I guess it all started when I was about 10 years old. That would have been 1951. Lots of Hank Williams on the radio, Ernest Tubb, Benny Goodman—you remember the days. I lived on the east side of town, down a dirt road. Summer was three months of beach and Sinseri’s hamburgers at the harbor. I refused to wear shoes all summer, except for Sunday’s church service. My grandpa would drive my bros and me to church in an old Buick. He rode herd over us until afternoon, then the ties and shoes came off for another week. My heroes were the cowboys in the movies (not a Willie song), and I loved Gene Autry and the songs he sang. I still enjoy the old Western songs to this day.
My mom dropped a hint to Uncle Fred and Aunt Anna Lambourne to find a guitar for me, and they did. For my birthday that year I was given a new tenor guitar. Uncle Fred was the golf coach and music teacher at Menlo Boys School in Palo Alto, and he was a great musician. He wrote out some chord patterns as well as music notations for my practice time. Mom helped me with the learning of the songs. My mother says that the next school day I had “guitaritis” and stayed home and played all day. The first song I ever learned was “Streets of Laredo,” next were “Waltzing Mathilda,” “The Fox,” “Old Faithful” (written by Red River Dave), “High Noon,” “Vaya Con Dios,” “When It’s Roundup Time In Texas,” and “I Love My Rooster.” My Burl Ives songbook came next, and my love for folk music was now in full bloom.
By the time I was at Santa Barbara High, I was playing and singing at small parties. Elvis was going strong, and soon … The Kingston Trio. Wow!! I loved that sound. My Uncle Fred later told me he had two young men in his boys’ chorus by the names of Nick Reynolds and Bob Shane who always remembered his efforts to perfect the voices of the chorus members. Later on at The Nexus in Goleta, I was performing with The New Group, and Bob and Nick came in. The Kingston Trio had been at UCSB, and they were looking to party in Santa Barbara. We were about done for the night, and I rode with them and took them to a party on Conejo Drive. The party was a typical Saturday night bash, complete with beer and young women. I never saw them again … but I followed their career with interest.
I jumped ahead a bit. Singing around at parties and out of high school, I met Byron (Bud) Boyd. He was a tasty classical guitar player with a really nice voice. He and I could harmonize instantly. This would have been about 1962. One afternoon he showed up to practice with a high school kid and his bass. This was the first time I ever laid eyes on Phil Pritchard. Soon, with three-part harmony and that solid bass, we became The Terrytown Trio.
We were always busy and traveled around Southern California. Some of the clubs that featured us: The Ice House in Pasadena with Hoyt Axton, The Golden Bear in Hermosa Beach, The Meeting Place at Mount SAC College, and The Troubadour near Hollywood. We were often at The Nexus in Goleta and did many a week night in Ventura at the George and The Dragon.
We were always at any Hootenanny and met and performed with all the local folk singers. What a great group of talented people. My fond recollections include my dear friend Don Robertson; Tony Townsend; The Scragg Family; The Channel Singers—John, Ernie, and Howard; Cecelio Rodriguez; Bill Thompson, an a cappella singer whose voice would fill any room; and Chuck Kaiser, flemenco guitarist. René Leyva and brother Bert and I would sing together as a trio. Again great harmony from these two brothers. Later on René would become a great friend, and I would duo up with him many a night. Phil Pritchard remembers “Donna, Donna” as a song on our list.
Phil and Todd
Bud Boyd was called to the mission field by his church and left for Finland in ‘64. Phil and I would back up other singers or play two guitars and sing. Soon, though, we hooked up with Howard Pelky and The New Group was born.
The New Group
I really loved working with Howard Pelky. His influence on me was always positive and he was ready to practice anytime. Phil and I learned what it was like to have a banjo in the band. We would play the “old Nexus” and many private parties. I remember Howard’s version of “Roddy McCorley” and “Wild Mountain Thyme.” The crowds were loud and raucous and would sing along with us. We were a good solid group at that time.
I first met Don in the Rondo at a hoot. I loved his voice and delivery of songs. We would play at various locations and got to know each other. When Phil and I were doing duo work we would sit in with Don and play backup and sing behind him. I was doing a lot of finger-picking style guitar in those days, and it fit well with Don’s songs. Phil and I would go into the studio with Don and help with his album, Yesterday’s Rain. Don Robertson is a great songwriter, and I have always loved his songs. He is truly an icon of Santa Barbara Folk Music.
The Floyd County Boys Bluegrass Band
This would shape and define my part in folk music. In 1964 I went into carpentry apprenticeship and would work 40 hours a week for a contractor and go to school two nights a week at SBCC. In this class we were seated in alphabetical order. On a typical night we would study and ask questions and take tests. I had bought a C.F. Martin 0018 guitar that day from Bonnie Langley Music. I did not want to leave it in my truck, so I packed it into the class. At break, a cabinet-making apprentice asked if he might play it . I said “Sure” and I met Chuck Flannery from Floyd County, Kentucky . He told me he played banjo, would I like to jam. I said “Yes” and “Oh! I work with a bass player.” This would start a 40-year journey for The Floyd County Boys.
We started as a trio. I was learning bluegrass guitar and songs as fast as I could. I would get home at night and listen to Jimmy Martin, The Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Doc Watson, Hilo Brown, and De Wayne Ware fiddle tunes. Soon Chuck, Phil, and I were showing up for any kind of hoot or jam, just to pick and sing. We teamed up with Tom Goux and were regulars at the new Nexus, across the street from where the old Nexus had burned down. There was a stage at the back corner of the room, and people sat on the floor. I remember David Diaz and Jim Greenwell were the owners. The band would tune up in a beer storage area near the stage. Then Dave would stick his head in the doorway and say, “Two minutes show time.” The room was live and the crowd would listen to all music and jokes. It was here that I met Travis [Edmonson] as he was about to do his show. One night after our usual Friday or Saturday night, Dave told us he didn’t take in enough money to pay us. Chuck chased him around the room, ready to punch him out. He somehow found the night’s pay and we went home with our money.
Tom Goux went away to school and we were back to the trio. I remember appearing at a coffee house in Isla Vista called “Borsodi’s.” Our trio fit well there. College kids liked bluegrass back then, and we were the real thing. I still remember working on the Bank of America in Isla Vista –I was on the crew that built the vault. I would sit on a pile of forms at lunch time and pick my guitar. Soon I was joined by a mandolin player, Jim Pelzner. He lived in IV and we would go to his place and jam bluegrass tunes after I got off work. This all brings to mind the pizza parlors. Folk music was featured quite a bit in pizza parlors. The Floyd County Boys entered a Pepsi-Cola search for talent contest. Still a trio, we worked our way up to the top tier and won the contest. Soon we were on the back of an old Model T Ford flatbed as The Mountain Dew Boys. We would play weekends at supermarkets all around the county and locally weekdays … really fun stuff.
We met Doug Sherwood and added fiddle to the band, and we would go on to perform at Knotts Berry Farm, Norco Bluegrass Festival, Venice Bluegrass Festival, Topanga Canyon Banjo Festival, Cal State Expo, and many, many more venues all over the USA. Doug moved and Peter Feldmann joined us for eight years. We started our recording with Pete. Next, Carl Blevins was on fiddle and mandolin as well as harmonies.
The Coffee Houses, Clubs as I recall them:
The Rondo – a feeling of no-nonsense performances and acts. When at the Rondo, a person better be ready to present the songs as rehearsed and as polished as possible. I am not implying that it was rigid, but all those performing were at the top of their games. Tony Townsend was always so professional and smooth. The stage was in the corner of the room and people would sit around the stage, with a side room with tables that could see the side of the stage. The entry was small and opened into the main room. The Terrytown Trio played here several times with other groups.
The Nexus—a former walnut-shelling building in Goleta, had a great atmosphere, with the entrance on Hollister Avenue (it is now Taco Bell) and a back entrance. This drew not only the UCSB group but some of the local drinkers too. I don’t remember the owner’s name, but he was a decent guy. The customers would sit at low tables, and the stage was in the corner as you entered the building. This was a rowdy crowd into quaffing large amounts of beer and singing along with the band. I remember one afternoon when everyone was tanked, The Terrytown Trio took the mike stands, moved them to the back of the stage, and turned our backs to the crowd and did almost a whole set to the wall. I can’t remember if this made any difference at all to them.
This was the place where Bud and I had our Goya guitars stolen—heartbreak time for us. We had left our cases in a hallway that led to the rear exit. Someone just waited for us to get done singing, put them back into the cases, and walk toward the front to get a Coke—and then they grabbed them. Not too bright on our part. This would set me up for a lifetime of always knowing where my instrument is at all times. Phil and I would do many shows there with The New Group, and the stage was moved to the center of the room by then. This building was to burn down later, and a new Nexus was opened across the street.
The new Nexus was a large room with a stage near the rear of the building. From the stage I could see all who were entering the club. It would fill up by about 8:30 and the group would start at 9:00. When there was a special event, like Travis, people would stand in the back along the entry and watch the show. The Floyd County Boys were a regular event, usually always on Fridays and Saturdays .
The Establishment on Milpas Street – This was a small one-room club and coffee house with the stage against the back wall as you walked in. It was lit with candles and had some art on the walls. The sound system was a bit sparse, but there would be an enthusiastic group in there on weekends. They would listen to all you had to offer.
Don Robertson, Phil, and I would alternate sets and then get together for a threesome to end the night. I also remember a young blues guitar player named Tim Williams in that club. I think he went on to cut an album of his music. Later this club was called “The Earth.”
The Iopan was a total atmosphere. The mood was really great in there—I remember watching a woman who had written her own music and thinking how I wished I had that talent. I do not remember her name. The building was quite unique on the exterior. Very warm and inviting place. I didn’t perform with Phil or Chuck there, but I think I did some guitar backup behind Don at some point.
George and the Dragon was on Main Street in Ventura. This club was in keeping with the times—tables and chairs and a stage with a curtain. Good crowds and a mellow atmosphere. The shows were usually 40 minutes long, and then another act would follow. The Terrytown Trio was there Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights for a while. This is where I first heard bluegrass music live. I can’t remember the name of the band, but I think it was some of the Kentucky Colonels Band. Great!!
The Noctambulist was in the little alley right at the Lobero theater. Sit on the floor and the stage was at the far corner. I remember listening to many local artists there. Drinking hot cider with cinnamon sticks. Kind of dark, lit with candles and low lights. A true coffee house.
Baudelaire’s – This was 10 East Cota Street, formerly Ali Baba topless bar. This is where you would find late-night music and Hal Bates. The Terrytown Trio did many a night here. The format was hoot oriented. A group would get up and do a set, then a single and another group. It was mainly a bar, and the atmosphere was one of drinking. Hal Bates was a master of ceremonies and a master of getting the public in the door. I really don’t remember getting paid in there, but it was fun anyway.
Mountain Drive was a real folk scene. The folks were living it right on the Drive. There was what the locals called Happy Hour. It would be at a different home, house, tent, property, or a bend in the road. All would attend—young and old. Ed Schertz would have a keg of York Mountain Zinfandel that he would bring down in an old pickup truck from Templeton, or someone would have something else to drink or smoke. If there was a pool or a hot tub nearby, all would disrobe and get wet. Being a guitar player and singer, I would attend many of these functions and sing. At this time in my life I was living with my wife and two children in a dormitory close to Westmont College, just off Cold Springs Road. I rented the top half of the dorm, and Doug and Leal Grant were in the lower half with their family. We all used to go down to Summerland and watch The Scragg Family at the Sandpiper. When the Mountain Drive folks would have a “pot sale” (ceramic, that is), Peter Feldmann and the Scraggs would provide music. If one would buy a vessel at the sale, the wine was free.
UCSB has always been a folk music resource for locals. I have played many a night at a function or a campus night coffee house. Set up with stages and couches, dim lights, and a sound system, even an unused classroom can be converted to a folk venue.
I will agree with my good pal Don Robertson—these were great times. I remember a rally for the Southern Christian Leadership Council up at SBCC—out on the lawn, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Barbara harbor. We had speeches, music, poetry reading, and fund raising for a group who were going to march on Washington, DC, in protest for equality for African Americans.
When that same ocean and harbor were oozing with oil slime, and birds and seals were washing up on shore dying, Phil Pritchard and I wrote a song for the rally to the tune of “Penny’s Farm.” We called it “Union Oil.”
I went for a walk on the beach last week, the oil and the tar was a coverin’ up my feet, coverin’ up the birds and the seals and the sand, offshore drillin’s done ruined our land. It’s a hard times in the county, thanks to Union Oil.
©Union Oil/T. Grant, P. Pritchard
I have written about the many local folk scenes that I was involved in during these years, and other things were happening as well. Bars are what come to my mind—small local bars who would hire a folk singer or group or a bluegrass band. The Canteen on Anapamu Street would have Chuck, Phil, and me in there on weekends—no P.A. system and a tip jar. This later became known as The Bluebird Café. Duffy’s Tavern on upper State Street—Phil was 19, and we had him in a bar pickin’ and singing.
Having said all that, I am reminded that the folk song process is always with us. All we have to do is pick up a pen and write about something that impassions us or just stick with a type of music and share this with others. My involvement in these years leads me to yearn for more, just to hear a song sung with guitar and bass and harmonies—simple, honest delivery and the sound of truth in the voices makes me want more.
I still get up there and sing, play, and harmonize. You can find me pickin’ with a group of bluegrass musicians at the Farmers Market, or in a recording studio with a new songwriter, practicing at my desk, learning new songs or writing my own. On Sunday you can find me in the middle of the worship team praising our Lord Jesus.
Folk music has blessed my life—I pray it has blessed yours.