Photo: This is one of the most dynamic images of Oxtot, singing with the Bearcats at Reno's Club, Oakland, CA. Oxtot and Mielke collections
Early Years and Playing Cornet
During his early years in music, c. 1940-55, Oxtot played cornet. He had a stint outside the Bay Area for a couple years with the notable Dixieland Rhythm Kings, c. 1950. After that he played cornet and partnered with piano player K.O. Eckland running a band in the Bay Area called The Polecats, in some ways a precursor to Mielke’s Bearcats.
Thereafter, “Polecats” was a band-name Oxtot
used throughout the 1950s. To some degree the personnel overlapped with
the Bearcats, the band-title and lineup depending upon whether it was
Mielke or Oxtot who got the gig.
This session recorded
at Burp Hollow is typical of Oxtot's stomping little quartet
with Ted Butterman and Bunky Coleman 'trading fours.'
Ted Butterman (cornet) Bunky Coleman (clarinet) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Peter Allen (string bass)
In the 1950s Oxtot’s cornet playing was limited, and eventually curtailed by a case of hepatitis and ongoing discomfort from a childhood finger injury. And he was having a hard time finding good rhythm-instrument players at the time. So he switched to banjo in the early 1950s, though he did occasionally blow horn as late as the mid-‘60s.
Dick actually played several instruments including piano, guitar, banjola (4-string wooden banjo), washboard and harmonica, though rarely in public.
On rare occasions Oxtot played string bass, tuba (seen left), or e-flat alto horn in performance. Oxtot collection.
George Lewis, P.T. Stanton, Dick Oxtot Jenny Lind Hall, 1956-57
George Lewis (clarinet) P.T. Stanton (cornet) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Lelieas Sharpton (string bass) Barbara Dane (vocals)
Dick worked quite a bit with Earl Scheelar; after 1965 he was a regular at the parties and sessions in the rumpus room above Earl’s VW repair garage. Oxtot and bassist Peter Allen were regulars at Scheelar’s jams and music parties throughout the late ‘60s; both were regulars in Earl’s New Orleans House band. In the 1970s, Oxtot and Allen were Scheelar’s preferred rhythm section for the Funky New Orleans Jazz Band.
Earl Scheelar's Funky New Orleans Jazz Band, c. 1972
L to R: Pete Allen, Bill Bardin, Dick Oxtot, Earl Scheelar, Don Marchant, Bob Helm
Thanks to Earl Scheelar.
Oxtot playing string bass with the Harbor Lights Orchestra.
Harbor Lights Bandleader, Peter Allen, center.
EARL SCHEELAR's FUNKY NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND Give Me Some More, featuring Bob Helm Original issue 1972
Earl Scheelar (cornet, leader) Bob Helm (reeds) Bill Bardin (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo, vocals) Peter Allen (string bass, vocals) Don Marchant (drums)
Note on recordings: The archival recordings heard on these
pages are offered as historic artifacts. They contain many musical and
technical flaws, or are incomplete or poorly balanced in places.
Personnel are listed as available, or as deduced from educated guesses.
ARCHIVE MUSIC Dick Oxtot Birthday & jam session Winter 1978 PT Stanton (cornet) Bob Mielke (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Pete Allen (string bass)
In places washboard, piano or a second trumpet or trombone player joined in.
Photo (right) is a similar lineup, but with clarinet, probably from the late 1970s. Oxtot collection.
This was a rough and ready jam session without clarinet or reed, location unknown. In places a second horn (possibly Jim Goodwin), washboard, or a piano player may join in. This historic music was recovered from a cassette in poor condition and is in places incomplete or interrupted.
This session is proof once again that the Bearcats often played better, hotter and looser, during after-hours or when playing for themselves.
For three decades
Oxtot ran his Golden Age Jazz Band, the slogan on his business card and
letterhead: “Vintage music with style.” He was noted for often
featuring female singers and instrumentalists. Dick became famous for
finding, introducing, and featuring a succession of younger women who
sang in his bands: Barbara Dane, Janis Joplin, Terry Garthwaite, Laurie
Lewis, among others.
Over the years Golden Age included trumpet players Jim Goodwin, Bob Neighbor, and Jack Minger, reed players Bill Napier, Bob Helm and Jim Rothermill, trombonists Bill Bardin and Bob Mielke (seen together, below), Pete Allen (string bass), Walter Yost (tuba), and pianist Ray Skjelbred.
Dick Oxtot's Golden Age Jazz Band probably 1970s
L to R: Bill Bardin, Bob Mielke, Dick Oxtot, Jim Goodwin, Jim Cummings, Bill Napier
ARCHIVE INTERVIEW: Richard Hadlock recalls Oxtot: "He had the drive of a leader, with the help of his wife to keep him well focused. He had the assertiveness for being a leader.
He had a rock-solid beat that didn’t vary. You could walk on it, you could rely on it, you could know that it was going to be the same at the end of the tune as it was at the beginning. That’s worth a lot. And with Pete Allen on bass they made just a wonderful combination.
When I worked a lot with Oxtot out at The Point, and before that at Hotel Mac . . . I didn’t like some sides of him: he was a fanatic fan of Lucky Lindy. Everything to do with Lindberg, and airplanes of the Twenties and bi-planes. So when he recorded “Lindberg, Eagle of the USA,” or “Lucky Lindy,” and he’d call those. And I’d say, 'C’mon, Dick, you can call something better.'
'Well, that’s what made me famous, that’s my big number!' and he’d get really defensive about it. You know he could play a Trad Jazz tune very well, but he had this desire to be a cross-over into the pop world. And he thought he could do that."
Oxtot was a decent tunesmith who penned a couple of songs that enjoyed minor success. The delightful, Twenties-styled, “My Lovin’ Imogene” and the convincing blues, “Ain’t Nobody Got the Blues Like Me” were successfully performed and recorded by Dick and his contemporaries.
My Lovin’ Imogene.mp3 Oxtot birthday 1965, P.T. Stanton, E. Scheelar, B. Mielke, B. Erickson, P. Allen, Oxtot banjo and vocal
Oxtot was an excellent singer. While his delivery was
not flashy, he had a special talent for selling a song, and was one of
the best vocalists of the jazz revival, with a wide-ranging repertoire:
A big enthusiast of 1920s pop music, Dick loved songs about ‘Lucky Lindberg,’ and the kind of varsity cheer typified by his “My Lovin’ Imogene.” He often managed to bring a salacious leer to otherwise innocent Twenties collegiate fare:
Oxtot ventured into other music genres, and worked with a range of ensembles in Folk, Western Swing and Old Timey string band styles. Among his most popular jazz vocals were tunes adapted from the Country and rural string band traditions:
Dick Oxtot was engaged with Bob Mielke's Bearcats, its mileu, and
related personnel from their auspicious debut in 1954
at Tin Angel until the end of his life. He was integral to the band at the start, part of the nucleus that grew into Bob Mielke’s Bearcats from its earliest days: jam sessions at a San Pablo club and the Oxtot home in Berkeley. The band quickly evolved into a tightly knit ensemble of exceptional talents.
River Jordan.mp3 Bob Mielke’s Bearcats, vocal by Barbara Dane, Lark’s Club, c. 1955
The Lark's Club
It was at the Lark’s Club in Berkeley where the Bearcats developed their sound and following. Owned by Bill Nelson, a former trombone player in the Jimmy Lunceford orchestra, it had an integrated clientele; about half were African-American. Their first steady gig, Lark’s Club nurtured the Bearcats, and seasoned their chops during 1954-55:
The basic Bearcats lineup was P.T. Stanton (cornet), Bob Mielke (trombone), Bunky Coleman (clarinet), Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals), Pete Allen (bass), and Don Marchant (drums). Additions and substitutes included singer Barbara Dane, clarinet players Bill Napier, Ellis Horne and Frank "Big Boy" Goudie, and drummer Don Fay. When Mielke could not attend Bill Bardin stood in on trombone. The core group did not include piano, and they didn’t use one at the Lark’s Club, but when a piano player was needed for a gig Bill Erickson or Burt Bales got the call.
High spirits at the Lark’s Club are apparent in the recordings. The musicians were having so much fun that according to Oxtot’s memoir:
“I hardly ever took a night off. The job was too much fun! Soon the regular jazz fans began showing up regularly, and they seemed to appreciate the repertoire of the Bearcats, which included numerous tunes not performed by other traditional bands."
Oxtot was among the second-wave of San Francisco Bay Area jazz revival musicians who were inspired by Lu Watters and Yerba Buena. Dick spent many nights at the Dawn Club on Annie Street and was friends with Watters, Turk Murphy, Bob Helm, and Bill Dart. An aspiring jazz cornet player he was tutored in the youth band they sponsored during the early 1940s.
The Gold Coast Stompers were the result of instructional Sunday afternoon sessions run by Bob Helm and Burt Bales, c. 1942-43 for aspiring musicians like Oxtot, Bob Mielke and Bill Napier. And in Oxtot’s memoir he recalls that a good female, Waller-style piano player named Strickland was part of the group. He was thrilled when they were once joined by Bunk Johnson, the recently rediscovered New Orleans trumpet player.
After World War Two in 1947, Oxtot loaned Turk Murphy his $1300 stake in the co-operative enterprise that built, owned and ran Hambone Kelly’s in the East Bay. The debt repaid years later by Watters. Meanwhile Dick collected his interest by hanging around after hours at Hambone’s, getting to know Lu’s pet parrot, and he once sat-in with the band.
A Full Time Professional Musician
Despite all the fun, Oxtot was one of only a handful of full-time professional musicians among the jazz revival crew. He did occasionally need a day job, working as a US Postal deliveryman for a couple years in the late 1960s. But Dick was continually either finding music jobs of his own or being hired by others.
Oxtot employed, or was engaged by, almost every other member of the Bearcats at one time or another. Between Bob Mielke’s Bearcats, Golden Age Jazz Band, the Swingin’ A’s baseball band, and miscellaneous gigs, Dick Oxtot managed a full-time career as a professional musician for most his life.
Polecats on the Peninsula
Oxtot’s eagerness for gigs took him to the communities of the San Francisco peninsula. One of his “Polecats” bands had a successful run at Rajax in Millbrae, c. 1952.
The very public Wedding of Darylene and Dick Oxtot was covered by the Berkeley Daily Gazette.
Excerpts: Crossed horns were awaiting the newlyweds as they left. The Oxtots then began an auto cavalcade through the Civic Center.
The musicians were seated -- and standing -- in the second car, a convertible, and serenaded the area with "High Society" and "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight." Dixieland jazz flowed freely at the Haste Street reception for several hours.
The caption: . . . As the joyous
couple leaves the Berkeley Hall of Justice. Bandsmen are, left to
right, Bill Erickson, Lee Sharpton, Jerry Butzen and Walt Yost.
Dick Oxtot’s Stompers at The Bagatelle, c. 1958-59
Photo: Goudie and Oxtot broadcast from Pier 23, 1959
Oxtot with Goudie, Erickson, Mielke and associates
The Black Egg was a bar in San Mateo where some of the
East Bay revival musicians played briefly. Probably an Oxtot gig, he mentions this obscure bar in his memoir.
All the musicians sound very
good on this session especially Frank Goudie, though Oxtot’s one vocal is off mic. In
a notable tribute to the origins of the West Coast jazz revival
movement, the group closed with the Yerba Buena theme, “Friendless
Photo: Goudie with Oxtot and Erickson broadcasting from Pier 23 in 1959.
Frank Goudie with Oxtot and the Bearcats at an East Bay dance hall called Pioneer Village, c. 1958
L to R: Goudie, Mielke, P.T. Stanton, Allen, Oxtot.
Pioneer Village, East Bay, c. 1958.
Recovered contact print Bob Mielke collection
Ronnei, Horne, Bardin, Oxtot,Girsback sesssion San Francisco, 1959
A copy of this tape first came to me many years ago mislabeled “Oxtot, Goudie, Girsback, 1959.” But I’ve recently discovered that the clarinet player was NOT Frank Goudie as previously noted, but Ellis Horne. The trombonist is Jim Leigh not Bill Bardin.
Ray Ronnei (cornet) Ellis Horne (clarinet) Jim Leigh (trombone) Dick Oxtot (guitar) Squire Girsback (string bass) Carol Leigh (washboard)
The Oxtot's Dwight Way home was one of several so-called "Jazz houses" in Berkeley where East Bay musicians partied and jammed. This tape is contemporaneous with Oxtot's Janis Joplin sessions, and in fact is taken from a reel containing her tracks.
This tape from Oxtot's personal collection was only labeled Dwight Way, and lacked documentation. Personnel was fluid in Dick Oxtot's bands and is an educated guess for session #1. However, the presence of Goudie, Leigh and Erickson is confirmed.
Dwight Way session #1 Probably: Unknown (cornet) Earl Scheelar or Bill Napier (clarinet) Jim Leigh (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo) Bill Erickson (piano) Walter Yost (tuba) or Unknown string bass, possibly Pete Allen
Janis Joplin was taped in 1963 & '65 with Dick Oxtot jazz bands in the San Francisco area, years before her Rock career.
Oxtot had a unique talent for spotting and hiring good female
singers. As with Joplin, they were often diamonds in the rough,
recruited from the Folk music scene, or destined for success in other
After Joplin’s death a tribute album was issued in 1975 containing
some of her early folk and blues music. Selling over a million copies,
Janis, Columbia PG 33345, went gold. The
double album included tracks acquired from the Dick Oxtot sessions, but
most of the horn solos were edited out.
I’ve recently acquired a copy of Oxtot’s own tape
of the sessions that is more complete. Containing better
sound, unedited takes, and unissued tunes, it clarifies details of the sessions and personnel.
A partial list of female performers who played music with Dick Oxtot:
Vocalists: Rita Black Barbara Dane Terry Garthwaite Piper Heisig Barbara Higbie (vocal and piano) Diane Holmes Janis Joplin Mellissa LeVesque Laurie Lewis (vocal and string bass, right) Jane McGarrigle (vocal and piano) Pamela Polland Barbara Rhodes Linda Wiggins (vocal and piano) Willow Wray
Instrumentalists and vocalists who played with Oxtot:
Tammy Fassert (bass) Fay Golden (piano) Barbara Higbie (piano) Laurie Lewis (string bass and vocals, left) Melanie Monsour (piano) Jane McGarrigle (piano and vocal) Candy Sealy (tuba) Beth Weil (bass) Linda Wiggins (piano and vocal)
In his memoir, Dick Oxtot had high praise for singer Terry Garthwaite:
"Terry Garthwaite was our first singer at The Ordinary. Before she went on to the road with the 'Joy of Cooking,' she was probably the most versatile singer who sang with me for an extended length of time. She could just about master any type of music -- pop, jazz, folk and rock. Previously in the Ordinary Club, I did some folk music with her, but even with her wonderful voice, she was too shy to project, tending to gaze at the floor, so we parted company for a while.
Then for some reason, she became a different woman, singing to the audience and developing a fantastic style of scat singing. I'm don't care much for scat singing . . . but Terry's scatting was the swining-est I've ever heard."
Dick Oxtot Golden Age Jazz Band with singer Terry Garthwaite [date and location unknown probably early 1970s] Jim Goodwin and P.T. Stanton (cornets) Bob Helm (clarinet, soprano) Bob Mielke (trombone) Ray Skjelbred (piano) Dick Oxtot (banjo) John Moore (tuba) Terry Garthwaite (vocals)
Dick Oxtot ran a rolling jam session at this rollicking Oakland nite spot in the early 1970s. Many recordings, a few recollections, but very few photos have survived from this club.
Oxtot’s less-than-Ordinary jam sessions rolled on. There’s so much
happening that one barely notices the lack of lead horn in Set #1. Set
#2 includes the rarely heard and little appreciated cornet playing of
Andy Stein (violin, alto and baritone sax) Earl Scheelar (clarinet & alto sax) Bill Bardin (trombone) Dick Oxtot (banjo & vocals) Walt Yost (tuba, cornet) Terry Garthwaite (vocals)
Andy Stein Andy
Stein became a nationally known musical talent heard for decades on
Prairie Home Companion and in the Saturday Night Live house band. In
the Bay Area during 1970s he was fiddler in Commander Cody’s Lost Planet
Airmen: a fusion of Rockabilly, Country, and Western Swing.
Oxtot and crew at The Ordinary in the mid-1970s Stein was playing not
only hot and bluesy violin, but baritone and other saxes. Stein’s
violin style here ranges from rough country blues (“Goin' Away Blues,”
“Blue and Sentimental,” and “L-O-U-I-S-I-A-N-I-A”) to sounds emulating
Joe Venuti (“I’ll Always Be in Love with You”) or maybe Stuff Smith.
Earl Scheelar Talented
multi-instrumentalist Earl Scheelar was especially hot in these
sessions doubling on clarinet and alto sax. He joined with Stein and
Bardin for riffs and the effervescent ride out choruses. Special thanks
to Earl for help sorting out the tricky personnel details.
Walt Yost Walt Yost was best known as a yeoman tuba player. But his fine Beidberbecke-influenced cornet sound is notable in Set #2.
This tape features a small Oxtot band with singer Terry Garthwaite and the famous Andy Stein. These two delightful items were recovered from a salvaged tape that was damaged as it was being recorded. Stein played spectacular jazz violin in the Bay Area for a few years around the time this was taped, June 1973, almost certainly at The Ordinary in Oakland, CA.
Andy Stein (violin) P.T. Stanton (cornet) Dick Oxtot (guitar) Terry Garthwaite (vocal, "Summertime") (any other personnel are unlisted and unknown)
Forthcoming: The best and rarest of the archival jazz recordings
heard on these pages will soon be available for purchase on CD or
downloads (Amazon, i-tunes, etc) from Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities, a
partnership between Dave Radlauer and Grammercy Records.
Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities offers unissued historic
recordings from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes.
Recorded mostly in the Bay Area 1940-75, this is lost sound from a
boisterous musical culture that created an independent jazz style of its
As these titles become available, links to sellers will be provided.
Bill Bardin recalls Oxtot:
Trombone player Bill Bardin was one of Oxtot’s longest musical associates. Dick and Bill played together periodically on and off from the 1940s.
They worked together for decades at Oxtot’s longstanding gig in Point Richmond until its termination sometime in the early 1990s. Though Bill was one of Oxtot’s steadiest hires at The Point, Bardin was easily upset by Dick's casual leadership style and quit frequently.
L to R: P.T. Stanton, Bill Bardin, Diane Holmes
Photo: Oxtot collection
Quotes: “Considering Lu [Watters] and Turk [Murphy] as being first-generation I think all the second-generation guys put in a stint with Oxtot, at one time or another.
Oxtot had something about him that women liked. Over and over again I’ve seen women just come up and give Oxtot a kiss. I never figured out what it [was] that women saw in him, but they love him.
This includes singers and women instrumental players too. There was always some singer, or piano player, or saxophone player coming up and telling Oxtot that she admired him and would it be OK if she sat-in sometime. This went on through his entire career.”
The first season
of Bob Mielke's Oakland A's Swingers baseball team band (1968) consisted
of a quartet Mileke (trombone) Bob Neighbor (trumpet), Bob Helm
(soprano) and Dick Oxtot (banjo).
After the band complained
strenuously about lacking a bass, tuba player John Moore was hired. In
subsequent years Helm was replaced by Bill Napier, later by Richard
Hadlock and others.
Oxtot wrote in his memoir: "We
played the first season, each and every A's home game, with four
musicians. We played in the hallways before the game, on top of the
dugouts during each half-inning, and strolled through the bleachers."
. . the band was dissatisfied with the 4-piece arrangement --
especially me. It was tough on me to provide an entire rhythm for the
three horns . . . I needed a tuba to complete the rhythm for the
section. Also the band would sound much better . . . the following
season [team owner Art] Finley went along and agreed to add a fifth
Sports columnist Ron Fimrite, hardly an incisive music critic, wrote
about the band's between-inning concerts in the San Francisco Chronicle,
June 8, 1970:
"The band, you say? Yes, the As's
authentically have the best band in baseball. . . one of the finest
traditional jazz bands in the United States . . . essentially Bob Mielke
and his Bearcats, a traditional band that has provided Bay Area music
lovers with some of the best sounds in their genre for more than 20
The Swingin A's baseball team band had only four musicians its first season, 1968: L to R (standing atop the dugout):
Bob Helm Bob Mielke Bob Neighbor Dick Oxtot
Photos: Oxtot collection
Back of photo notation:
"Big deal in 1972 after
the A's had won their first pennant! Monte Moore, the A's radio
announcer (standing next to Helm) performs the MC duties."
Musicians, L to R: Bob Mielke, Bob Neighbor, Dick Oxtot, Bob Helm.
In his memoir Oxtot recalled the Swingin' A's and the 1973 World Series: "Life on the road with Finely was a full-time party. Finley was a genial host. (In Detroit) he hosted a 7- course lobster dinner for a flock of dignitaries and the band. After the feast, which must have cost him a bundle, Finley called a cab and invited Mielke to ride back to the hotel with him. As the cab approached the hotel, Finley asked Mielke, “Have you got five dollars for the cab?”
My last excursion to New York was with the A’s band, and probably the most scary at first: the World Series against the New York Mets. The band’s troubles began before the opening pitch of the first game, when . . . we began to play on top of the Mets’ dugout. Immediately we were greeted by a barrage of beer bottles and other miscellaneous debris, thrown at us by the New York fans!
We managed to dodge most of these flying missiles before the unfriendly atmosphere resulted in serious disaster, but the cops came to our rescue, post haste, made us get off of the dugout, and escorted us to some seats in the extreme rear of the grandstand where they instructed the band to ‘play no more’."
[Lodged in the Americana Hotel, the musicians were invited to join jazz trumpet player Bobby Hackett:] We, of course, were delighted to have one of the tastiest trumpet players in the business play with us. We were honored, and considered the event to be the highlight of our visit to the ‘Big Apple’.”
For almost a quarter century the skilled, adventurous and creative Swingin’ A’s Baseball Band brought authentic classic jazz and American music directly to stadium listeners.
New photos and recordings tell the tale.
Dick's Folk, Blues, Gospel, Western Swing, Bluegrass, Old Timey and Country Music
OXTOT's love for Folk, Country and Bluegrass music
On the first page of his memoir, Jazz Scrapbook, Dick Oxtot confessed a deep passion for country and string band music. Having been born and raised in South Carolina and Virginia, “And being a good Southern boy, I was a fan of hillbilly and Western music, which I sang constantly.” It was an enduring love.
Though Oxtot’s primary interest and source of income was jazz, he loved and played a wide range of rural genres: string band, bluegrass, western swing, old timey and folk music. He was an excellent lead or harmony singer in all these forms, projecting his voice in a sweet, clear, declarative style, usually playing string bass.
Among Dick’s early ventures in this arena were a series of folk ensembles before about 1960, including a working vocal harmony trio with autoharp/banjo player Jo Wernham and guitarist Ken Ellis, The Enigmas.
The Enigmas garnered modest local success. They even opened for Bill Cosby at the Hungry i in San Francisco for a couple weeks, and cut an album for Fantasy Records. But their timing was wrong, the record didn't sell, and their agent’s projected path to success led through Los Angeles, a course none wanted.
FOLK (probably:) The Enigmas, aka Dick Oxtot Trio Dick Oxtot (string bass and vocal) Jo Wernham (autoharp and vocal) Ken Ellis (guitar and vocal):