Musical Meetings: Rocky Adamson

Rocky Adamson, The Singing Constable of Dayton, NV

Constable's Office, Dayton, NV

Rocky with his 1918-style campaign tent he used as his constable’s office in Dayton, NV 
Courtesy Laura Tennant collection.

In September of 1967, my band, The Scragg Family had been the house band at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, for three months and we’d  continue through October. It’s about 3+ hours’ drive from the haps at San Francisco’s Haight/Ashbury, where they were busy with their Summer Of Love. We perform shows at the Dog six days a week; afternoons for the tourists and evenings for the locals.

Nevada Political Ad, ca 1940.

Rocky Adamson came up from Dayton to see us,  in living color, though seemingly right out of a black and white John Ford film: Stetson hat, blue denim shirt, blue jeans, tall cowboy boots that have seen some wear, and a bright red bandanna. He orders a whiskey, watches our show, and introduces himself: “I’m Rocky Adamson, out of Dayton, down Six Mile Canyon. I like your music and I was wondering if you’d like to hear some cowboys songs.” I told Rocky that, seeing as how I’d been raised since a 7 year old kid on Tex Ritter songs, I’d like nothing better! I also told him we have cowboys in Switzerland, but they work on foot, as there’s not much room for horses! He laughs. I ask him about his life and music. I ask him if I could record a few of his songs and he agrees, providing I help him do some cowboy work, doctoring a sick  steer.

Rocky politocal ad

An ad for Rocky, running for re-election as town constable. Courtesy Laura Tennant Collection

We agree to meet one Monday evening at Sutro Saloon, a bar made from an old machinery warehouse at the site of the famous Sutro Tunnel, east of Dayton. (You can see the exterior in the photo used for our front page logo.)

I set up a microphone and stool for him and get my tape machine ready. Rocky asks that I play some mandolin with him, but I keep it low key, since it is his music I want to record. A few friends stopped by and we had a fine song session. Here are a couple of songs recorded that evening.

Sutro Saloon

Sutro Saloon, site of the recordings. Peter Feldmann photo.

Songs by Rocky, ca. October, 1967. Roberts 1/2 track mono recorder, Sony F-97 microphone.

Tying Knots In The Devil’s Tail was composed by Gail I. Gardner of Prescott, AZ in 1917, and has now entered into the oral tradition. It’s a song about a couple of cowpokes who go on a spree on Whiskey Row, a string of saloons in old Prescott, well known to Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and their compadres. And who do they run into but the Devil himself!


Yavapai Pete was composed by another Arizonan, Curley Fletcher, most famous for his song The Strawberry Roan. It’s the story of a cowboy n’ere do well superhero, who — down on his luck — encounters a “she grizzly bear”. Our hero isn’t a bit fazed and turns his bad luck to good in the encounter. The song has become known throughout the West, but to northern cowboys not familiar with Arizopna’s Yavapai County, the name has been changed, eg. in Montana, it’s known as Iron Pants Pete.

For those of you who’ve enjoyed Rocky’s songs, we hope to shortly release a CD with several more songs, along with other music recorded up in the Sierras and California’s Central Valley. Contact us if you’d like to be informed when the CD project is finished. Thanks for reading!


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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