California Report: Victor Skidanenko talks Central Valley Boys

Victor Skidanenko  is a Bay Area fan favorite performer and teacher of banjo, mandolin, and guitar. He currently plays banjo in the Central Valley Boys and the Thundering Heard, and guitar and mandolin in the True Life Troubadours.

Tell us about your first bluegrass influences.

My father always listened to classic country music when I was a kid. He would play Merle Haggard, Kitty Wells, Ray Price, and artists like that. He had a tape of the Osborne Brothers that I really enjoyed listening to.

Tell us about your first instrument.

The first instrument I played was piano. My sister was taking lessons on piano and I eventually had a few lessons on it as well. That didn’t last long for me, unfortunately. 

So your family was musical?

Yes, music has always been present in my family. My father would play music in the car or at home all the time. He played some trumpet as well. My sister took piano and later fiddle lessons. She’s quite good at playing Celtic music on the fiddle.

Who’s your biggest musical influence?

There are too many to count, but it would be a toss-up between Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, and the Stanley Brothers. I would also have to throw in Brian Setzer and Scotty Moore as well for non-bluegrass.

Tell us about the bands you play in.

Currently I play in the Central Valley Boys, the True Life Troubadours, and my new band the Thundering Heard. Here’s a recording of Home on the Mountains with the Thundering Heard.

That is hard core. Tell us about the Central Valley Boys.

The Central Valley Boys are dedicated to bringing great traditional bluegrass to the folks that would care to listen. We do a lot of songs of the Stanley Brothers, Reno & Smiley, The Farmer Boys, Rose Maddox, as well as some well-placed country music.  

Who are the band members?

The band consists of Yoseff Tucker on guitar and award-winning vocals. Dave Gooding holds down the bass and does most of the talking on stage. John Cogdill plays mandolin and lends his silky-smooth vocals to the group. Pete Hicks plays the fiddle, sings bass and also adds a bunch of entertaining songs to the group. I putz around on the banjo and sometimes I do some singing.

That’s a great lineup, it has evolved some in the last few years hasn’t it?

We’ve been around for a good while. They had already been going for a few years before I joined. We’ve all known each other for a good long time, so we had all met and picked together long before I joined the group. Pete is the newest member and he has been probably about the best fit for the band that we could think of.  

Who are some bluegrass artists from the California Central Valley people need to know about?

There are some really great artists to come out of California in the bluegrass and country music world. Some noteable California artists would be Vern Williams, Del Williams, Ray Park, Rose Maddox and the Maddox Brothers, The Farmer Boys, and High Country.  

You had a busy 2018, what shows and festivals are coming up this year? 

We’ve got a good mess of shows coming up this year. In a couple weeks we will be heading down to play at the 17th Annual Bluegrass on the Beach Festival in Lake Havasu, Arizona. After that we will be heading out to Pennsylvania for a couple of weeks to play the Windgap and NEPA Bluegrass festivals in May. We are also going to be playing at the Father’s Day Festival in Grass Valley and Prescott Bluegrass Festival in June. Then in July we have the Lost River Bluegrass Festival to round out our schedule.   

Let’s discuss wardrobe, where do you get it, how many suits do you take, and how do you keep them laundered on the road.

Right now we only have four different colored suits.  We should probably think about getting some more interesting colors. Maybe even another patterned suit. If you sleuth around on the information superhighway long enough you will find just about anything. Of course the suits are always cleaned and pressed before we go on the road. We wouldn’t want anyone to think that we are unkempt bunch. Obviously we only hold ourselves to the highest standards.   

Do you play non-bluegrass music?

Yes. I play rockabilly, country, and swing.

What interests you when you are not playing music?

Hiking, camping, woodwork, vegetable gardening, and Star Wars.

Which Star Wars characters do you think might play bluegrass?

I think that replacing Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes with Buzz Busby would change the atmosphere in the cantina a bit.

Do you have a lot of students?

Yes, teaching music is my main profession. I usually have between twenty-five and thirty students a week. 

What do you consider the best quality of a teacher?

The most important parts of teaching are having patience and finding out what motivates your students to learn to play.

What shows, events, or venues are most memorable for you?

I enjoyed playing the Grass Valley main stage with the Central Valley Boys and Rock Ridge, and when my rockabilly band played Viva Las Vegas. It was a lot of fun to perform at these events that I enjoy attending so much.

What CBA events have you played?

I’ve played quite a few over the years. Most recently it was on Vern’s Stage with a couple of different groups. 

Tell us what inspires you.

I really enjoy teaching. When it comes to banjo, I’m a big fan of Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, Allen Shelton, and Sonny Osborne. They’ve all influenced my playing in some way – Earl and Allen with the straight-ahead element, and Don and Sonny with the fun slightly wacky stuff.

Are there any particular eras of music that are your favorites?

I listen to all sorts of music and there’s a lot of great stuff from every era. Most of my favorite recordings are from the early 1950s into the early 1960s. That pretty much covers most of the bluegrass, country, rockabilly, and R&B that I listen to.  

Can you share some tips and tricks for players to continue to improve?

There’s no substitute for time spent practicing. Other than that, it’s important to immerse yourself in the music genre you’re learning. Get a feel for the way everything is supposed to sound. 

Describe some musical challenges you’ve had and how you overcame them.

There are too many challenges to count. I’m still always fighting the eternal battle of timing. The metronome is very important to me! I also think running bands and organizing schedules and shows is harder than anything more directly musical, like playing or performing.

Is your approach to singing different than playing an instrument?

I approach singing similarly to playing instruments in that I like to study recordings of artists I like.

Who are your favorite singers?

Carter Stanley because he’s bad-ass. Also Keith Whitley and Sam Cooke. My favorite trio is the Osborne Brothers with Dale Sledd.

What’s your personal singing style?

I try to steal a lot of things from a lot of different singers. I like to sing tunes in a simple way. I try not to do too many ornaments or use vibrato. Some singers I’ve studied are Carter Stanley, Red Allen, Buck Owens, Ray Price, and Paul Williams.

How do you go about arranging the vocal harmony stack?

It all depends on who’s singing lead and who you have at your disposal to sing the harmony vocals. If you have a lead singer with a low voice and two harmony vocalists with higher voices, chances are it’s going to be a high stack in the harmonies. In all of the bands I’ve been in, there were always a lot of different ways we stacked the vocals. 

Who are your favorite mandolin players?

Definitely Bill Monroe. You can really hear how his playing style changed over the course of his career. He started out playing really clean, and in the 1960s he went to a more sparse and aggressive approach. Later he came back to playing more straight and clean. I’ve always been a fan of David McLaughlin. He always had a very straightforward approach, and no matter how fast the Johnson Mountain Boys went it seemed as though he never missed a note.

What fiddle tunes do you love?

Bonaparte Crossing the Rocky Mountains, The Old Mountaineer, and Cherokee Shuffle.

What other artists excite you?

Jimi Hendrix because he’s awesome.

Who would you consider the Jimi Hendrix of bluegrass?

Maybe Raymond Fairchild. His studio recording of Kicking Mule is incredibly impressive by any standard. 

What instruments do you have?

A 1929 TB-3 Gibson conversion banjo, a Kentucky F mandolin, and a Blueridge acoustic guitar. I also have a Telecaster, a Stratocaster, a Guild hollow body electric, and a couple of ‘70s Fender silverface tube amps.

Any final thoughts that you want to share?

Play the melody.

Perfect, thanks so much, Victor,

Your welcome, Dave

Victors Website
Central Valley Boys Website
Bluegrass on the Beach

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About the Author

Dave Berry

Dave Berry is a California based author, mandolin picker, and composer who writes the California Report column for Bluegrass Today. He grew up in the Ohio Valley right between where the Big Sandy and Big Scioto rivers dump into the Ohio. His articles, Morning Walk album, and video are available on streaming sites and his website at