The history of the Round Oak String Band is a short but illustrious one. In the fall of '78 I was working at a music store in Marin County, Ca. called Amazing Grace Music. Through that store I first met Karen Bell who moved to the North Bay from Mt. View, Arkansas in October of '78, then a few weeks later, I met Rick and Joyce Feinhage (they had moved here from Maine a short while before). Karen met Rick and Joyce at a bluegrass jam in Mill Valley, Ca. that happened once a week so she already knew these folks. (I ended up going to that jam many times and met many musicians that I still have as friends to this day.) Before the year was out they all mentioned that they wanted to start a bluegrass/old time band, I said I played the fiddle, they said "wanta join?", and I said sure.
Rick was the serious one and made us get things done. He insisted we learn instrumentals [like OPUS 37, ha!], practice, record, etc. He even had a sound system and got us gigs. This sounded like a lot of fun to me so I signed on.
I Think that was one of the best decisions of my life!
Round Oak in the early days with Mark Harris
From the Sonoma Index-Tribune, Sept. '79
None of us were particularly great players but we all had a lot of spirit about the thing. One of the first decisions we made as a band was to get somebody in the band who knew what they were doing. Somehow we were lucky enough to run into a great mandolin player named Mark Harris who wanted to play with us (I can't imagine why).
Mark played with us for a while and in the late seventies, Sonoma County was a great place to be an acoustic musician. Every bar and restaurant had a band of some sort. We played three nights a week most of the time. I remember when we played at one bar in Santa Rosa four nights a week for a couple of months until a rather embarassing moment in our van got reported to the club owner and got us fired from that gig. Interestingly enough, none of the band members were involved in that incident. We didn't even know why at the end of the night he asked us not to come back. Some friends we had.
Anyway, before that happened he had his partner listen to us over the phone so he could decide if he wanted us to play in San Francisco at pier 39. Shangi Kellys. He did and we did that gig for months as well.
We played all over Sonoma County for a good long while. During that time Mark left us and we decided to ask a friend named Greg Roten to play bass with us. What a difference. We were better players by then because of all the gigs we had and because of the influence of Mark, so when Greg joined the band and added the bass we felt that we had finally gotten the sound we were looking for.
The California Bluegrass Association (pretty new at that time) was holding mini-bluegrass festivals about twice a year usually in the central valley (Fairfield). There were five bands that would play on a Saturday afternoon, two got paid and the other three played for free to get exposure. We played many of those "festivalettes" for free and finally got asked to be one of the featured bands at two consecutive festivals. "Things couldn't be going better for us!"
I hate it when someone says something like that because you know good and well that something is going to happen. And it did!
Out of the blue, Rick and Joyce announced that they were going to move back to Maine.
Well, needless to say that the rest of us were rather startled by this announcement. The band seemed to be on a hiatus at that moment but we all (Karen, Greg and I at least) thought that we would start back up what with the summer festivals just around the corner. We couldn't convince them so we all sat around waiting for them to move until one day...
Until one day the oddest thing happened. A friend of ours was staying at Karen's house and a phone call came in. Karen wasn't home so our friend took the message. It seems that a fellow named Marshall Leib from Avco Embassy Films was wondering if we would like to be in a Hollywood motion picture. What????? A Hollywood motion picture you say!!! That's right. Appearently, the original script for this movie called for a country/western band for a scene on the beach.
Joe Dante, the director decided that they wanted something a little spookier and a more back woodsey sort of sound and as coincidences happen, we had recently sent a demo tape to the Ozark Folk Center in Mt. View, Arkansas (where Karen was from) to apply for a festival in Mt. View. However, we were told that they liked the tape but couldn't hire us because we weren't an Arkansas band.
As luck would have it, Marshall, (I'm not really sure what title Marshall held) happened to be an old friend of Debbie Rockefeller who was from Arkansas and involved with promoting the culture there. (The spookier sound was what made Marshall think of Arkansas in the first place.) Debbie knew the director of the Folk Center, Jack Quail and told Marshall to call there. And Jack told him to call us. The cassette tape that we had sent had Rick playing the pickin' bow. That must have been what did it.
We finally got in touch with Marshall and cemented the recording and filming deal. We were to go to Hollywood twice. Once for recording the tunes that we would play and another time for filming the beach scene. That scene was taken on Malibu beach from dusk to dawn two nights running. We got to meet some of the stars of the movie; John Carradine and Patrick McNee were two I remember well. What a treat that was! Pretty cool stuff for us hillbillys.
The filming was a very unique experience. We had to "lip sink" so to speak, to the musidc that we had pre-recorded. I had no clue as to how to fake my fiddle playing until I came up with a the brilliant idea of using invisible scotch tape, taped around my strings so I could look exactly like I was playing but making no sound. I'm sure the other folks in the band had similar problems. You see, the fog was rolling in and our instruments would get very wet if we left them out in the air for too long. Instead of just standing there and waiting for the next shot, we would have to rush our instruments back into their cases between shots. We were constantly wiping them off and trying to keep them dry. I can't imagine what Greg had to go through with his bass. Much bigger than my fiddle.
I could go on and on about the movie but this is about the band so let's move on.
Oh, what was the name of the movie? A cute little werewolf tale called The Howling!!!
Shortly after the movie was over Rick and Joyce re-newed their plans to move back to Maine. We played a few gigs in the interim but knowing they were leaving was depressing to say the least. Most of us were pretty jazzed up about the band because of the movie but oh well... (Rick, Joyce and Karen were at an early Fathers Day CBA Bluegrass Festival in Grass Valley [I guess summer of '79] when they met Jeff King and his brother Randy who just got to California. Greg was already playing bass with us and Jeff was mostly playing banjo for himself. When Rick and Joyce went back to Maine Jeff went with them and played bass.)
I can't remember how long Rick and Joyce had been away before they came back to visit with Jeff. We all played a few gigs while they were here and I guess Karen and I got excited about the band again and decided to move to Maine. I'm from Buffalo, NY so it was almost like going back home for me.
Rick, Joyce and Jeff had gone back east already and Karen and I left Ca. in September of '81. Karen went to Cincinnati where her mom was and I back to Buffalo where my parents were. I spent a few weeks in Buffalo before Karen came up from Ohio and picked me up for our trip to Maine. We were headed for a little town called South Hiram. Rick, Joyce and Jeff were coming down from Caribou on the far northern frontier. When we got to town (9:00pm or so), R., J. and J. weren't there yet. Yikes! where were we supposed to go. Being the lucky folks we were, we met the person that we were going to rent the house from walking down the street (Thank God). He showed us where to go and set us up for the night. R., J. and J. got there the next day and the first thing that Joyce said to Karen and me was "I don't want to start this band again!!!". Be that as it may, we played for about six months all over Maine from Portland to Bangor and Old Town. Our last gig was in Bucksport. A bar that probably never had bluegrass or even acoustic music in their place. We were booked for two nights and the first one wasn't too bad. Not many people and not too noisy. The second night however, was a different story. A ship full of Danish or Norwegian (or somewhere) sailors came in to port and they all headed for the bar where we were playing. Needless to say that the drunker they got the more beligerant they got and sure enough a fight started. It was all we could do to keep our equipment safe and by the time we were done with the gig we had all had it with the band and the gigs (or lack thereof) and having no money, etc., etc., so we decided to pack it in so to speak.
It was the best idea for us.
I went back to Buffalo and after about a year and a half I came back out to California and played with an old time string band called The Acme String Ensemble for twenty years and a celtic band called Dockside for many years; Karen went back to Cincinnati and came back to California and is now living in Asheville, North Carolina; Jeff went to Missouri where he was from and then moved to California and is now playing bass with a great bluegrass band called Blue and Lonesome with Ed Neff; Joyce stayed in Maine and I'm not sure if she is even playing any more, and sadly I don't know where Rick is. As for Greg Roten, if anyone out there can tell me what he is up to, please let me know.
Jeff, Karen and I played for a while under the name of The Dancing Banshee's after we got back to the west coast. But by that time the acoustic gigs had more or less dried up and we did as much as we could before we all went our musical separate ways.
Now I am currently playing with The Lonesome Holler String Band (old time) and Kate Price and House of Spirit (think Loreena McKennitt).
All in all, we were only together for about three or three and a half years but I call them my good old days because for me they were.
I see Jeff pretty regularly but the rest of the band is far away. I learned a lot from those folks and still miss them all.
Love you guys!!!