lee. He built me a home and we are living happily ever after. My kids are now grown and we have three grandsons: Tyler 12, Cameron 7, and Lil Eli 4. They are the light of my life. I am still singing and have written many songs along the way, to document the story I have told.

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.

This entry was posted in Santa Barbara Folk Music: The 1960s and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Your comments are always welcome!