Carl Pagter passes 

Co-founder of the California Bluegrass Association (CBA), Carl Pagter passed away on Tuesday, January 3, 2023, in Virginia. He was 89 years old.

Carl Richard Pagter was born on February 13, 1934, in Baltimore, and helped to form the San Francisco Bay Area-based CBA with Jake Quesenberry and Jack Sadler in 1975. 

A clawhammer banjo player, Pagter’s introduction to the instrument came courtesy of a friendly fellow sailor during his Navy enlistment, and he learned to jam with other Navy personnel.

He became a lover and energetic supporter of old time and bluegrass music, serving as a benefactor and mentor to many in the community.

Pagter moved to California as a youth and earned an Associate of Arts degree from Diablo Valley College in 1953; a Bachelor of History degree from San Jose State University in 1955; and a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964. 

A lawyer by profession, he was employed in a corporate capacity in various locations in California, and in Washington, DC.

In 1975, Carl and Judie Cox Pagter formed the old-time string band, Country Ham, which evolved from Pagter’s first band, the Spout Run String Band. 

For about three decades the Pagters maintained a part-time performance and recording career in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Washington, DC. 

Country Ham – Old Time Mountain Music [1976] 

Darby Brandli, former President Emerita of the CBA, leads the tributes ..

“Carl had a life that mattered. When he ‘retired’ from CBA leadership, he became more involved with the Museum and the IBMA foundation, and he made certain the CBA continued a presence at the World of Bluegrass. He kept his finger on the pulse of the CBA and continued attending many meetings pre-pandemic.

These last couple of COVID years were tough for all of us, and I regret not staying in close touch with him.  He showed up at my camp at our Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival requesting that some of our talented young musicians play for him. Carl loved the CBA Youth Program, and he loved all our kids. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all the years of work he put into the CBA, and all the mentoring he did.”

Tim Edes, CBA Honorary Life Member and past board member and Chair, adds…

“Carl Pagter was a good man who was obsessed with the success of the California Bluegrass Association (CBA), and the preservation of bluegrass music. He was the founder of the CBA and was member #1. Carl was a great mentor and pragmatist. He was most proud of the fact that the organization and events were always run by volunteers. In addition, Carl was adamant that the CBA have a presence at the IBMA convention and trade show every year, personally financially supporting the trip for the team for several years. Carl deserves all honors and adulation for his dedication to bluegrass music. I shall miss him……rest in peace my friend.”

Dennis Cash had a long-standing friendship with Pagter going back to the 1970s, the duo often performing together during the following years …. 

“I met Carl years ago when I lived in the Sacramento, California, area and attended the CBA Father’s Day Festival. When I moved back east, he and I would visit at the IBMA convention. Carl was my favorite old time claw hammer banjo player. 

I did two albums of the music of the original Carter Family, and Carl played on both. He and his wife, Judie, asked me to play with them at the Tennessee Fall Homecoming several times. Carl had a passion for old time, real roots music. Not only was he a great player of that music, he had a wealth of knowledge about its history and its artists. And he was equally at home with bluegrass music. 

Carl was just a good guy. Whether we were doing music or just hanging out talking, it was good to be with Carl. He had vision to keep string music alive and well. He was a founding member of the CBA, member number 1. He was involved with both the IBMA and the IBMM.

Carl made about the best oyster stew I’ve ever eaten. It was at he and Judie’s farm in Stanardsville, Virginia, perhaps over a new year holiday (it’s been a while). One day Carl asked if I liked oyster stew. He said he was going to make some. So, he whipped up a pot. Best I’ve ever had!

Fine musician, great supporter of musicians, but most of all, just a good man and friend….that sums up how Carl Pagter will be remembered by me.”

Country Ham – Anchored In Love [1988] 

Stating when held in Owensboro, Kentucky, Pagter led the CBA to establish a popular week-long hospitality suite at the annual IBMA World of Bluegrass conventions, helping to make West Coast bluegrass musicians and bands better-known in the bluegrass heartland, and leading to an increase in the number of California bands touring the east coast regions.

This led to exchanges that had wide benefits for other initiatives.  

His patronage extended to him serving as a Trustee of the International Bluegrass Music Museum, Owensboro, Kentucky; as a board member and treasurer of the Foundation For Bluegrass Music (now the Bluegrass Music Foundation); as well as being a member of the American Folklore Society and the California Folklore Society.

Pagter was honored with the IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement Award in 1999.  

Carl Pagter plays and sings the Civil War era song Lorena ….

In his later years Pagter performed with the Mount Diablo String Band …

Mount Diablo String Band concert at the United Methodist Church in Walnut Creek, California, on May 14, 2010. 

Also, Pagter was a published author, producing a handful of humorous books and collections of cartoons with his collaborator Dr. Alan Dundes of UC Berkeley, many relating to the ups and downs of office work and corporate life.

R.I.P.  Carl Pagter

We are grateful to Dennis Cash for his help in completing this obituary. 

A Discography 

Country Ham

  • Old Time Mountain Music ‎(Vetco LP 510, released 1976)
  • Where The Mountain Laurel Blooms (Vetco LP 515, 1979)
  • My Old Paint Mare ‎(Vetco LP 517, 1980)
  • The Old Country Church (Vetco LP 519, 1980)   
  • Music For Clogging (Papa Lou 210, 1982)
  • Songs Of Yesterday ‎(Vetco LP 522, 1984)
  • Songs Of Mother And Home (Vetco LP 526, 1985)
  • Anchored In Love (Vetco LP 528, 1988)
  • I’ll Be Leaving (Vetco CD 530, 1993)
  • Carpenter’s Mill ‎(Country Ham CHR 532, 1998)
  • The Old Cane Press ‎(Country Ham CHR 533, 1998)   
  • The Lost Gospel Album (Reluctant 001, (CD) 2001)
  • Diamonds In The Rough (Country Ham CHR 534, 2002)
  • Songs from the Blue Ridge Mountains (Country Ham 003, 2005)
  • Playing On (No label, No #CD, 2008)

Joe Meadows

  • Fiddle Instrumentals ‎(Vetco Enterprises CD 531, 1993), with Country Ham

Dennis Cash

  • Songs Of Home (West Station WSR 122507-1, 2007)
  • Sing Me A Carter Family Song (Blue Circle BCR 034, January 7, 2013)

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.