The Sixties in Folk Music / 12. Maria Cordero

My first exposure to folk music was in my dance class. My dance teacher, June Lane, brought in some Pete Seeger—some songs that we created dances to. From there I started listening to various sources of folk music, like Alan Lomax selections from around the world, music from the Matto Grosso and Scandinavian fiddle music, and music of Bulgaria, and Koto music, and Japanese folk songs, and all kinds of stuff like that. I then started listening to, of course, Pete Seeger and The Weavers, and Theodore Bikel, and people like the Hi-Lo’s, whom I considered to be a folk group, and The Limelighters and The Kingston Trio.

Then, I guess that was about the time that I started going to coffee houses. The first one I went to, and actually worked at, was called The Noctambulist, which was across the walkway from the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara. That was a favorite place for theater people, because of course it was right next door to the Lobero, and then the sort-of beatnik types—and the nice thing about it was that younger people could go there and hang out because there was no alcohol served. That was one good thing about coffee houses—people of all ages, including younger people, could go there and hang out until, I guess it was at least two o’clock in the morning, sometimes later—I forget. I was a waitress there, and that was where I heard Tony Townsend sing and play for the first time. I heard songs like “Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair” and “Greensleeves,” and “They Call The Wind Mariah,” and “The Bells of Rhymney.” It was extremely exciting to hear that kind of live-performance music. I know that Tony got all of the material off records; that was where most people lifted all of their repertoire. Later he started writing his own material.

The Noctambulist was one of the first, if not the first, venue for David Van Cortlandt Crosby. He also performed at the Iopan. He had a mellow tenor, a good range, and a dramatic presence. Unfortunately, his repertoire was a bit on the somber, bordering on depressing, side. Not great for business, if I remember correctly. And in those days he had a tendency to chat on between songs. But he surely could sell a song. He’s also a good actor.

I got into that whole scene, and from there my friends and I just sort of started making the rounds of places, like the Rondo, that was one, and then there was one out in Isla Vista—I forget the name of it—and of course there was the Iopan. I worked there and lived there for a short time, which was really nice. Working there was fun and exciting, and then I could just go upstairs and crash in my really nice bedroom—it was big, with a high ceiling, and had this wonderful ambiance to it because it was an old Victorian building. The original built-in washstand was in the room, and I thought, “How, sort of, quaint.” I worked for the Berners, and they were very nice—I thought it was good of them to let me sleep in the house. It was perfect, because I was always exhausted and had no place else to go, so it was great to just be able to work there and be part of the “in” crowd. You were very “in” if you worked there and even more “in” if you lived there: “Oh yeah, my bedroom is upstairs,” and that sort of thing, so it was really cool.

Baudalaire's on lower State Street.

Baudalaire’s on lower State Street.

Then I guess it was after that that I got involved with The Scragg Family. I don’t remember how that came about. I knew Ed Schertz, who lived on the property where Gene McGeorge and Pauline McGeorge lived. My girlfriend of long standing, Mary Lynn, was living with Ed or about to be living with him, and Ed at that time was living in a teeny little trailer on that property. Gene and Pauline’s was sort of a hub for activity—parties and hanging out around the pool. Then Ed moved out, and Peter Feldmann moved in, to that teeny-tiny trailer. Peter Feldmann was a big old-timey and folk music connoisseur; he played guitar and was learning to play the banjo and the fiddle. He met Gene McGeorge, and Kajsa happened along—I forget where she had been, but I knew the name, and she had a sister, whose name I forget. Anyway, Kajsa showed up from I don’t remember where, and was a great musician—a superb guitarist—and they played folk songs and Greek songs. She had quite a repertoire, and she and Peter got together, and then Gene McGeorge played the violin, which is different from the fiddle. Gene had a rather standard semi-classical background of violin playing. Later on, he learned fiddling technique. He and Kajsa and Peter started playing together, and I, somehow or other, started playing and singing with them. Now, I played terrible guitar—I played what they call rhythm guitar, or second guitar, I guess you might say. It was just chords and strumming, and I wasn’t very good at that either. But I was able to make the chord changes on time and had a good sense of rhythm anyway, and I could sing—not in the real, very down-homey style that they would have preferred, I think, and I didn’t really think about it much. I guess I just sang the way I sang, basically, and didn’t try to put a persona on it.

The Original Scragg Family, Mountain Drive, Santa barbara, CA 1962.

LR Front: Kajsa Ohman (Ruby), Maria Cordero (Sally)
LR Rear: Gene McGeorge (Seth), Peter Feldmann (Hanley), Tom Sheldon (Josiah Leviticus).

I think at the time I felt a little bit self-conscious about trying to talk in that kind of hillbilly style and singing in that style, making it sound like I was a down-home girl from the Appalachian Mountains. So I kind of passed on that presentation and just did my own, and I think, looking back on it, that it never really did blend as well as it could have, although it was unusual to have two female voices in a bluegrass group. Most of the time it was male voices all together or one female voice, but two female voices singing and harmonizing together was unusual, and that was nice.

Anyway, so we played just for the fun of it, really, and we started performing at a place called The Sandpiper in Summerland; and those were really fun times. They sold a lot of beer at that place. We filled the house, I guess it was Saturday nights, and of course all of our friends from Mountain Drive would come down and line up at the bar and fill the joint and drink a lot of beer, and everybody had a really good time. I guess we played a couple or three sets a night, and got ten bucks a night each, maybe, I forget, but the money wasn’t the important part—that part of it was all kind of forgettable. At that time we had Tom Sheldon—and what a sweet man he was—who played bass, but it was really a guitarron, which is a big bass stringed instrument from Mexico.

Then for another short time we had Bill Neely, who I guess thought it was just a big performance piece, when really it was more about the music—especially for Gene and Kajsa, who were very, very concerned about the quality of the music. Bill just wanted to put on a show. I forget if he played an instrument; he did sing, but he sort of played the buffoon also, doing his version of how he thought a hillbilly would behave and speak.

So we played at The Sandpiper and we had a gig at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, and we played one New Year’s Eve there [opening for Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee-PF]. I don’t know how that happened—I guess Peter was the one who was doing the business end of it. He was very good at that. He was bold and brave, and it was nothing I could ever have done, but he took care of business, which was really great—and we ended up there.

After that we all just kind of drifted away. I ended up in LA for a short time, looking for acting work. I didn’t get any work that round, but eventually did at a future time, and that’s a different story—but anyway, we all went our separate ways. By that time Gene had divorced his then-wife Pauline and he and Kajsa got together, and Gene and Kajsa and Peter stayed in touch and went on to do, I guess at that time, a record. They did some concerts, I believe. They did one at the Lobero and some concerts here and there, and did a little tour, I think. I really don’t remember that much about it and I didn’t really hear much about it either. I was in San Francisco and LA and they were toodling around doing stuff, so that was about it as far as the folk music scene and my involvement and participation as a performer and as an observer and audience member.

I eventually ended up in Oakland, and I was working at a daycare nursery there for young children when I auditioned for the first San Francisco production of “Hair,” which actually was the third one, I believe, in the country.

And that’s another story.

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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