The Sixties in Folk Music / 19. Russ Johnson

The Big Debut. . .

Russ Johnson

In the summer of ’62, Peter Feldmann was performing at Mephisto’s, which was a restaurant in the basement of the building that had previously housed the YMCA. The owner, Dave Bernheimer, wanted it to be an upscale eatery, which couldn’t have been easy given the location.

Peter asked me to fill in for him one Friday night, and because I had zero experience performing, I tried to turn him down. Peter persisted, and I gave in.

My other friend, Bill Thrasher, conspired with the owner to provide some publicity for my debut. Bill was a great guitar player with a talent for drawing. He concocted an ad for me and, unbeknownst to me, had it printed in the News-Press.

That evening when I got home from work, Bill’s wife Maggie asked me if I had seen the newspaper. I looked and was shocked. Bill had drawn a cartoon of me singing and playing the guitar and, though mortifying, it was so funny I could only laugh.

At least the customers couldn’t say they weren’t warned. Since no one asked me back, that was my one and only performance in a very short career as a folk singer.

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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