Originators of the Bakersfield Sound style of country music are glad they finally have a museum that preserves their history. But surviving pioneers, most in their 80s now, don't want their music to be merely a museum piece.
This weekend, members of the Bakersfield Country Music Museum will host one of their quarterly concerts to promote the regional style that has had a national impact.
"Primarily the show we've got coming up is a tribute to the old musicians," said BCMM board member Fred McCaa.
McCaa said he and other veterans such as Tommy Hays, Sonny Anglin, Barbara Cheatwood and Lawton Jiles are all expected to perform a few songs each. McCaa said these concerts are a way of passing on the torch to younger musicians, which prompted a move from Trout's nightclub on North Chester to the Moose Lodge on Belle Terrace.
"We moved from Trout's so young people could participate," McCaa said.
It was a different time, back in the late 1950s, when the musicians who would be credited with creating the Bakersfield Sound started reacting to the heavily produced records coming out of Nashville, when country music became big business, thanks to performers such as Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.
Borrowing from western music, bluegrass and early rock 'n' roll, this weekend's performers and colleagues such as Oscar Whittington, Billy Mize, Red Simpson, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, and, of course Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, made their own kind of music, with a strong backbeat, electric bass and pedal steel guitars. McCaa remembers even before that, back when he was known as "Bakersfield Fred" and his band was called "The Pickers."
"Back when I started playing, we didn't have much electric stuff --mostly acoustic and a microphone," said McCaa, who recalled making his own bass -- he overturned a washtub, inserted a pole and added a tightened string.
"We called it a strum-drum," McCaa said.
Anglin, another BCMM founder, began playing in the U.S. Navy, while serving on the heavy cruiser USS Canberra. After his service, he continued playing and in 1968 landed a 13-week television show on Channel 36 in San Jose.
"It was prime time," Anglin said. "It was called 'Saturday Night Country Style.' It broadcast to the Bay Area."
Both McCaa and Anglin hope younger audiences will hear and appreciate their style of music, which they still see as a reaction to music produced in Nashville.
"We want to get more people out to listen to the Bakersfield Sound while we still have it," Anglin said.
"We never did call it (the Bakersfield Sound)," McCaa said. "It was actually the individual's own music.
"It was a hand-me-down music --each song we played we learned from somebody else; we didn't learn from sheet music," McCaa said.
Anglin said younger musicians are turning out, often with their parents and grandparents, who have passed down the family music-making.
"You get pro and con," Anglin said. "Some like it, some like a different sound, and that's all right."
Anglin said the BCMM founders worked for 25 years to start a museum dedicated to their music and credits former Kern County Museum director Jeff Nickel for making their dreams a reality.
"The whole thing was we just wanted a place to put Joe Mathis' guitar, and Red Simpson's suit, and in Bakersfield," Anglin said.
"I just go over there and thank the Lord we've got something going," Anglin said. Pioneer Event concert for the Bakersfield Country Music Museum
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Stockdale Moose Lodge, 905 Stine Road.
Admission: Free for members, $10 for non-members