A Short History of Fiddling

The 1973 annual spring contest held in Oroville had a lower status. Formerly the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest, it was now only the first annual Northern California Regional Contest. The California State Championship Contest was held in April in Madera, instead of Oroville. This change apparently occurred because most of the now active members of the California State Association lived in Sacramento or south through the San Joaquin Valley.

The first annual Northern California Regional Contest in Oroville observed Weiser’s rules with one change: a contestant could enter only one division. Women had to choose between entering the Ladies or the Regular division. Roscoe Keithley was the Master of Ceremonies, and Ray Giles, Clyde Darrell, and Frank Knight were the judges. In the Regular division, Delbert McGrath won first place, followed by Ronald Hughey, and Oak Gibson. Jess Alford took first in the Senior division, Lloyd Brokaw second, and Mr. May third. The Ladies division was won by Nan Meheras, Arlene Lommen was second, and Louise Allen third. Jane Scott was first in the Junior division, with Keith Cummings second, and Jenny Rued third.

In April, the California State Championship Contest, open to California residents only, was held in Madera. Judges for the event were Delbert McGrath, Brian Baker, Ray Krogstead, Virgil Evans, and Byron Berline. First round playoffs were held on Friday evening and second round playoffs on Saturday morning. The finals were played off on Saturday evening in the four divisions. As entertainment between contest rounds and outside the hall, Bluegrass fiddling and music were also heard at the contest. In the Regular division, Ray Parks won first place, followed by Coy Daily, second; Jay Belt, third; Vernon Keathly, fourth; Ron Hughey, fifth; Dean Trammel, sixth; Glen Tarver, seventh; Gary Krogstead, eighth; Paul Shelasky, ninth; and Doc Denning, tenth. Slim Lambrigger won first place in the Senior division, with Chuck Beall in second place, Al O’Neal in third, and Sherman Mason in fourth. The Junior division was won by Jane Scott and Keith Cummings was second. In the Ladies division from first to fifth place were Jana Grief, Frances Anderson, Ruby Zang, Laurie Lewis, and Maxine Taylor.

The other important contest in 1973 was the Western Regional Contest in Madera in November. (This same contest was called the California Open State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest in 1972.) There were only two divisions, a novel variation from the usual four. In the Champion division the first place prize was $400. The judges were George Davis, Virgil Evans, and Wayne Holmes. This contest drew 31 Regular contestants and 12 Champions as entrants. The top nine Champions had to play twice before the winning order was decided, a new contest rule from Weiser. Dick Barrett won first in the Champion division, with John Francis, second; Benny Thomasson, third; Ray Parks, fourth; Vern Keathly, fifth; Don Gish, sixth; Jay Belt, seventh; Frank Ferrell, eighth; and Delbert McGrath, ninth. In the Regular division, Jana Grief was first, followed by Gary Krogstead, Glen Tarver, Aaron Lowe, Frances Anderson, and Clyde Wheat. Ossie White was first place winner among the accompanists. Later in the evening, after the contest, jam sessions were held at the Madera Valley Inn. Bluegrass fiddlers played in one room and old-time fiddlers in another.

At least one contest was held monthly during 1973, with the exception of September when the Warwick campout in Oregon was repeated, and the December Christmas Party. In late May, over Memorial Day weekend, a number of California fiddlers went up to the Oregon State Contest. Included in the group were LaVerne Jansen, Dwan Bayer, Jack and Jan Saddler, Bill and Wanda Cummings, Mary and Jess Hall, Francis and Ivan Gray, and Arlene Lommen. A sad note in 1973, was the death of Frank Knight of a heart attack. He was the 81-year-old fiddler and bagpipe player from Paradise. In October, the contest in Folsom was well attended by many California fiddlers and their families. Included in the activities were Jack Widener, George Davis, Byron Baker, Francis Gray, Mary Hall, Arlene Lommen, LaVerne Jansen, Jean and Loren Bagley, Ruby Zang, Delbert McGrath, Ray Parks, Virgil Evans, Glen Tarver, Todd Scott, Ivan Gray, Jess Hall, Oak Gibson, Coy Daily, Jim Pinkston, and Doug Ward to name but a few.

Also in October, the Board of Directors met to officially divide the California State Association into seven districts. As a result, the Oroville District (#1) which began the California State Association was split, the Sacramento area joining the (San Francisco) Bay Area as District 5. The Oroville district was now no more important than any other district. The Fresno Fiddlers (District 2) continued to hold their monthly jam sessions. District 3 in Bakersfield was having problems organizing because of the lack of fiddlers living in the area. District 4 was embryonic in Los Angeles. The Redding District (#6) was being organized by Francis Anderson and Jana Grief in northern California. District 7 was being organized by Jay Belt in San Diego.

At the end of 1973, four other fiddling organizations in California were not affiliated with the California State Association, including the Sacramento Fiddlers, the Ceres District, the Southern California Association (Los Angeles), and the newly formed Santa Clara Association. The latter association was formed by two friends who knew each other before moving to California from New Hampshire. They preferred to hold monthly jam sessions instead of contests.


As of April, 1974, the usual contests and jamborees were being held by the California State Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association. Ben Zang was president and the Board of Directors included George Davis, Ray Parks, Cy Widener, and Todd Scott. The founder of the California State Association, Grant Spangenberg, was again recognized by inclusion of his name in the letterhead of The Sound Post. The new districts continued their process of internal organization. A new district may be forming in the Santa Barbara area which would bring the total to eight. The beginning of 1974 was marked by state-wide representation among the officials of the California State Association, plus emphasis on district autonomy and equality among districts of the Association.

References Cited

(with special thanks to Arlene Lommen, Doug Ward, and Redella Calkins)

Bascom, Louis Rand

1909 Ballads and Songs of Western North Carolina. Journal of American Folklore 22:238-250.

Bayard, Samuel P.

1944 Hill Country Tunes. Philadelphia: American Folklore Society. Memoirs, Vol. 39.

Burman-Hall, Linda C.

1973 Southern American Folk Fiddling: Context and Style. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Presented to the Faculty of Princeton University, Department of Music, December 1973.

Butler, Fern

1973 (An untitled note from the District 2 News bulletin, about Henry Ford). The Sound Post (March). p.2.

Calkins, Redella

n.d. (A collection of parts of three revisions of socio-historical report on oldtime fiddlers, written about 1967).35

Cohen, John

1964 Introduction to Styles in Old-Time Music. In The New Lost City Ramblers Song Book. John Cohen and Mike Seeger, Eds. New York: Oak Publications pp. 10-21.

DeRyke, Delores ‘Fiddlin De’

1964 So Hell is Full of Fiddlers – Bet It Won’t Be Crowded! Western Folklore 23:181-187.

Horner, Ivy

n.d. Dances were a family affair – – – and the fiddler was king. (A clipping from a Saskatchewan newspaper about 1971).

Jabbour, Alan

1971 American Fiddle Tunes from the American Archive of Folk Song. Liner notes to the record: American Fiddle Tunes AAFS – L62. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress (Recording Laboratory).

Leivers, George Kenneth

1974 Structure and Function of an Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association. Unpublished M.A. thesis. Presented to the Faculty of California State University-Chico, Department of Anthropology, June 1974.

Meade, Guthrie

1969 From the Archives: 1914 Atlanta Fiddle Convention. John Edwards Memorial Fund Quarterly 5 part 1 (13): 27-30.

Neely, Wayne Caldwell

1967 The Agricultural Fair. New York: AMS Press, Inc. (Reprinted from the

1935 edition).

Seeger, Mike

1964 Some Thoughts About Old-Time Music. (With Paul Nelson). In The New Lost City Ramblers Song Book. John Cohen and Mike Seeger, Eds. New York: Oak Publications. pp. 22-29.

Seeger, Pete

1972 The Incompleat Folksinger. Jo Metcalf Schwartz, Ed. New York: Simon and Schuster.36

Shelton, Robert and Burt Goldblatt

1966 The Country Music Story. Secaucus, N.J.: Castle Books.

Weiser Chamber of Commerce

1973 Program of the Eleventh Annual National Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival.

Weiser Chamber of Commerce, Eds.

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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