The Sixties in Folk Music / 11. Gene McGeorge

When I first met Peter Feldmann in Santa Barbara in the early 60s, I had been playing in a Mariachi band with some of my fellow construction friends. My style was too classical-formal (after five years of childhood training), but they put up with me.

The other musical background I brought with me was early exposure to what we then called “hillbilly” music—Bob Wills, Hank Williams, etc. Later, in college, I listened to Burl Ives and John Jacob Niles. Peter thought maybe I could learn to play folk music, and he recruited me.

Gene McGeorge, Peter Feldmann1964

Gene McGeorge, Peter Feldmann 1964

As I look back forty years, I feel that none of the things that followed would have been possible except for the time and the place. The Beatniks had already happened, the Hippies were on their way in; LSD was everywhere, pot was as common as a pot on Mountain Drive. The Scragg Family was formed, at Peter’s direction, and we played at Mountain Drive Pot Wars (where they sold pottery, not pot) and for holidays such as Robert Burns’ Birthday. From there we went as far south as Summerland and a place called The Sandpiper, where we had great fun .

In those early days, Kajsa was the professional of the band. She had played for money, in folk clubs and the Monterey Folk Festival, also many times at the legendary Ash Grove, which was one of the prime showplaces in the west for traditional music. She had a following, and connections. After she used some of them, we found ourselves playing for larger, more sophisticated audiences. I think they liked us partly because Kajsa was already known as an amazing flat-picker and had a voice naturally suited to the “high lonesome sound” of Appalachian music. The rest of us were not too disruptive. Maria Cordero was beautiful and had a voice to match—she sometimes was singled out by ambitious agents as our possible star. Tom Sheldon on the guitarron was a person everyone liked; he was quite theatrical and filled the bass part well. Peter was already talented on at least three instruments and had a humorous style of presenting us. Other Mountain Drivers, such as the entertaining and charismatic Bill Neeley, added to the band when we played in Santa Barbara. For myself, it was a rediscovery of my musical appreciation. I was learning; I was forming a personal bond with Kajsa; and, as I said, it was the 60s.

One day Kajsa said, “Let’s get a bus and travel from town to town and make music.” I showed up the next day with a 52-passenger school bus, thanks to Doug Bernie. The motor was shot, but the bus made it as far as a field in front of Bobby Hyde’s place (he was the founder of the Mountain Drive community), where I installed a rebuilt motor. A little paint, and soon the band—now just Peter, Kajsa and me, along with our new baby and older son, and Peter’s girlfriend—were on the road. By the time we got to Reno, no town had shown any interest in hiring us, or even letting us play for free. Our luck changed in Virginia City, and we got a house job at the Red Dog Saloon, for ten weeks. Then we went on to play casino gigs for the rest of the summer.

One memory stands out. On our days off, Kajsa and I and the kids would drive the bus somewhere out of Virginia City and camp. This time, we found a spot on the Carson River, with only one other bunch of campers there. They turned out to be a hard-luck country picker, his Indian wife, and their five kids. When we started playing after dinner, he grabbed his guitar, walked over to the bus, and joined us. That was one occasion when it really seemed like FOLK MUSIC. We wanted him to come to the Red Dog sometime and sit in—which he did. After the show, his oldest son came to us and sheepishly asked if they could borrow some gas so they could drive back to their camp.

The Scragg Family bus at the McGeorge cabin, Philipsburg, MT.

The Scragg Family bus at the McGeorge cabin, Philipsburg, MT.

As a result of that trip, Kajsa and I bought a section of land in the mountains of western Montana, and that became our home. Kajsa formed a band called “The Rough Riders,” which included me. We played all over the northern Rockies, returning to California to play in McCabe’s “Best Ten Bands in the West” concert, as well as to make guest appearances at the Palomino and Troubadour in Los Angeles. Kajsa went on to pursue her own career as a songwriter. And twice we came back to Santa Barbara for a Scragg Family Reunion, once at the Bluebird and once at Peter’s Lobero Theater show.

Kajsa and I still play, but not often—just this week I got out my fiddle to practice for an upcoming event and discovered that the top has come loose from the sides in the dry air of Santa Fe. At present I am soaking a few parts in water, hoping it will hold together long enough to play a few more songs.

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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