A Short History of Fiddling

1967

Redella Calkins continued to serve as president of the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association during 1967 and Arlene Lommen served as secretary. The Board of Directors for 1967 included Doug Ward, Grant Spangenberg, Dudley Whitlock, Ray McGlone, Jim Midworth, Elsie Peterson, Arnold Lommen, Jody Waltman, Harold Waltman, Frank Knight, and Olaf Lee.

In January members from both Paradise-Oroville and the Sacramento Fiddlers were active in planning for the April fiddle contest in Paradise. At the first monthly meeting, it was decided to have a No Holds Barred division and to award a new Kelley Kirksey trophy for “Best Liked Fiddler” at the contest. A system of scoring was established wherein of the scores of the five judges, the high and low score were to be eliminated when figuring the score of the contestant. Ray McGlone was appointed as one of the Masters of Ceremonies for the upcoming contest. A vacant Safeway store in Paradise was selected as the site of the “hospitality house.” Sue Gunn and Ferrel McGrath were the hostesses and the Ridge Runner Square dance group from Paradise was to man the hospitality house. Tumbleweed Turner from Bakersfield agreed to do a recording of the contest for a record and promote its sales. The next day after the meeting, the Directors of the California State Association decided that the coming State Finals in April would be named the California Open State Finals. The contest would thus be open to contestants from all states and a California Resident Champion could be chosen from the top scores of Californians competing.

During the last part of January, Redella Calkins had been in contact with ‘Fiddling De’ DeRyke, president of both the American Old-Time Fiddlers Association and of the Nebraska Old-Time Fiddlers Association. Kelley Kirksey was vice-president of the American Old-Time Fiddlers Association. By letter, Calkins and DeRyke discussed the California State Association’s announcement of its affiliation with the American Association. This would give the California State Association both affiliation with the American and certification by the National Association.

The second annual California Open State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest held in conjunction with the Paradise Gold Nugget Days celebration in April, took two days – the preliminary rounds on Friday and the finals on Saturday. Judges for the contest included Cy Widener, J.H. Geers, Ray Giles, Cliff Baker, and Kelley Kirksey. The judging was done “Weiser style” by “remote control” with the judges in a different room than the contestants, thus the judges could hear a fiddler play, but not be influenced by a fiddler’s ability as an entertainer. Folk singers and musicians provided entertainment between the rounds of fiddling. In spite of inclement weather, over 100 musicians and 50 fiddlers attended. Forty trophies and $1,300 in cash prizes were awarded in the Senior, Junior, Woman’s, and Open State Finals divisions. The title of Open State Champion went to Harold Allen. Runners up were Lloyd Wanzer, second; Bill Yohey, third; Dwayne Youngblood, fourth; Delbert McGrath, fifth; Jay Belt, sixth; Jimmy Miller, seventh; Rusty Modrell, eighth; Gerald Prock, ninth; and L.D. Moshier, tenth. The California State Resident Championship was awarded to Delbert McGrath and he would represent California at Weiser in June. In the Senior division, Charles Johnson took first, Lue Berline was second, Charles Waer third, and Frank Knight and George Smith tied for fourth. Dwayne Youngblood and his son from Idaho took first in the No Holds Barred contest. Kirksey’s trophy for Best Liked Fiddler went to Lue Berline. Tumbleweed Turner, the other Master of Ceremonies at this contest, recorded the top fiddlers for a long-playing record afterwards.

Due to the growth in membership, the California State Association decided in the spring, to continue the regular monthly meetings in Paradise and to hold four larger meetings each year to bring together state-wide members. Besides the Board of Directors, there were also to be representatives to the Board appointed from other parts of the state.

Fiddlers from Bakersfield held a small contest in Kernville in February. During the summer, the Sacramento Fiddlers sponsored small contests in Fiddletown, Shingle Springs, and Fair Oaks. Fiddlers living in Paradise and Oroville were active in putting on fiddle shows in a wide variety of settings including a Grange picnic, a barbeque and rodeo, and a box social. Sacramento, Paradise, and Oroville fiddlers did a television show for KXTV, Sacramento in May. At Weiser in June, virtually the entire California State Association membership was present for the festival. The idea of creating districts of fiddlers in California probably developed in Weiser, for it was discussed at the July general meeting of the California State Association. Members in Bakersfield (with L.D. Moshier and Tumbleweed Turner) and Los Angeles (with the Moores) were active as each area had a growing group of fiddlers. At the July meeting, the California State Association was restructured to include a semi-annual general state-wide meeting, quarterly Board meetings, and monthly district meetings. An Advisory Council was established to meet twice monthly to consider the subject of districting.

The Bakersfield contest is the last event in 1967 for which data was available. The planning for this large contest began in May and was finalized in June. Besides normal draw at the gate, the Kern County Fair officials anticipated that 150 fiddlers would pay $25 each to compete in the Champion division and that these revenues would support the cost of the contest. Fewer than 50 fiddlers entered the competition in all divisions. Comparable to the Paradise contest earlier in the year, the big money went out of state. Winners in the Open Division were: first place, Harold Allen; second, Jay Belt; third, Ronald Hughey; fourth, Dwayne Youngblood; and fifth, C.G. Johnson. In the Senior division, first place went to James Turner, second to Van Cunningham, third to Charlie Waer, and fourth to Frank Knight. Marilyn Cunningham took first in the Junior division and Timothy Rued (Kirksey’s grandson) was second. Lloyd Wanzer won first in the No Holds Barred division. Delbert McGrath was second in this division. Nellie O’Neal of the Sacramento Fiddlers won first prize as an accompanist. Dwayne Youngblood of Idaho got the Kirksey Award for the Best Liked Fiddler.

At the Bakersfield contest, the large prizes apparently frightened the average fiddler from entering, although the audience was composed of many good fiddlers who had traveled long distances to see the contest. The judging was headed by Kelley Kirksey. He said that it was difficult work because “the top four contestants tied for first place, and two run-offs were necessary before a final winner could be chosen.” Before the run-offs, the fifth place winner was only one point below the top man.

1968

Ray Giles, a fiddler who had played professionally during the 1930s and now lived in Yankee Hill above Oroville, was elected president of the California State Old-Time Fiddler’s Association for 1968. The other officers included Doug Ward as vice-president and also a secretary and treasurer. No Board of Directors served that year.

The May 1968 contest in Oroville was held in conjunction with the Oroville Regatta Days Celebration. This California State Championship Fiddle Contest was small compared to that in 1967. The judges were Tom Heath, Kelley Kirksey, and Arnold Lommen. Jay Belt took first place, Jess Hall second, Floyd Chilton third, Earl Jennings fourth, Doug Ward fifth, and Ray Krogstead sixth. Essentially, the contest was put on by and for the Paradise-Oroville and Sacramento groups of fiddlers.

Toward the end of 1968, the fiddlers in the Sacramento area split into two groups. The McGraths, the O’Neals, Roscoe Keithley, the Gunns, and Charlie Marshall officially formed the Sacramento Fiddlers. Delbert McGrath registered this group as a club with the State of California at the Secretary of State’s Office in Sacramento. The remainder of the fiddlers in the Sacramento area realigned themselves with the California State Association (the original Paradise-Oroville group). By the end of 1968, small but active groups of fiddlers were also found in the Los Angeles area and in the Fresno area (with Ray Parks and Cy Widener).

1969

In 1969, membership in the California State Old-Time Fiddler’s Association continued to grow. Doug Ward was president and the home of the California State Association was now considered to be Oroville. A new set of bylaws was drawn up which placed the directive power of the California State Association more in the hands of the Board of Directors than with the president. The authorized number of Directors was to be five and they were to be elected at each annual meeting of the members. They included Frank Knight, Ray Giles, Robert Mitchell, James Steppe, and Ivan Gray in 1969. The officers of the California State Association were increased by one: an editor of the monthly news bulletin.

The California State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest was held in May in Oroville. The divisions were Regular, Junior, Senior, Ladies, and Exhibition Fiddling. The judges were Lloyd Wanzer, Charley Marshall, and Kelley Kirksey. Rules for judging were identical to those used in the 1967 Oroville and Bakersfield contests. Before the contest, the judges held a question and answer period with the fiddlers over questions of age, style, and type of tunes to be played. Thirty-five fiddlers competed and about 450 people attended the finals. In the Regular division, Jay Belt was first, followed by Ray Krogstead and Ronald Hughey. Ruby Zang won the Ladies division and Louise Allen was second. The first through third place winners in order, in the Senior division were Floyd Chilton, Van Cunningham, and Frank Knight. Scott Ward, Doug’s son, came in first in the Junior division followed by Marilyn Cunningham. In Exhibition (or Trick) Fiddling, the top three places went to Ronald Hughey, Delbert McGrath, and Marilyn Cunningham. Best Accompanist was won by Aaron DeCamp on 23 guitar. This contest was open only to residents of California and was attended by fiddlers mostly from northern California.

Also in 1969, Articles of Incorporation were filed by the California State Association (the Paradise-Oroville-Sacramento group) with the State of California so that none of the other fiddling organizations in the state could use its name without permission. The Sacramento Fiddlers and the rapidly growing Southern California Fiddlers in Los Angeles, organized by the Moores, were not affiliated with the California State Association.

11 thoughts on “A Short History of Fiddling”

  1. This article is very interesting to me since some of my ancestors and other acquaintances are mentioned. I am the grandson of Mac O’Neal. Al and Nellie O’Neal were Mac’s brother and sister in-law. That generation of the O’Neal family was all about old-time fiddling. At family gatherings, the guitars and fiddles would invariably come out, and anyone present who could play an instrument was welcomed to play a tune or two. My interest here was sparked by my mother recently giving me two of the record albums cut by groups of the local fiddlers in the 1970’s. I have since transferred them to MP3 files to burn CD’s for my kids.

    The “Sacramento Fiddlers” album was from about 1970 and features my aunt Nellie O’Neal on guitar Frank Gunn and Delbert McGrath on fiddles, Roscoe Keithly on guitar and Gary Gunn on bass. Mike Bibby is the featured fiddler on two tracks. The second album is titled “California Champs 1974”.

    Mac O’Neal taught me to play guitar and “second” for him for a few years until his death in 1972. Playing these albums brought back a flood of memories of the songs we played.

    Of the old time fiddlers of the day that came to our homes and family functions, Frank Gunn was my favorite; his rendition of the Kelly Waltz on the Sacramento Fiddlers album is just beautiful. As I remember back some 40-odd years, he could really make that fiddle “talk” on the Orange Blossom Special.

    1. My name is Jerry Anglin My family has been in the CSOTFA since it began in Paradise Ca. My family was one of those from Oroville not mentioned in the article I was probably the youngest fiddler at the time and I could barely play just make noise on a couple of strings there is a news paper article with me and my fiddle with Grant Spangenberg he was 80 and I was 5 the club was originally called “The California poppies” and everyone wore white shirts with a poppy painted on front I still have my tiny shirt .My Grandfathers name was Fred Wilson Anglin 1918-1977 he played guitar usually accompanying My Father Ronald Wilson Anglin who just passed away days ago 1940-2016 he played fiddle for over 50 years and won the senior division State Championship 3 times I knew Frank Knight as a kid he played Bag Pipes a lot and we went to each others homes for jams also missing from this article is Ray Giles who was present at the beginning he played fiddle. I am still a musician a guitarist playing Rock,Blues etc. but I lived the CSOTFA growing up and know it’s history well we also hung out with Floyd Chilton who was not only a Great Fiddler of the time but made fiddles he made my fathers first fiddle that he really played sounded rough because it was made from Oak and my dad stained it Red! my dad Ron and Mom Carol were given Life Memberships in the Club. and I hope eventually articles such as this will include our family because we were truly part of the clubs history thank you! ……. Jerry Anglin

    2. My grandparents were Algy and Nellie O’Neal. So many memories from all the family gathering. This is a great article about the Fiddler associations and the contest. Went to many of these events. So many of are family are gone now and miss the jam sessions. My name is Debbie Walker my mom and Bud and Jimmie.

  2. I am Marilyn Cunningham and would love to hear from anyone who has recordings of our jam sessions from the 60’s or early 70’s. If anyone responds to this request I will let them know how to contact me.
    My grandfather was Fiddlin’ Van Cunningham, father was Jack, and sister Vicki played the piano. We played often with Scottie Ward, Delbert McGrath, Nellie O’ Neal, Mr. Mosier, and many others. It was great fun. I probably was most well known for my rendition of Mockingbird.

    1. Hi Marilyn, I would try to connect with Bob Snyder for anything like that. Not exactly sure how you get in touch with him but you might try looking for Adrienne Jacoby and or Tex Ash on Facebook.

    2. I met your grandfather sometime in the 60s.He was playing at my grandfathers house in Weldon ca.I remember he used some bands on his fingers.My grandfather was Red Williams .I have a casette recording of them from the 70 s.
      Michael williams

  3. I’m looking for Billy Warwick of grants pass Oregon if someone could help me locate him l would be greatfull as I am a friend from the past from Santa Rosa cal.
    Thank you 707-953-4913 Mark Heald

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