Tension was high. It was time to make a live record, and Nancy Covey had just spent two minutes telling everyone in the room how amazing our band was. We were nervous.
A postcard of Liberace, gaudily dressed, standing inside one of his huge bathrooms, stood out on the left wall of the stage. I had pinned it up there while we were being announced.
During the applause, I pointed to the postcard and said, “If we do a good job tonight, we’ll be successful and someday there’ll be postcards of us, standing in our bathrooms.”
The band collectively smirked. It was that all-knowing, Cache Valley Drifter smirk when we knew we were about to shred. Seconds later, we blasted off and never looked back.
Our band was always confident, but we had solid reasons for being nervous on that night in 1983. We attempted this a year before for our 10th anniversary concert in De la Guerra Plaza and had flopped. We spent months preparing everyone in our hometown for a live recording session, but a 60-cycle electric hum ruined the master tape and brought the project to a standstill.
One year later, we were trying to fix that flop. Our goal was to perform and produce a live album out of two sets in one night’s performance at McCabe’s in Santa Monica. Luck is the residue of design and the results were excellent. We finally produced our third album, Tools of the Trade.
Unfortunately, that record, along with our other two albums — The Brand New Cache Valley Drifters and Step Up to Big Pay — have been out of print for the last 35 years. After 12 years of playing together, thousands of performances, and three vinyl discs of incredible acoustic music, the legacy of this great band from Santa Barbara fell into an analog hole.
In the late 1990s, a couple of guys from the band started playing together under our old name. They even recorded some of our arrangements, but those recordings and that group are not the original Cache Valley Drifters. Legacy tours and rebranding were never in our picture. It would be impossible to replace the music and fire of the first band.
The original Cache Valley Drifters started their lives together in the summer of 1972 as a confederacy of buskers, folk singers, deadheads, trekkies, and aficionados of bluegrass. It was a perfect modern acoustic ensemble looking for a place to grow. The genesis of the band began at the Bluebird Café in Santa Barbara, but David West and I first encountered each other at a hotel bar near East Beach called Blackbeard’s West.
David and his partner, Chris Clayton, were playing three nights a week at Blackbeard’s while my partner and I played the other three. One night, when David was playing without Chris, I serendipitously wandered in to check out our competition. Dave invited me to sit in. We played the night together and literally just kept going. As the several months unfolded, our music started sounding righteous, but we knew we needed another ingredient. We found mandolinist and vocalist Bill Griffin, and the die was cast.
From 1972 to 1984, we made our livelihoods, managed our business, performed thousands of gigs, traveled throughout California and the East Coast, created original music, made records, and coined concepts of contemporary acoustic sound in our time. It was a dream come true, but our time came and went, leaving wondrous memories.
As time passed, memories faded, and the history and music of the Drifters slipped into darkness. Recognizing the disparity between memories and the lost recordings of the band, my studio Ranch Recording recently rereleased all three of those original albums, which were recorded by Flying Fish LPs.
The new title of the compendium is The Celebrated and Amalgamated History of the Original Cache Valley Drifters: Vols. I, II, and III. This 28-song project, along with Ranch Recording’s 2018 release, Vintage Drifter, make up the discography for the original three members of the band, and also feature bass playing from Tom Lee and Wally Barnick.
Through the years, the band became adept at different styles. We started as a progressive bluegrass band with a touch of folk and morphed into playing swing, jazz, western swing, Hawaiian, and singer/songwriter material. But our strongest suit was being from Santa Barbara and those early days at the Bluebird Café. Our career as a band was full of serendipity, a direct result of being from here. We were a modern acoustic ensemble looking for a place to grow and this was our garden.
As ambassadors, the band forever touted the beauty and graciousness of our hometown. We knew how special the South Coast was because we had been everywhere else. And nothing ever felt sweeter than coming home to Santa Barbara, whether rolling over the pass or rounding the Rincon after a late-night cruise across California.
That is, nothing ever felt sweeter, except being a Drifter.
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