Walt Richards


                                                  photo: Greg Crowder

Walt Richards


Walt Richards began performing on guitar while still in high school. Within a year he had added banjo, soon becoming one of southern California's best known players, with multiple wins at Topanga in the 60's and 70's. He also toured nationally with the Eddystone Singers and the Appalachians in the 1960's. Although offered other opportunities related to his degree, music kept drawing him back and he started teaching guitar and banjo at a San Diego music store in 1963.

Walt is celebrating over 50 years of playing and teaching music in the San Diego area. As a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, he has worked with many diverse musical groups, including doing studio work and live theater (The Old Globe and Starlight theaters in San Diego), besides being a solo and group performer. Earlier work for television earned an Emmy for Walt and partner Vickie Cottle. His most recent television credits include train songs sung for a documentary originally commissioned by Disney.

In 1974, Walt and Vickie Cottle, along with Mike Craig, formed The New Expression Folk Music Study Center in San Diego. The retail part of the center was later sold to George Thorword to become the House of Strings in North Park, where Walt continued to teach. In May 2004, the House of Strings transformed into the beautiful Acoustic Expressions music center located on University Avenue in North Park. A few years later, Acoustic Expressions became Old Time Music, in that same location. When Old Time Music closed in 2011, the teaching center, New Expression Music, moved to a new location on 30th Street. In 2012, Walt relocated to a private studio - Hand Made Music - in La Mesa, California.


An Experienced Instructor

Walt works mainly with adults who have always wanted to play - who used to play and want to get back into it - who already play and want to improve - or who want to learn another instrument.

He has a very loyal following of long-time students - and, a waiting list - probably because he has an uncanny ability to identify the exact area on which to focus to help each individual progress to ever higher levels.

   Walt teaches:

Guitar: Fingerpicking: melodic and accompaniment styles
Flatpicking: Bluegrass, Country,
Lead and Accompaniment styles
Banjo: 3-fingered Bluegrass styles
Clawhammer / Frailing styles
Parlor styles from the late 19th century
Alternate Tunings
Mandolin: Bluegrass, Celtic, Country styles
(via tab and/or note reading)


One of Walt's greatest pleasures is in seeing his students do well. He is happy to offer assistance as they venture into solo/group performances. He is able to give beginner/intermediates the solid backup that leads to development of self-confidence and musical success.

To make it possible for intermediate players to have success in a band experience, Walt also works individually with small groups - helping each person learn how to be a positive contributor to their own group's particular sound in taking breaks, playing backup, singing harmonies and making arrangements.

After working together for a while, many of the groups have begun to perform in local venues. And some of Walt's students are now professional musicians in their own right.

Walt also offers workshops on Banjo, Guitar, Mandolin and Performance Skills.



                                                photo:Dennis Andersen

A Versatile Performer

Walt practices what he teaches, as he, himself, has been a continuous performer over the years - both as soloist and as leader of a number of groups including the San Diego Grass & Eclectic Company, Amber Moon, Bow Willow, Mandolin Madness, the Soft Touch Banjo Ensemble, The Brass,Key & Wind Swing Band and, currently, Trails & Rails.

In addition to his instrumental and arranging talents, Walt’s rich voice and harmonizing ability make him extremely versatile.

His active vocal repertoire includes hundreds of songs, with recent focus on the music of the West and trains. And then there are the instrumentals !

Walt is also a folklorist with a wealth of information on the history of his instruments as well as on the evolution of various types of folk music. Audience members often comment on how much they learn as well as enjoying the music at his concerts.

Walt and Trails & Rails partner, Paula Strong, have developed a number of historic musical programs describing 1) the settling of the West, 2) the changes brought by the railroad, and 3) the music of specific eras - such as the 1800's - including the Civil War - and the 1930's. These educational programs are particularly well suited for libraries, historical societies and schools-universities.

Walt can be heard on a number of CDs - solo, and with Trails & Rails: the Duo, Trio and the ‘Quatro’. (CDBaby and iTunes) Limited copies are available of some of the CDs recorded by his other groups. (Contact Walt to find out which are available.)


The Slo-Jam


For the past thirty years Walt has offered a "Slo-Jam" evening, once a month, through the facilities of the San Diego Parks and Recreation department. This open-to-the-public event has been a big success, with steady attendance and a solid core of repeat participants.

The third Friday get together usually starts off with a short discussion covering some aspect of theory, technique, harmony, arranging and performance skills. Walt then divides that evening’s attendees into smaller groups with the assignment of arranging the song that a pre-selected leader has brought. After an hour, during which Walt circulates and assists if needed, everyone reconvenes for a mini-concert of the newly arranged songs.

Walt's skill in working with a group of this size and his expertise on the various instruments keeps the evening moving right along and makes it a very popular event. People continue to be amazed at the creative arrangements the different groups come up with.

For information and directions to the Slo-Jam go to www.slojam.com (Meet-Up Page)



Bay area musician, Libby McLaren, perhaps summed it up best after watching him with some of his students when she was in San Diego for a workshop. She referred to Walt as " .. a gold mine for those of us lucky enough to be in his musical sphere."



© Copyright 2004 - 2016 Walt Richards