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VALLEY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Dad and Son Play Together, Stay Together

Dennis Witcher formed a band with son Gabe before the boy turned 7.

September 12, 1996|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Witcher Brothers Band, which is performing a gospel concert Saturday in Palmdale, is an up-and-coming bluegrass act in this part of the country. But the name is really a misnomer. There are no Witcher brothers in the band, only Granada Hills resident Dennis Witcher, 49, and his son Gabe.

Dennis Witcher, an aerospace engineer by day and a mandolin picker by night, started the band in 1985 with his son, then not quite 7 years old.

Over the last 11 years, the band has performed regularly throughout California and the West, plus put out two CDs--1990's "Family Ties" and 1995's "Yesterday's News."

Besides the father-son tandem, the Witcher Brothers Band consists of Andrew Paddock on bass, Kevin Gore on banjo and Tony Recupido on guitar. Witcher says it's been a great thing for him and his son.

"The whole band thing is something we've worked on together," Witcher says. "It's great, it's like what I hoped would happen."

While he the rest of band are no musical slouches, it's his offspring who commands most of the attention. "You always see it as a father," Witcher admits. "But with Gabe, everybody recognizes his talent."

Gabe Witcher, an 18-year-old wunderkind who won the Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Contest's Advanced Fiddle Competition several times before he started shaving, is shaving now and playing better than ever.

Now in his second year at USC, Gabe splits his time between the band with dad and playing and recording with the Laurel Canyon Ramblers, a band that includes L.A. music scene veteran Herb Pedersen. Gabe also is in demand as a session player. He has worked on recordings with such people as Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett, Bernie Taupin and Chris Hillman.

Does working together present any special problems for the father and son? "When we're working together, I try to treat him as a fellow band member," Dennis Witcher says. "I try not to bring along too many fatherly concerns."

The Palmdale concert will feature gospel songs performed in the bluegrass style. Bluegrass is relatively new, dating back to only the 1940s, but its roots can be traced to Southern Appalachian music and folk songs of the Celtic, Irish and Scottish traditions.

"Gospel and bluegrass have been there together all along," Dennis Witcher says. "The rural Southern churches all have bluegrass bands."

Also on the bill in Palmdale will be Howard Yearwood and Crossroads. The band consists of guitarist Yearwood, mandolinist Tom Corbett, banjo player Bill Knopf and bassist Carol Yearwood. These bluegrass veterans have over 70 years of performing experience among them and have performed with the likes of Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Dwight Yoakam, Ricky Skaggs, Bryon Berline, Vince Gill and others.

Both bands will also be playing in October at the Follows Camp Bluegrass Festival in the hills above Azusa.

* The Witcher Brothers Band and Howard Yearwood and Crossroads will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Palmdale Playhouse, 38334 10th St. E. Tickets are $14 general, $13 seniors, $4 children under 12. Call (805) 267-5685.

*

Nothin' but the Blues: There's going to be a party tonight at the Classroom in Northridge to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the club's regular Thursday night blues jam. But unfortunately for local blues aficionados, the man who brought the blues to the nitery, Tim Casey, has announced his days in the Valley are numbered.

Casey has been the mainstay performer and booker at the Classroom for the last five years. In those years, prominent blues players such as Coco Montoya, Joe Houston, Louisiana Guitar Red, Harmonica Fats, Blind Joe Hill, Smokey Wilson, Brody Buster and Lee Oskar have graced the stage of the Northridge club.

With an unbridled enthusiasm for the music, Casey is a walkin', talkin' testimonial for the 12-bar form in the Valley. But the singer-guitarist is making his move to Redmond, Wash., in the Seattle area, come November.

Although he's a nighttime blues man, Casey puts in a 40-hour week while the sun shines. The firm he works for is headquartered in Redmond. The day gig, while not music-related, is too good to give up, Casey says. Things like health insurance, food on the table and clothes for his kids were all factors in his decision.

Casey says he's looking at the move as a new opportunity for his career--new places to play and airplane rides to catch. Although he won't be doing the blues jam or booking the club anymore, Casey says he'll be coming into town at least two weekends a month to do gigs with his band, the Bluescats.

And Casey and the band will have a new CD out later this month. True to its name, "Live at Smokin' Johnnie's," the two-hour album was recorded a few months ago at the Studio City club.

Casey has scheduled his farewell party for Nov. 15 at the Classroom. After that, the blues jam will fall to the hands of Casey's sideman, Mark Anthony.

As for tonight's festivities, Casey predicts, "It's gonna be crankin'."

* Tim Casey and the Bluescats will host the fifth anniversary party of the Thursday night blues jam at the Classroom, 8333 Tampa Ave., Northridge. No cover. Call (818) 885-0250.

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