A Short History of Fiddling

1970

In 1970, the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association elected Arlene Lommen, president and Ray Giles, vice-president. The Board of Directors included Arnold Lommen, Robert Mitchell, Ivan Gray, Jess Hall, and Jim Hall. Members of the California State Association living in the Paradise-Oroville and Sacramento areas had begun to refer to themselves as District 1. District 2 in Fresno was created in January by the fiddlers living there with Cy Widener and Jay Belt in charge. In February, the California State Association invited both the Fresno Fiddlers and the Southern California Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association in Los Angeles to affiliate with them. District 2 (the Fresno Fiddlers), now with their own elected officers and Board of Directors accepted. In April, the Southern California Association appointed its own officers and Board of Directors and decided not to affiliate with the California State Association.

A new National Association Newsletter to be published quarterly appeared first in January of 1970 with Kelley Kirksey as editor. Organizations of fiddlers active elsewhere in the United States mentioned in this newsletter included: the Illinois Old-Time Fiddlers, Denver Friends of Folk Music, Kansas Fiddlers, Washington Fiddlers, Oregon Old-Time Fiddlers, the Idaho Association, the Midwest Fiddlers (Missouri), Panhandle Fiddlers (Nebraska), Tennessee Valley Old-Time Fiddlers’

Association, the Northeast Fiddlers’ Association (Vermont), the American Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association (Nebraska), and the Montana Old-Time Fiddlers.

In May, the California State Championship Contest was held in Oroville, principally organized by District 1 (the Paradise-Oroville and Sacramento group). It was open to California residents only and the three judges were Cliff Baker, Charles N. Johnson, and Pop Powers. Virgil Evans of Saratoga took first place in the Regular division and was thus the State Champion. Second was Jay Belt, followed by Dean Trammel, Delbert McGrath, and Ronald Hughey. Hughey also won the Kirksey Award for the Best Liked Fiddler. Gary Krogstead won first and Scott Ward second in the Junior division. Winner of the Ladies division was Jana Grief and Ruby Zang was second. In the Senior division, Van Cunningham took first, Frank Knight of Paradise second, and Dewey Jones third. Ronald Hughey won first in the Trick Fiddling and Frank Knight was second. According to the monthly bulletin’s editor, Hattie Hall, this contest had several surprises: a schedule was planned expecting 50 fiddlers, but only one-third of that number showed up. The California State Association went the expense of the contest alone, with no support from the Oroville Jaycees. Edith Thompson, aunt to Arlene Lommen, was the Master of Ceremonies for the contest, her first experience at doing this. June Giles and Joan Foster helped in the kitchen.

In August, an Open Certified Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest was held in Modesto. From the $5,000 budget, over $2,000 in cash prizes and trophies were awarded. First prize in the Open division was $400. Judging was scored along some revised guidelines laid down by Kelley Kirksey: old-time fiddling ability (40%), rhythm or timing (30%), and tone quality (30%). This contest was not the financial success that it might have been. Plans and sponsors were not finalized until two weeks before the contest. There was not enough time for out-of-state fiddlers to make arrangements to come, so in all divisions there were only some 30 contestants. Jay Belt won first in the Regular or Open division, Bill Yohey took second, Ray Hatcher third, Ronald Hughey fourth, and Don Gish fifth. Van Cunningham placed first in the Senior division followed by Frank Knight and Cork Carpenter. The Ladies division was won by Ruby Zang and Lois Bellamy was second. Scott Ward took the winnings in the Junior division with Gary Krogstead in second place. Ronald Hughey won both the Trick Fiddling and the Best Liked Fiddler award. This Modesto contest was the idea of District 2 (the Fresno Fiddlers) and District 1 (the Paradise-Oroville and Sacramento group) helped them put it on. The Southern California Association attended and competed in it.

Elsewhere in California in 1970, the Sacramento Fiddlers put on their annual round of small contests in Fiddletown, Fort Bragg, Fair Oaks, and a new one in Guerneville. They also released a long-playing record of fiddling by Delbert McGrath and Frank Gunn. Their club took the overall top prize of $500 for best entry at the Amateur Country and Western Music Roundup held in Auburn in September.

The Southern California Association found that they had to register all fiddlers and accompanists at their monthly jam session in Signal Hill because attendance was large. Otherwise not everyone got a chance to play. A March jam session drew 18 fiddlers, 14 guitarists, and four piano players. Amplified instruments were no longer allowed during the jam sessions. Each fiddler played three tunes when it was his turn and members were reminded that the fiddle was to remain the lead instrument.

Fiddlers from the different groups in California played for other types of shows and activities during 1970. In January, some fiddlers made a video tape show for Channel 40 in Sacramento. Included in this activity were the Lommens, Eldon Lowery, Ruby Zang, and the two Hall families. Later in January, eight fiddlers of the California State Association took part in a Big Brother Variety show in Sacramento. Members attending the show included Jay and Norma Belt, Ray and Gary Krogstead, Doug and Scott Ward, the Lommens, Jim and Hattie Hall, Jess and Mary Hall, and Ivan and Frances Gray. Afterwards, this group went to the Lommen’s for a potluck supper and a meeting. Junk sales at the Roseville Auction Yard, a fashion show at Cal Expo (the California State Fair), Gold Rush Days in Paradise, the Broom Brush Breakfast in North San Juan, an ice cream booth and parade at Pow Wow Days in Orangeville, a show for the blind in Yuba City, and another show at Cal Expo were put on and attended by members of the California State Association in 1970. Potluck suppers, box socials, jam sessions, meetings in members’ homes, small fiddle shows for local groups, and fund raising square dances or dinners continued to be popular. Jay Belt and his son played for a legislative luncheon in Sacramento. Ivan Gray and his wife hosted the annual Christmas Party for the California State Association at the Hagginswood Clubhouse in Sacramento in December.

1971

In 1971 Ben Zang of Sacramento was elected president of the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association and Ray Giles served as vice-president. The Board of Directors was chaired by Doug Ward and also included Ray Giles, Jess Hall, Louie Smith, and Marion Mitchell.

The California State Champion Contest held in Oroville in April, was sponsored by District 1 (now just the Oroville and Sacramento group; apparently the fiddlers in Paradise were no longer active in the California State Association). This contest was attended by both Districts 1 and 2 (the Fresno Fiddlers). Kelley Kirksey, Pop Powers, and Cy Widener were the judges. Jay Belt won first in the Regular division, followed by Ronald Hughey second, Ray Parks third, Tim Rued fourth, and Jana Grief fifth. Van Cunningham won the Senior division and Mac O’Neal took second. The Ladies division was won by Jana Grief with Ruby Zang in second place and Ora Spiva third. Jenny Rued won the Junior division and Van Cunningham received the Kirksey Award for Best Liked Fiddler. Ronald Hughey was first in the Trick Fiddling division. This Oroville contest was considered the best one that the California State Association had yet put on, both in terms of attendance and cash income.

A new contest was sponsored in Ceres by the Fresno-Central Valley California Fiddlers. This last fiddling group had expanded from District 2 (the Fresno Fiddlers) to include the Davises and friends from Ceres and Modesto. In the Ceres contest, a new Champion division was used for those fiddlers who had already won top honors. The Regular division, not open to past champions, gave the not-yet-as-good fiddlers a chance to win. Delbert McGrath was one of the judges at this contest and Roscoe Keithley was the Master of Ceremonies. The results of the Champion division were Ray Parks, first; Jay Belt, second; Virgil Evans, third; Vern Keathly, fourth; and Ronald Hughey, fifth. Earl Collins won first in the Regular division followed by George Davis, second; Clyde Wheat, third; Coy Daily, fourth; and Tim Rued, fifth. The Junior division was won by Gary Krogstead and the Ladies division by Ruby Zang. Del Baker won the Trick Fiddling. Frank Knight of Paradise won first place in the Senior division.

The second annual Open Championship Fiddle Contest was held in Madera in October, directed by the California State Association (i.e. District 1, the Oroville and Sacramento group and District 2, the Fresno Fiddlers). Winners of the Regular or Open division were Don Gish, first place; Jay Belt, second; Kenny Hall, third; Virgil Evans, fourth; and Earl Collins, fifth. Ray Giles, Cy Widener, and Del Baker, all members of the Federation of Old-Time Fiddling Judges (organized by Kelley Kirksey), were the judges.

The Southern California Association (Los Angeles) split internally into two groups, holding different jam sessions: the old-time fiddlers, and the followers of the more modern amplified country and Western music. The Sacramento Fiddlers put on their usual round of smaller, fun contests including those at Fiddletown, Fair Oaks, and Fort Bragg. New small contests were tried out by the California State Association at Orangevale, Oakdale, and Folsom. District 2 directed a good size contest in Fresno toward the end of the year. They also issued their own monthly bulletin in 1971, similar in layout to the California State Association’s bulletin.

1972

Bill Cummings of Roseville (near Sacramento) was elected president of the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association and Ray Giles served as vice-president in 1972. Evelyn Scott was editor of the bulletin. Jess Hall, Ray Giles, Ben Zang, and Todd Scott served on the Board of Directors. In January, the Board decided with the concurrence of the membership, to affiliate with the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Association in Weiser. The earlier affiliation through certification by Weiser in 1966 and 1967 had been allowed to lapse.

The idea of having at least one contest somewhere in California each month was beginning to be fulfilled. In January, the second annual Coloma contest (the Sacramento Fiddlers) was held with last year’s winners (Frank Gunn, Ray Parks, and Delbert McGrath) as judges. The Kernville contest (California State Association and Jay Belt) took place in February. Instead of a contest in March, the California State Association held a potluck and jam session at the Hagginswood Clubhouse in Sacramento.

In April the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest was held in Oroville. The contest was certified by Weiser, with the addition of Kelley Kirksey’s new rule on the date of tunes: all tunes played in the contest had to date prior to 1911, when the copyrighting of songs in America began. Prior to the contest, a discussion was held with the fiddlers on this issue plus the question of which tunes fall into which categories: hoedown, waltz, rag, polka, or schottische. There were four divisions at the contest and for the first time, women were allowed to enter the Regular division as well as their own. Outside of the Oroville Municipal Auditorium where the contest was held, younger fiddlers played Bluegrass music for the crowd of “longhairs.” The judges for the contest were Don Gish, Frank Knight, Lloyd Wanzer, Van Cunningham, and Bill Yohey. Ruby Zang won first in the Ladies division followed by Francis Anderson second, and Marilyn Cleary third. Gary Krogstead took first in the Junior division with Vicki Cunningham second, and Marlin Miller third. The Senior division was won by Sherman Mason, followed by Glen Lambrigger and Cork Carpenter. The winners in the Regular division from first to twelfth place were as follows: Virgil Evans, Ray Parks, Vernon Keathly, Jay Belt, Delbert McGrath, Bill Cummings, David Garelick, Tim Rued, Ronald Hughey, Earl Collins, Francis Anderson, and Doug Ward.

In May, the Sacramento Fiddlers held their annual Fiddletown and Fair Oaks contests. Virgil Evans and friends played at a Folk Music Festival held at Fresno State College that month. In June, the main events were the annual Topanga Canyon Banjo and Fiddle (i.e. Bluegrass) Contest and the National Finals at Weiser, Idaho. The annual picnic in Citrus Heights and later in July, a contest in West Point in conjunction with their Frontier Days, were directed by the California State Association. There was also a small contest in Oakdale.

In August, the Central California Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association (i.e. the Fresno Fiddlers) put on their Fiddlers’ Fun Festival, in conjunction with the City of Ceres Peach Festival. At the end of August, the Warwicks in Oregon invited all California fiddlers, accompanists, and their families to campout for a week at their ranch.

In September the California Open State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest was held in Madera at their fairgrounds, under the auspices of the California State Association. In the Champion division, Lloyd Wanzer won first, Benny Thomasson was second, and Vern Keathly third. Wayne Holmes placed first in the Regular division, followed by John Francis, second; Tim Rued, third; and Roscoe White, fourth. Billy Warwick took first place in the Junior division with Bruce Johnson in second place, and then Keith Cummings third. The Ladies division was won by Francis Anderson, Ruby Zang was second, and Maxine Taylor third. Also in September, the annual Fort Bragg contest (California State Association) was held. The California State Association sponsored another small contest in Folsom in October. November saw the Fresno Fiddlers directing a contest in Clovis. There was the annual Christmas Party of the California State Association in December. And Kelley Kirksey organized a one day judges’ school at Eugene, Oregon, in the last month of 1972.

Another important event of 1972, was the organization of the Ceres District by the Davises, who were friends of Al and Nellie O’Neal, active members of the Sacramento Fiddlers. The Ceres District did not affiliate with the California State Association.

1973

The president of the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association in 1973 was Bill Cummings of Roseville and the vice-president, Bill Pray. LaVerne Jansen was secretary, Mary Hall served as treasurer, Wanda Cummings was editor with help from Burney Garelick as assistant editor, and Fred Beavers acted as publicity chairman. The Board of Directors included Todd Scott, Ben Zang, Jim Hall, Ray Parks, and Cy Widener. One of the new things this year was that the monthly bulletin finally received a name: The Sound Post.

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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