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.
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.
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.
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.