I've been going around bragging that my history of Bakersfield country music, published nearly two years ago, has been adapted for the stage a la Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables." And every time I do, my nose grows a tiny bit.

But "The Bakersfield Sound: A Walk Down Memory Lane," a musical revue of sorts starring Johnny Owens and the Buck Fever Band, along with an impressive cast of local and regional talent, does in fact trace much the same course as "The Bakersfield Sound: How a Generation of Displaced Okies Revolutionized American Music."

The story goes like this: A scorched little oil-and-ag town, bustling with post-war exuberance and second-generation Dust Bowlers, develops a robust honky-tonk culture inspired by the music of a divergent cast: Bob Wills, Buddy Holly, Ernest Tubb and Little Richard. When Elvis Presley's hips throw a scare into the Nashville establishment, prompting a strategic departure from its winning formula, Bakersfield leaps onto the national stage with a new crop of stars.

This show is a tribute to the music those stars created — the hits and signature songs that came out of this dusty little burg between 1953 and 1976. The one-time event (we think, for now) takes over the Kern County Fair grandstands Tuesday, Sept. 26. Showtime is 8 p.m.

The show is the brainchild of longtime local performer Rick "Reno" Stevens. He brought in fellow musician Ernie Lewis, who's the show's associate producer, and Eric Hann, whose dazzling set looks like it belongs on a Las Vegas stage and not a spiffed-up rodeo area.

As emcee, I'll jump in and give the songs some quick background and context. I may also offer up a Ferlin Husky impersonation.

Johnny Owens, the youngest son of Buck Owens, is the undisputed star of the show, but he'll have great company: Jennifer Keel, Theresa Spanke, Victor Sanz, Don and Annie Kidwell, Fattkatt Ybarra, Kim McAbee, Teddy Spanke, Brian Lonbeck, Susan Raye, Mayf Nutter, Johnny Barnett Jr., and a dozen more.

The show samples songs from the 1950s, '60s and '70s, including (and this list doesn't scratch the surface) Rick Russell's rendition of Joe and Rose Lee Maphis' paean to the Blackboard saloon, “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)”; Keel's take on "A Dear John Letter," the 1953 duet that made stars out of Ferlin Husky and Jean Shepard; Teddy Spanke's guitar tribute to the great Gene Moles, “Fingerlickin’”; Ernie Lewis's salute to Red Simpson, “Highway Patrol”; Susan Raye, singing her own 1971 hit, “L.A. International Airport”; and more Buck Owens and Merle Haggard than you can shake a Telecaster at. 

It's an ambitious undertaking that should leave fans reassured about the future of the Bakersfield Sound.

The show is sponsored by KUZZ and Buck Owens Productions, W.A.Thompson, the Kern County Buick GMC Dealers Association, the University of La Verne, Whittington Solar, the Tejon Indian Tribe, Emporium Western Store, Front Porch Music, Kern County Firefighters, Joronco Rentals, ICL Lighting and Bear Mountain Sports.

Reach The Californian's Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com.

(2) comments


We all wish it was 1953 again, things were a lot better then than they are now.....


I first heard Ferlin Husky when visiting relatives in the Loa Angeles area during the late forties. My background as an Okie farm laborer was one of shacks, tents and labor camps and I didn’t know anyone that had TV until I visited my older sister in Huntington Park who was the proud owner of a tiny TV set. Husky was on a country western program doing a really good job of impersonating other singers. I don’t remember what last name he was using at that time but the first name was Terry. Needless to say I was very surprised when he appeared in Bakersfield a few years later as Ferlin Husky. My taste for country music took a decidedly back seat to pop as I became acquainted with the pop artist of that area such as Pattie Page and Nat King Cole but I always remembered the remarkable job Husky did impersonating his fellow singers.

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