July-August 2015

OLD-TIME MUSIC IN LOS ANGELES

By David Bragger

old time tiki 3Old-Time music in Los Angeles has a long and wonderful history. It is a genre and culture that really thrives here. I’m often asked by musicians and newbies what it’s like out here in the West. I’ll often cite the names of great SoCal musicians who have had a huge influence in the area such as Earl Collins, Mel Durham, Tom Sauber, Ed Lowe and others. Lately, an 81-year old Cajun/Creole accordion player, Mr. Joe Fontenot, has swept many of us off our feet (literally) and is inspiring local Cajun players and novices, myself included! When the dynamic is right, these seasoned old-time musicians can have quite an influence on eager students of traditional music as well as on the local culture at large. Learned players not only perform but they pass down their art and knowledge to others who spread the music through jams, dances, concerts and recordings. This is a real part of the continuum of Old-Time Music in Los Angeles. It is something that many of us have greatly benefited from and it’s something many of us have been contributing to for years now. Soon after I started playing, Steve and Leda Shapiro started FolkWorks and helped promote many of the old-time goings-on in Los Angeles through their newspaper and online website. Their involvement in jams, dances, concerts and workshops has been invaluable. In fact, I experienced a life-changing bow rocking workshop at their home when Bruce Molsky was their guest.

old time tiki 2When I’m asked about the current “scene” in Los Angeles, I only need to look back a year and let the happenings speak for themselves! It’s all there: old-time masters, students, local pickers, traveling fiddlers/banjo players, festivals, concerts, workshops and even an LA-based old-time music recording company, Tiki Parlour Recordings. Plug, plug, wink, wink.

In the last year Los Angeles has probably experienced more old-time music events than ever within such a short period of time. Frankly, it’s due to the wonderful and rapidly growing community of pickers, pluckers, saw-strokers and flat-footers. With this expanding base, the annual Los Angeles Old-Time Social, the year-round events at the Old-Time Tiki Parlour, the monthly old-time jams and square dances have been able to feed the appetites of old-time music aficionados everywhere, local and distant.

old time tiki 4Through the Tiki Parlour, we’re producing countless workshops, concerts, jams and DVD & CD releases by artists such as Bruce Molsky, Dan Gellert, Joe Newberry & Val Mindel, Rafe & Clelia Stefanini, WV’s Ben Townsend, Eric & Suzy Thompson, WV’s Jesse Milnes & Emily Miller, Howard Rains, Tricia Spencer, Brendan Doyle & John Schwab, NC’s fiddle/banjo duo The Stuart Brothers and Louisiana’s Jesse Lege & Joel Savoy Cajun Country Band to name a few! Since these are community functions we normally host potlucks and jamming at these events. New friendships are created, tune sources discussed, stories are shared and the aromas of gumbo and chili permeate the parlour. As proprietor of the Tiki Parlour, it’s been a dream of mine to create a recording company where the art of these musicians can be preserved for the ages on video and CD. It was also vital to create a space where touring musicians can be appreciated and supported. Local community members get a chance to see, hear and even jam with the best of the best in a very intimate setting. As an old-time fiddle/banjo teacher, I love being able to pass down the art and history of old-time music while introducing students and friends to the living greats of the tradition. New sounds, different perspectives, wonderful stories and old handmade music.

L.A. Time Triple Chicken FootIn May we had the 10th Ever Los Angeles Old-Time Social. Once a year we donate our time and pool together resources to bring out musicians from around the country for a 3-day party of concerts, workshops and dances! Social founders Triple Chicken Foot, dance gurus Ruth Alpert and Rebecca Stout, dance caller Susan Michaels, cakewalk queen/fiddler Katherine Croshier, visionary animator/poster artist/fiddler Joe Wack, old-time artist Angelina Elise, guitar mistress Laura Osborn and many others made it an unforgettable event! Through their hard work and love for OT music, we were able to present the Stuart Brothers, Beverly Smith & John Grimm, The Gallus Brothers, Charmaine Slaven, The Joe Sands Cajun Creole Fontenot Band, Tom Sauber & Tom Carter, Sausage Grinder, The Happy Neighbor Club and the greatest cakewalk, family dance and square dances of recent memory!

The life’s blood of the Los Angeles old-time community is the jams! Although there have been many unadvertised and informal ones like Barbara & Andy Cameron's beloved jams and parties in Pasadena, we have some stellar monthly jams that are advertised to the public!

Check out the FolkWorks resource page on Old Time Music and the list of Southern California Old Time Jams.

1st Sunday Old-Time Jam @ Viva Cantina—11am-2pm, Free

Clawhammer wizard Steve Lewis has been hosting jams for decades out here. Many of us have been attending his jams since the day we started playing. Steve is also a dance organizer so between jams and dancing you’re guaranteed to cross paths with this great and dedicated player. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details or to be added to his list.

1st Thursday Old-Time Jam @ 1642 Beer and Wine Bar—8-11pm, Free

This is hosted by Kelly Martin and Ben Guzman who were members of the LA classic trio Triple Chicken Foot. They are the founders of the Los Angeles Old-Time Social! They also host the monthly

3rd Saturday square dances. Contact Kelly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

old time tiki 14th Saturday Old-Time Jam @ the Audubon Center @ Debs Park—1-4pm, Free

WV artist Joe Wack known for his design work on The Simpsons, his beautiful, evocative playing of the fiddle/banjo/guitar, and the kindest personality in the solar system leads this jam. It is a beautiful, natural outdoor setting.

2nd & 4th Thursday West Valley Old-Time Jam @ Jerry’s Pizzeria—6-9pm, Free

Old-time fiddler and 78 collector Pete Tinker hosts this “Pizza Jam.” Pete has a thorough knowledge of old-time music and is known to belt out a song once in a while too! He even keeps a log of all tunes played at his jams and tracks their frequency! Contact Pete for info at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tiki Parlour Wednesday Night Old-Time Jam @ The Old-time Tiki Parlour

This is a jam that I host on many (not all) Wednesday evenings. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to get on the jam announcement list.

In the land of Hollywood, a severe drought, traffic, smog and a thousand cultures, old-time music will never let go of Los Angeles! It’s here to play!

David Bragger is a Los Angeles-based instructor and player of old time fiddle and banjo music. He also photographs, films, and collects the lore of traditional artists, from puppeteers in Myanmar to fiddlers of Appalachia The Old Time Tiki Parlour

[Editor’s note: FolkWorks would like to acknowledge CTMS (California Traditional Music Society), led by Clark and Elaine Weissman, who were responsible for bringing many old-time musicians and bands to Los Angeles for the first time.]

  

All Columns by David Bragger