Bakersfield and Beyond airs every other Thursday on www.kwmr.org. We play music from, about, inspired by the Bakersfield Sound.
Here’s how it happened. We were covering Foggy Ridge Music while Will Minor was away and were playing a Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers CD. Like their web site states, “If you like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, X or any combination thereof, you’ll immediately recognize the band as kindred souls.” It went on to say “The Bakersfield Sound.” Mike Varley and I looked at each other with raised brows and thus it began. An exploration into this sound called “Bakersfield”. Turns out we both had a fair amount of the music already and when we discovered more of this music we liked it as well. If it hadn’t been for our pal Ty calling in to berate us on our lack of knowledge on the California West Coast Country sound the moment might have slipped by, but neither of us take kindly to being thought of as foolish. It doesn’t take much more than an informed Google search to find Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen (Dr. BLT) and his Bakersfield Underground blog. Bruce joins us most shows with a live update on what is happening in Bakersfield proper. We figure there is enough material to keep us in radio shows for the foreseeable future.
The Bakersfield sound was developed at honky-tonk bars such as The Blackboard, and on local television stations in Bakersfield and throughout California in the 1950s and 1960s. The town, known mainly for agriculture and oil production, was the destination for many Dust Bowl migrants and others from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and other parts of the South. The mass migration of “Okies” to California also meant that their music would follow and thrive, finding an audience in California’s Central Valley. One of the first groups to make it big on the west coast was the Maddox Brothers and Rose, who were the first to wear outlandish costumes and make a “show” out of their performances.
Bakersfield country was a reaction against the slickly-produced, string orchestra-laden Nashville Sound, which was becoming popular in the late 1950s. Artists like Wynn Stewart used electric instruments and added a backbeat, as well as other stylistic elements borrowed from rock and roll. In 1954 Bud Hobbs MGM recording artist, recorded “Louisiana Swing” with Buck Owens on lead guitar, Bill Woods on Piano and dual fiddles of Oscar Whittington and Jelly Sanders. “Louisiana Swing” was the first song recorded in the style known today as the legendary “Bakersfield Sound.” In the early 1960s, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, among others, brought the Bakersfield sound to mainstream audiences, and it soon became one of the most popular kinds of country music, also influencing later country stars such as Dwight Yoakam, Marty Stuart, The Mavericks, and The Derailers.
Two important British Invasion-era rock bands also displayed some Bakersfield influences. The Beatles recorded a popular version of Owen’s Act Naturally. Years later, The Rolling Stones made their connection explicit in the lyrics of the very Bakersfield-sounding Far Away Eyes, which begins: “I was driving home early Sunday morning, through Bakersfield …”.
The Bakersfield Sound has such a large influence on the West Coast music scene that many small guitar companies set up shop in Bakersfield in the 1960’s. The biggest of significance was the Mosrite guitar company that still influences rock, country, and jazz music to this day. The famed Mosrite company was stationed in Bakersfield until the death of the company’s founder, Oildale resident Semie Moseley, in the mid-1990’s.
As you might have guessed. We aren’t from Bakersfield, but want to hear from you if you are. The music has influenced many, but the place influenced the musicians.