The Bluebird Café – 50 Years

Bluebird, Street view

The café, looking towards State St. at 33 W. Anapamu.                                                                                           

The Bluebird Café, founded by Peter Feldmann in late 1971 , was a major venue for the musical and theatrical arts in southern California in the 1970s. Located on West Anapamu street in Santa Barbara’s downtown area, it became a place for local musicians to display and develop their talent, and gave touring groups a popular venue to perform while traveling between Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Conceived as a café, it served a fine, American / Swiss menu, originally designed by Peter, with home-style cooking and a variety of beverages, drawing on California wines as well as domestic and imported beers.  “Music and food go together”, as Peter often declared. But that, in a way, was its cover story, for the Bluebird’s real mission was to form a center and school for acoustic music of all types on the central coast. Folk, Cajun, blues and bluegrass all found a home there, along with early country and a smattering of classical, jazz, eastern, and experimental musics.

Peter built the café around — and catering to the requirements of  — musicians, with a practical custom-designed sound system, comfortable stage with lighting, and a ready welcome for the wandering minstrel.  Peter’s thought was “..Make the musicians happy; they’ll play great music, and the audience will come…”  There was music of some sort almost every night, from open mics to singer-songwriters, jazz, blues, and bluegrass bands, old time music, Indian classical music, and even a little light opera, drama,  and experimental sounds.  Musicians not only performed there, they comprised a large part of the staff.  It was a place to exchange musical ideas and try out new acts.  performers included Hazel Dickens, The Scragg Family, Lamar Grier, Mance Lipscomb, John DuBois, Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party, Any Old Time String Band, The Cache Valley Drifters, Pat Cloud, Amya Das Gupta, Big Jim Griffith, John Hartford, Flash In The Pan, Alice Gerrard, Jon Lazell, Jess and Leonard Sutton, Jerry Higby, Furry Lewis, Johnny Shines, Earl Collins, L.C. “Good Rockin'” Robinson, Byron Berline & The LA Fiddle Band, Mike Seeger, and many, many others.

In order to reach out to the local music community, the Bluebird featured a regular “Open Microphone” night once each week, giving everyone with a song a chance to sign in and share an opportunity to try it out on our stage. Soon, performers were arriving from near and far to strut their stuff.  Of course, their friends came along to watch and join in the festivities. The place was packed! Musical visitors from San Francisco to San Diego arrived regularly as the word spread. Our bartender and “sort of” maître ‘d Don Robertson often acted as Master of Ceremonies, announcing performers and filling numerous pitchers of beer meanwhile. Of course, some of these musicians became regulars at the ‘Bird.

In June, a reporter from the then-weekly Santa Barbara News and Review stopped by to sample the music and food and to interview Peter and his partner Joslyn Wellman. Click on the thumbnail to read the entire article and check out the photos.

Bluebird article June 1972

Bluebird article June 1972

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To give you a glimpse of what it was like watching a show at the Bluebird, here’s a nine minute segment from a performance by The Floating House Band, Bobby Kimmel (of The Stone Ponies, Shep Cooke, and Kit Alderson – all regulars at McCabe’s Guitars in Santa Monica.
Remembering Rock And Roll . . . The Floating House Band

The Bluebird also had movie nights, Mondays or Wednesdays, where fans could drop by to watch classic films while having a burger and a beer,
Movie flyer 
Movies at the ‘Bird; 50¢

Here is the Bluebird, shortly after opening . . .  welcome!
Bluebird Café, staff and customer.

Bluebird Café, staff and customer. Click on photo.

Other Bluebird performances . . .

Peter Feldmann, Kajsa Ohman

Peter Feldmann &  Kajsa Ohman

 

 

 

Rovin’ Rambler.

Johnny Shines

Johnny Shines

 

Station Blues
Johnny played four days at my club, staying with me and my family
and attempting to teach me the ways of slide guitar playing, I admired
his patience. He insisted on watch his favorite show, Hollywood Squares, before packing up and heading for the club with me.

 

The original Bluebird was sold in mid – 1974 to “Robby and Lyle”, who kept the place going about 3-4 years longer. Nineteen years later, I opened a second iteration of the club, but it lasted only a year due to various complications, eventually becoming the current Soho music club. We did have a fine group of performers there, including Marley’s Ghost, who presented the following song one Sunday afternoon.

Fiddlers’ Green – Marley’s Ghost

 

Running the café involved endless work. I recall staying an hour after our closing time of 2:00 AM, only to have to return at 6:00 AM to get ready for the breakfast crowd. I couldn’t have done it without a lot of help from family and friends, including my wife Marianna, Tommy Chung, owner of Jimmie’s Oriental Gardens, who taught me a lot about running a restaurant, My first partner, Jocelyn Wellman, Jon Lazell, who built our amazing cylindrical speaker system with sixteen Bose speakers per column, driven by old Dynakit tube amps. Chris Strachwitz, DK Wilgus and Ed Pearl for connecting me up with wonderful musicians, craftsmen friends who designed, built, and installed fine redwood benches for our audiences, John McGibbon, who helped with electrical work, Gene McGeorge, who – besides fiddling with the Scragg Family, built our outdoor sign, and an anonymous porn film maker from LA who contributed to our stage lighting in exchange for a pitcher of beer.

I forgot the jukeboxes! We had three in operation simultaneously, which led to some confusing moments: A Rockola wall-mounted machine for 45s, A Seeburg 100-M, the first to play both sides of the 100 78’s it contained, and a Wurlitzer 700 machine from 1940,

Peter with Wurlitzer

Peter with Wurlitzer jukebox

which now graces the studios of BlueGrass West!. I remember the Ravi Shankar 45 singles I wore out from playing while moping the floors & bathrooms and washing glassware at 2:30 in the AM.

One thing I found strange: of course, many people mention the Bluebird to me after re-connecting after all these years, but puzzling that so many proudly recall crawling into my club on all fours, simply to avoid paying the cover charge – which was usually 50 cents! So, they loved my club, but went to considerable effort to cheat the musicians they were coming to see. A real study in the human psyche.

Thanks for reading this exploration of memory. If I think of anything more worthwhile to say, I’ll add a page for you. Comments welcome.

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Whiskey Flat – Jam Session 1965

Twin Fiddling

Del Baker and Dean Trammel, twin fiddles; Art Chambers, banjo Peter Feldmann photo

 

I drove up to Kernville (Lake Isabella CA) in February, 1965 to record a fiddle contest promoted by the local Chamber of Commerce. The event, held as part of Whiskey Flat Days, was held in a large circus tent seating about 300. Following the “official” contest proceedings, I spoke to several contestants and asked them to stick around if they could, and play more tunes for our recorders. Several of them agreed, and were joined by a couple of spectators that had brought instruments. I’d read some books on collecting techniques, but I had folklorist DK Wilgus with me (originally from the University of Westyern KY, now of UCLA, one of the best!), and he demonstrated to me how to remind our “informants” (what people as music sources are called) of songs and tunes they might know with minimal mental nudges. A small crowd had gathered as we began our journey of discovery . . .

Art Cambers of Tennessee

Art Chambers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We both agreed that Art Chambers, a two-finger stylist on the five string banjo was a special gem among the people there. Art had accompanied Fiddlin’ Van Cunningham in the contest, and he was rarin’ to go to demonstrate some of his  banjo showpieces.

BUCK CREEL GALS / 8TH OF JANUARY

Art, originally from Tennessee, had joined the navy as a lad, and wound up stationed in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii for many years. A very musical guy, he’d listened closely to several fine Hawaiian musicians, and had worked up this next tune in their honor.

HAWAIIAN MARCH

Art had a pleasant singing voice and put it to good use in this classic, then quickly added the notorious Cacklin’ Hen. Anyone spending any time around chickens will recognize them in this solo banjo showpiece.

BULLY OF THE TOWN / CACKLIN’ HEN

Del Baker, of Bakersfield added his verions of the tune Jack Of Diamonds, AKA Rye Whiskey, a waltz in open A tuning (AEAC#). Dean Trammel accompanied him on guitar.

JACK OF DIAMONDS

 

Dean Trammel, fiddle

Dean Trammel, fiddle
Peter Feldmann photo

Maiden’s Prayer, a fiddle showpiece popularized by Western Swing star Bob Wills, here performed by Dean Trammel, fiddle.

MAIDEN’S PRAYER

 

Art Chambers sings and plays Greenback Dollar (part of the East Virginina / Silver Dagger song family). He’s accompanied by Del Baker and Dean Trammel on fiddle and guitar. Someone, unfortunately, is stomping his foot here in a time signature known only to himself.

GREENBACK DOLLAR

 

I believe Art called this number Cripple Creek, but it has an unusual front end to it.

CRIPPLE CREEK ?

By this time, it was getting near midnight in the circus tent. The man in charge of the oil heating device had turned it off, and temperatures were dropping rapidly (we were up in the mountains, and it was near the end of February.) The generator operator had graciously provided power for us, but it seemed time to go. DK and I thanked everyone for sticking around. We got phone numbers, and packed up our recorders. I was invited back by both Art Chambers and Van Cunningham for further visiting and recording sessions. As I find them, I’ll try to post highlights.


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CONVERSATION: Rodney Dillard

The Dillards - 1963

The Dillards – 1963 [photo: Peter Feldmann]

I was contacted recently by a publicist for Rodney Dillard, who has released a new digital album on Pinecastle titled Old Road New Again.  Rodney’s band for the project includes the current Dillards, plus Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Herb Pederson, Ricky Scaggs, Sam Bush, and others. She asked if I had time to do an interview via the phone. I hadn’t seen Rodney for about a dozen years, so I replied “Yes . . . as long as he’s wearing a mask!”

I first saw Rodney, along with his brother Doug, at the 1963 Monterey Folk Festival. That was a major event to me, as it was the first folk music festival of its type I attended, and it was filled with many performers from the traditional part of the music, Roscoe Holcomb, Mance Lipscomb, Bill Monroe, Tom Ashley,

Clarence "Tom" Ashley

Clarence “Tom” Ashley [photo: Peter Feldmann]

and many more. Nowadays, there are bluegrass, rock, blues, Cajun and many specialty festivals, but this one, and others I attended in the early 1960s was very much all-inclusive. That was an important lesson to me in the interdependence and cross pollination of the music. So yesterday, Rodney gave me a call and we discussed the Dillards, various kinds of music, California music, Branson, quantum mechanics, and life in general. Have a listen! 🙂

1. Rodney calls. We get started.

Doug Dillard

Doug Dillard, 1963 [photo: Peter Feldmann]

2. “Folk Music” and what came after; the L.A. music scene in the 60s.

 

Rodney & Doug Dillard band

Rodney & Doug Dillard band, Goleta CA 2007 [photo: Peter Feldmann]

3. Rodney tells of his arranging skills, keeping the band going with an array of personnel , work in Branson, his reunion with Doug, and digital recording problems.

TV Test

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Television experience: Andy Griffith Show, Judy Garland (!), Johnny Cash show appearances and show biz experiences.

The Dillards, Monterey 1963

The Dillards, Monterey 1963 L-R: Rodney, Doug, Mitch Jayne, Dean Webb, plus Roscoe Holcomb & Roger Bush. [photo: Peter Feldmann]

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-Peter Feldmann

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Kernville CA: Whiskey Flat Days Fiddle Contest!

By early 1965 I was finishing up my degree in Biological Sciences at UCSB as well as totally immersing myself in the California folk music scene, performing, collecting, teaching. A friend in Los Angeles told me about a fiddle contest being staged near the end of February in the mountain region known as Kernville, up highway 178 from Bakersfield CA. Always seeking the music, I decided to drive up there to record the event on tape if I could get permission. I called professor DK Wilgus at the English Department of UCLA and invited him to join me. I’d first met DK at the Monterey Folk Festival of May, 1963 and been impressed with his more academic approach to the music. Later, when I founded my own fiddle contest, the Santa Barbara Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention, DK, one of the first academics to realize the importance of commercial 78 RPM discs of country music as documentation,  was invaluable as a source of help and acted as our MC for the first 10 years or so.

DL Wilgus

Evvy and DK Wilgus, UCLA
Michael Mendelson photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We arrived about half an hour before the contest began, and took the opportunity to set up our recorders and microphones. No one had any objections to us making recordings, and I had access to an electric outlet for my Roberts 190-HT mono tape machine. The event was sponsored by the local chamber of commerce and took place in a large canvas tent which held about 300 people. A stage, some rudimentary lights, wooden folding chairs, sawdust on the floor, and a very basic PA system: one mic and two speakers, completed the scene.

Introduction: Contestant #1 Del Baker

The MC was a local businessman, and three judges had been invited (not their first time there.) There were nine contestants in all, a very mixed lot! There were a couple of Old Pros, Buddy McDowell of Reseda, CA and “Cherokee Edna” from Paramount, CA. Besides their fiddling styles, you could tell they were “in the biz” by their costumes, a country-cut suit with boots for Buddy and a turquoise blue outfit for Edna, studded with rhinestones and felt applique cactii and fiddles, outlined in silver thread. A couple of retired men who lived in the area, three ranchers / farmers from the Central Valley, and a traveling folk singer, originally from Oklahoma (Mike McClellan.)

Buddy McDowell – Walkin’ The Floor – electric fiddle

Dean Trammel – Old Joe Clark, acc. Del Baker, guitar

Dean was a Cherokee Indian man, ca 40 years old, who lived in Earlimont, up Hwy 99 from Bakersfield CA. More of his fiddling may be heard on the Kernville Jam page in this blog.

Dean Trammel
at fiddle contest, Kernville, Calif.
ca. 1965

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L.D.Moshier – Black Mountain Rag

This tune was the tune of choice for three fiddlers in this first round of fiddling (see contestants Del Baker and Van Cunningham, who called it “Sooky Pied”).

Louis E Paul – fiddle scratch

There’s always a comedian in the bunch. Here’s ours, a “professional character” from around town. “Wormy Annie’s Place” was a junk store in nearby Bodfish.

Cherokee Edna – Arkansas Traveler, electric violin

Accompanied on electric guitar by Buddy McDowell.

Fiddling Van Cunningham – Sooky Pied

I subsequently made trips to Lake Isabella to visit with and record both Van and Art Chambers. Van told me he was originally from Oklahoma, where he and three brothers performed on early radio as “The Cunningham Brothers”.  Van had injured his left arm as a carpenter. The injury to his tendons prevented him for closing his fingers(!) He was not discouraged, and had worked up a contraption to wear which used elastic straps to close his hand, so that he was still able to play. Accompanying Van was two-finger banjo player extraordinaire Art Chambers. We’ll have lots more to say about him in a succeeding page here at Pete’s Place.

Art Chambers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First and second place winners ($150 / $75 respectively) were Buddy McDowell and Cherokee Edna. We’ll add a closing solo violin piece by Cherokee Edna. This is just a sampling of the pieces performed. Space precludes inserting all of the pieces played that evening.


For a CD, high fidelity copy of all the performances, contact:
[ Peter@BlueGrassWest.com ].

Cherokee Edna – Fiddle Boogie, electric violin solo

Thanks for reading and listening!

-Peter Feldmann, Santa Ynez CA August 2020.

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The Folk Music Revival (Monterey, CA 1963)

Part of my Musical Meetings series . . .


By the end of 1962, I was resuming studies in biology at UCSB and hard at work programming a weekly radio show on a new station in Santa Barbara, KGUD-FM (99.9 on the dial.) They were attempting an ill-advised venture to bring a country music station to Santa Barbara, CA, a town often described as the “Home of the Newly-Wed or Nearly-Dead.” Marketing-wise, it was not a great fit with a community of  giant estates, Rolls-Royce’s, and golf links in Montecito, along with Mexican style Cantinas and primordial surfboard shops on the Lower East side. KGUD ran ads in the News-Press with the copy:

“Welcome to KGUD Kountry! — We’ve eliminated all the raucous banjos and squawky fiddles, and play only REAL country music!”

Taking this as a challenge, I talked their program director into a regular show of folk, old time, and bluegrass music. My partner in this show was Don Robertson, who could be described nowadays as a singer-songwriter. In those days, he called himself a folk singer. After a month or two, I got word that someone was presenting a folk festival in Monterey,  featuring a wide range of performers, to be held in the third week of May. The station manager wanted me to get an interview with a new young star, Bob Dylan. I talked him into sending the two of us up north for five days, with press passes and motel rooms, to cover the proceedings. I packed a couple of Leicas, and borrowed a small tape recorder, along with a match box to hold my clothes. Don and I drove up together in his Dodge Dart. There’s much to speak about during that extended weekend, but this page is devoted to a panel discussion, held Saturday morning, May 18th. I’ll get to other things later.


The Panel begins . . .

After a full night’s music the night before, I managed to get into a large meeting hall early that morning to set up. The small Sony recorder I’d brought had an add-in microphone, but with only a seven foot cord! I had to sit immediately in front of the stage, shifting the mic from one participant to the next (hence the occasional scraping)  as the event took place. It was a 7-inch reel-to-reel, half track machine, but I had only one reel of 0.50 mil  tape left!

Participants of the panel in Monterey.

The Folk Revival Panel; author in front of stage w/ recorder.

[1] The introduction was given by professor D.K. Wilgus, who had recently joined the English/Folklore Department faculty at UCLA. By the time the talk began, there were about 150 persons in the audience and the electricity and excitement of the moment was palpable. DK sets the context and does great Master of Ceremonies work, managing the flow of talk and music amid this array of folk artists.

DK Wilgus

Professor D.K. Wilgus

[2] John Cohen, a founding member of the  New Lost City Ramblers, who was just beginning his career as folklorist and ethnographer, presents his views on what is now happening in the folk music world. His brand new film at that time The High Lonesome Sound, was shown immediately after the panel finished. John poses the question: What am I, a city person, doing performing and studying rural music?

John Cohen, Penny Seeger

John Cohen with Penny Seeger, Monterey 1963.

[3] Roscoe Holcomb, from Daisy, KY tells his story about learning the music, first on mouth harp, then banjo.

Roscoe Holcomb with guitar

Roscoe Holcomb

[4] Ralph Rinzler. later to become director of the Smithsonian’s folk festivals, talks about his life and interviews Bill Monroe. “It turned out to be bluegrass music.”

Ralph Rinzler, Bill Monroe

Ralph Rinzler, Bill Monroe

[5-A] Bill Monroe talks about playing mandolin (like baseball!) & introduces Doc.

Bill Monroe & Doc Watson 1963

Bill & Doc, photo by Peter Feldmann, 1963.

 

[5-B] Bill Monroe and Doc Watson play Bill’s tune Get Up John.


[6] DK Wilgus introduces Clarence “Tom” Ashley, Columbia recording artist from 1927, from Shouns, TN.

Clarence "Tom" Ashley

Clarence “Tom” Ashley

[7] Tom Ashley describes his relationship with Frank Walker, A&R man for Columbia Records, and how he introduced Walker to Lassie-Makin’ Tunes.

[8] How lasses are made in the hills of Tennessee

[9] East Virginia Blues – Tom Ashley’s version

[10] Doc Watson, on his first ever visit to California, sings Dream Of The Miner’s Child.

Doc Watson set list in Braille

Doc Watson’s set list in Braille

[11] Mance Lipscomb, sharecropper from Navasota, TX. (Photo from a three-day visit with the author.)

Mance Lipscomb, from Navasota Texas, 1964.

Mance Lipscomb, from Navasota Texas, 1964.

[12] Roscoe Holcomb, and his version of East Virginia. Compare and contrast with Tom Ashley’s piece, above.

[13] Billy Ray Lathum and Clarence White, of the Kentucky Colonels talk about bluegrass.
Closing remarks by D.K. Wilgus.  Thank you all!

Billy Ray Lathum

Billy Ray Lathum, w/ KY Colonels


This panel, and later interactions with many of the participants that weekend and in years to come, made a tremendous impact on me and my love for and views of the music. It truly was a life-changing time for me and I’m happy to share these moments with you.

PLEASE NOTE! All material, photographs, and recordings are copyright by Peter Feldmann 2020. If you’ve enjoyed this page, please consider becoming a sponsor to help us continue to bring the best in folk, old time, and bluegrass to the web.

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