Music industry professionals and self-described “music geeks” Randy Poe and Scott B. Bomar recently hosted a SiriusXM radio special called “The Best of the Bakersfield Sound.” Aired on the Willie’s Roadhouse station (which is named for Willie Nelson and features primarily traditional country music), Poe and Bomar counted down their 50 favorite recordings to come out of the Country Music Capital of the West. The special was produced by SiriusXM program director Jeremy Tepper.
Here are Bomar and Poe’s selections, along with their thoughts on each of the recordings:
50. “Open Up Your Heart” — Buck Owens (Capitol Records, 1966) / Written by Buck Owens
While Don Rich usually handled lead guitar duties in Buck’s band, the Buckaroos, the twang on “Open Up Your Heart” was provided courtesy of former Ricky Nelson guitar slinger and future Elvis sideman James Burton. Recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood, the record stayed at #1 for four weeks on the country chart in 1966.
49. “Louisiana Swing” — Bud Hobbs (MGM Records, 1954) / Written by Sheb Wooley
Though professionally based in Northern California, Hobbs spent a good bit of time in Bakersfield. While in town, he picked up some local pickers to appear on this recording session, including Oscar Whittington and Jelly Sanders on twin fiddles, bandleader Bill Woods on piano, and a young Buck Owens on lead guitar. The song was written by Sheb Wooley, who would go on to “Purple People Eater” fame some years later.
48. “Now Hear This” — Jimmy Thomason (Vita Records, 1956) / Written by George Galbraith and Ralph Yaw
Originally from Waco, Texas, Thomason moved to Bakersfield in 1949 and found work as a bandleader, emcee and, eventually, the host of his own local TV show. He released eight singles for the King label between 1951 and 1953, before going on to record “Now Hear This” for Pasadena’s Vita label in 1956. Though known as a fiddle player, this record is considerably more rock-oriented, with saxophones and a driving beat. It’s a reminder that the Bakersfield Sound actually incorporated many different sounds.
47. “Ask Me No Questions” — Bill Woods (Bakersfield Records, 1957) / Written by Bill Woods and B. Wesley
Bill Woods is widely regarded as the father of the Bakersfield Sound. He was a bandleader, performer, promoter, DJ and talent scout who recruited Buck Owens to play guitar in his band at Bakersfield’s famed Blackboard club in the early 1950s. Here Woods handles the lead vocal duties on a single released by his own record label.
46. “Bill Woods from Bakersfield” — Red Simpson (Capitol Records, 1973) / Written by Red Simpson
Bill Woods was so beloved that fellow Bakersfield singer Red Simpson wrote a tribute song about him. Merle Haggard recorded his own excellent version of Simpson’s song, further illustrating the loyalty Woods earned from those he befriended and mentored.
45. “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)” — Joe and Rose Lee Maphis (Okeh Records, 1953) / Written by Joe Maphis, Rose Lee Maphis and Max Fidler
The Maphises moved from Virginia to Los Angeles in the summer of 1952. One of the first gigs they played in California was with Bill Woods and Buck Owens at the Blackboard club. The legendary venue inspired the lyrics to “Dim Lights,” which has become a country standard. Later, in the early 1960s, Joe and Rose Lee moved to Bakersfield where they worked as regular cast members on Cousin Herb Henson’s popular TV show, “The Trading Post.”
44. “Mixed Up Mess of a Heart” — Merle Haggard (Capitol Records, 1966) / Written by Merle Haggard and Tommy Collins
Haggard wrote this song with fellow Bakersfield songwriting legend Tommy Collins and recorded it at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. The Don Rich-style high harmonies were sung by a pre-fame Glen Campbell.
43. “More Wine More Women More Song” — Lewis Talley (Tally Records, 1965) / Written by Buddy Mize
Lewis Talley and his cousin, Fuzzy Owen, were key players on the Bakersfield music scene of the 1950s and ’60s. They’re remembered as the men behind Tally Records, and for their roles in Merle Haggard’s career, but both were fine singers and musicians in their own right. Though he didn’t record often, this is a good example of Talley’s warm honky-tonk vocal style.
42. “Take Possession” — Jean Shepard (Capitol Records, 1955) / Written by Tom Glazer and Helen Martell
Though she’s been a fixture on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry for decades, Jean Shepard’s career began in California. She grew up in Visalia, and when she started recording for Capitol Records, her studio backing band was almost always made up of Bakersfield musicians. In 1955 her version of “A Satisfied Mind” hit the Top 5 on the country chart. It was so popular that even the B-side, “Take Possession,” hit No. 13. Both songs were recorded at the same session with a backing band that included Lewis Talley, Jelly Sanders, Bill Woods and Gene Breeden, who went to high school with Shepard and later produced Red Simpson’s huge hit, “I’m a Truck.”
41. “Kathleen” — Wally Lewis (Tally Records, 1958) / Written by Wally Lewis and Beverly Stewart
Though Tally Records would introduce the world to Bonnie Owens and Merle Haggard, its first record to make an impact beyond the region was Wally Lewis’ “Kathleen.” The recording was picked up by Dot Records and even appeared on the national pop chart as ranked by the industry’s Cash Box magazine in 1958 — right between Elvis Presley and Johnny Mathis. It only stayed on the chart one week before it disappeared. Lewis later disappeared after allegedly running off with another local musician’s wife.
40. “Let the World Keep On A Turnin’” — Buck Owens & Buddy Alan (Capitol Records, 1968) / Written by Buck Owens
Buddy is, of course, the son of Buck Owens and Bonnie Owens, and the stepson of Merle Haggard. That alone makes him Bakersfield country music royalty, but he also made some excellent records, including this duet with his dad, which became a Top 10 single in 1968.
39. “I’m the Bartender’s Best Friend” — David Frizzell (Capitol Records, 1974) / Written by Louie Frizzell and Dennis Knutson
Lefty Frizzell’s younger brother, David, scored some big hits in the early 1980s with songs such as “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home.” Back in the early 1970s he was signed with Buck Owens’ organization and recorded a handful of singles at Buck’s Bakersfield studio. Though this one wasn’t a hit, it shows Frizzell’s honky-tonk talents were right at home in the Country Music Capital of the West.
38. “Little Pink Mack” — Kay Adams (Tower Records, 1966) / Written by Chris Roberts, Jim Thornton, and Scott Turner
Bakersfield singer Kay Adams got her start singing on a local TV show hosted by Dave Stogner, which also featured Red Simpson and longtime Merle Haggard sideman Norm Hamlet. She landed a record deal and “Little Pink Mack” became a Top 40 country single. Kay toured extensively with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and won Most Promising Female Vocalist at the very first Academy of Country Music awards show back in 1965.
37. “Act Naturally” — Buck Owens (live performance, 1963) / Written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison
This is a live version of Buck’s first #1 single, which was recorded in Bakersfield at a 1963 concert honoring Cousin Herb Henson in celebration of his 10 years as an influential local TV personality. Capitol later released an album of that night’s show, which they called “Country Music Hootenanny With Cousin Herb Henson Featuring Country Music’s Greatest Stars.” Buck once said the guy at Capitol Records who came up with that title must have been getting paid by the word!
36. “Foolish Notions” — Kenny Hays (Rose Records, 1962) / Written by Buddy Mize and Dallas Frazier
Kenny Hays was the brother of longtime Bakersfield guitarist Tommy Hays. Kenny spent 20 years in the Army where he fronted his own band, the Rockin’ Ramblers. This song was one side of the only record he ever released, but it’s a great one!
35. “Yer Fer Me” – Fuzzy Owen (Tally Records, 1956) / Written by Buck Owens and Tommy Collins
Though Fuzzy would go on to manage Merle Haggard’s career for decades, he recorded some fantastic singles in the 1950s, including this hard-to-find gem. The lead guitar work was handled by a not-yet-famous Buck Owens, who co-wrote the song with Tommy Collins. Both Owens and Collins later recorded their own versions, but went uptown by changing the title to “You’re For Me.”
34. “Guitar Pickin’ Man” — Don Rich and the Buckaroos (Capitol Records, 1970) / Written by Don Rich
When Buck opened his own studio in Bakersfield in the 1970s, the Buckaroos had a place to record just about anytime they wanted. “Guitar Pickin’ Man” was one of the great cuts recorded by the boys with Buck’s lead guitarist, fiddle player, harmony singer and right hand man, Don Rich, handling lead vocal duties.
33. “Someone to Love” — The Farmer Boys (Capitol Records, 1957) / Written by Buck Owens and Red Simpson
The Farmer Boys — Bobby Adamson and Woody Murray — were offered a recording contact with Capitol Records after they became regionally popular via Cousin Herb Henson’s Bakersfield-based TV show. The day they recorded this selection was an important milestone for both Red Simpson and Buck Owens. It would mark the first time a major act recorded a Simpson song, and it was the day that Buck Owens, who was also playing guitar on the session, was offered his own Capitol Records recording contract.
32. “Close Up the Honky Tonks” — Buck Owens (Capitol Records, 1964) / Written by Red Simpson
A number of musicians passed through the Buckaroos over the years, but many people regard guitarist Don Rich, bassist Doyle Holly, steel guitarist Tom Brumley and drummer Willie Cantu as the “classic” lineup. This song was recorded at the very first recording session featuring this incarnation of the band.
31. “Old Standby” — Dick Curless and Kay Adams (Tower Records, 1966) / Written by Red Simpson and Fuzzy Owen
Not only was Kay Adams a mainstay on both Buck Owens’ and Merle Haggard’s live show at various times, she also recorded as a duo with Dick Curless, who, like Kay, was managed by Buck Owens’ company. In fact, Buck, himself, produced this recording session.
30. “Stood Up Blues” — Custer Bottoms (Bakersfield Records, 1957) / Written by Custer Bottoms
Custer Bottoms — one of the hardest names in showbiz to say with a straight face — was a part-time musician who owned a gas station in Delano. Future guitar hero Roy Buchanan played in Bottoms’ band as a teenager, but had to leave the group when he was caught performing in bars while still underage. Buchanan was already gone by the time Custer recorded his original composition, “Stood Up Blues,” with famed Bakersfield bandleader Bill Woods.
29. “Make It Soon” — Gene Martin (Bakersfield Records, 1957) / Written by Gene Martin
Gene Breeden went to high school with Jean Shepard and played on several of her early records. He would go on to make his mark as a producer, most notably as the man behind Red Simpson’s hit recording of “I’m a Truck.” In the 1950s, however, he was known as Gene Martin, at the request of his mother, who didn’t want him making hillbilly records under his real name. He’s backed by his own group, the Desert Stars, which included steel guitarist Norm Hamlet.
28. “L.A. International Airport” (live recording, 1973) / Written by Leanne Scott
After Kay Adams, Susan Raye became what they politically-incorrectly used to call the “girl singer” on Buck Owens’ road show. She was signed to his management company and inked a deal with Capitol Records via Buck’s production arrangement with the label. In 1971 she recorded “L.A. International Airport,” a song which was previously recorded by — but not a hit for — David Frizzell. Susan’s version was a Top 10 country single, and this live recording comes from Buck Owens’ 1973 Toys for Tots fundraiser show in Bakersfield. The backing band is the Buckaroos, featuring Don Rich, Doyle Curtsinger, Jim Shaw and Jerry Wiggins, who is now married to Susan Raye.
27. “Empty Days and Lonely Nights” — Don Thompson with Coy Baker (Bakersfield Records, 1957) / Written by Don Thompson
Coy Baker was a DJ and emcee who worked in the San Joaquin Valley, but was more of a promoter than a performer. Though this record bears his name, the vocalist is actually Don Thompson, who was a member of the Desert Stars, alongside Gene Breeden and Norm Hamlet. Not much is known about Baker or Thompson, but this honky-tonk weeper is one of the best records to emerge from Bakersfield in the 1950s.
26. “Blues in the Blue of the Night” — Billy Barton (Grande Records, 1952) / Written by Billy Barton
Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky’s 1953 duet recording of “A Dear John Letter” was the first national hit to feature almost entirely Bakersfield-based backing musicians. The song was written by Billy Barton, also known as Hillbilly Barton, who happened to be the first guy to launch a country music label in Bakersfield. “Blues in the Blue of the Night” was issued on Barton’s own Grande label, but there was one problem. The exact same recording had already been released on Abbott, the label to which he was already under contract. Barton, a fast-talking huckster who was always looking to make a deal or work an angle, was bootlegging his own recording. Regardless, he was a talented writer and performer, and an important pioneer in shaping the earliest days of Bakersfield’s country music business.
25. “Ain’t You Had No Bringin’ Up at All” — Dallas Frazier (Capitol Records, 1954) / Written by Dallas Frazier Dallas
Frazier is one of Nashville’s most successful songwriters of all time, with hits such as “There Goes My Everything” and “Elvira.” He got his start, however, in Bakersfield. After winning a talent show as a pre-teen, he joined Ferlin Husky’s band and moved into Ferlin’s Bakersfield home. His roommate was songwriter Tommy Collins, who also worked with Husky in that era. Frazier became a regular performer on the popular “Trading Post” show, hosted by Cousin Herb Henson, and honed his songwriting skills in Bakersfield’s music community. He was only 14 years old when he made this record.
24. “Goodbye Baby Goodbye” — Herb Henson (Shasta Records, 1960) / Written by Herb Henson and Red Simpson
Though best remembered for his affable and quick-witted personality on his daily country music TV show, “Trading Post,” Cousin Herb Henson was also a recording artist and a gifted piano player. After Ferlin Husky, he was the first Bakersfield artist to sign with Capitol Records. Though that deal was short-lived, he continued to record for small labels until his untimely death in 1963.
23. “I Want You So” — Terry Preston (Capitol Records, 1951) / Written by Herb Henson and Betty Westergard
If you don’t recognize the name Terry Preston, it’s probably because you know him by his real name, Ferlin Husky. Ferlin was living and working in Bakersfield when he signed with Capitol Records in the early 1950s, and he’s the artist who initiated the relationship with Capitol that saw so many great local artists make their mark there. Without Ferlin we might not know Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, Red Simpson, Bonnie Owens or Bobby Durham, just to name a few.
22. “The Bottle Let Me Down” — Merle Haggard (Capitol Records, 1966) / Written by Merle Haggard
This was Haggard’s third Top 10 hit. Featuring lead guitar work by James Burton, the twisty Telecaster twang has become synonymous with the Bakersfield Sound. It’s one of Merle’s finest performances and one of the jewels in the crown of Bakersfield’s musical legacy.
21. “Just for the Children’s Sake” — Bonnie Owens (Del-Fi Records, 1960) / Written by Harlan Howard
Having been married to both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard put Bonnie Owens at the center of the Bakersfield music scene, but she was a true talent in her own right. She had hits on the chart before Haggard did, and it was her duets with Merle that helped establish his early singing career. “Just For the Children’s Sake” was produced by Gary Paxton, who is best remembered as the producer of “The Monster Mash.” In the late 1960s Paxton opened a recording studio on Chester Avenue, right next to the old theater where Buck Owens would eventually open up his own recording facility.
20. “My Past is Present” — Bobby Durham (Capitol Records, 1964) / Written by Wynn Stewart and Merle Haggard
Bobby Durham was born in Bakersfield to a family of Texans who relocated to California during the Dust Bowl era in search of a new life. As a teenager, Bobby became the lead singer for a local rock band called Jolly Jody and the Go-Daddies. “My Past is Present” was recorded at his first Capitol session, and featured a who’s who of Bakersfield backing musicians, including Red Simpson on piano and an unknown Merle Haggard on bass guitar. Haggard wrote the song with influential singer and band leader Wynn Stewart.
19. “Cryin’ Time” — Buck Owens and Susan Raye (Capitol Records, 1970) / Written by Buck Owens
Buck Owens and Susan Raye’s duet of “Cryin’ Time” was the flip-side of their 1972 hit, “Looking Back to See.” Buck’s original recording of the song was the flip-side of “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail,” and was not a hit. Instead, it was Ray Charles’ recording of Buck’s composition that became the hit version and won Charles two Grammy awards.
18. “Have I Got a Chance With You” — Cliff Crofford with Bill Woods and his Orange Blossom Playboys (Modern Records, 1949) / Written by Bill Woods and Cliff Crofford
When Bill Woods, Cliff Crofford, steel guitarist Billy Mize, and the rest of the boys in the band traveled to Los Angeles to cut this song in 1949, they became the first Bakersfield country act to record for an established label. Later, Mize and Crofford would make a name for themselves as a duo with their weekly performances on the popular Los Angeles TV show, “Town Hall Party,” which was the “Grand Ole Opry” of the West Coast. Crofford went on to write hits such as “Old Rivers” for Walter Brennan, “Send Me Down to Tucson” for Mel Tillis, and “Bar Room Buddies” for Merle Haggard and Clint Eastwood.
17. “Under Your Spell Again” —Buck Owens (Capitol Records, 1959) / Written by Buck Owens and Dusty Rhodes
This record became Buck Owens’ very first Top 10 country hit. It captures the essence of the late 1950s West Coast country sound, thanks largely to the excellent pedal steel guitar work of Ralph Mooney. It was Mooney who wrote Ray Price’s big hit, “Crazy Arms.” Price also recorded a version of “Under Your Spell Again,” which fought Buck’s record all the way up the charts. Ray’s topped out at No. 5, while Buck’s barely squeaked by to hit No. 4.
16. “The Key’s in the Mailbox” — Tony Booth (Capitol Records, 1972) / Written by Harlan Howard
This song was written by Harlan Howard, who penned many hits with Buck Owens, including “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache)” and “I’ve Got a Tiger By The Tail.” “The Key’s in the Mailbox” had been a Top 20 hit for Freddie Hart in 1960, but became a bigger hit for Tony Booth who revived it with this version, recorded at Buck Owens’ studio in Bakersfield.
15. “Loose Talk” — Buck Owens and Rose Maddox (Capitol Records, 1961) / Written by Freddie Hart and Ann Lucas
Speaking of Freddie Hart, he wrote this duet for Buck Owens and Rose Maddox. Most of the pioneers of the Bakersfield music scene were very much taken with her original group, The Maddox Brothers and Rose — especially their gifted lead guitarist, Roy Nichols. Nichols would go on to play guitar for Merle Haggard’s band for many years. By the time she recorded with Buck, Rose was only 35 years old, but was already an institution on the West Coast country scene for her recordings with the heavily rhinestoned Maddoxes, who came to be known as “America’s most colorful hillbilly band.”
14. “Apartment #9” — Bobby Austin (Tally Records, 1966) / Written by Bobby Austin and Johnny Paycheck
Austin was another musician who, like Merle Haggard, passed through the influential Wynn Stewart’s band. In the mid-1960s Fuzzy Owen recorded Bobby as an artist on the local Tally label, and they wound up hitting the national country charts with “Apartment #9.” Tammy Wynette recorded her own version of “Apartment #9,” but Austin’s record climbed higher on the charts.
13. “You Better Not Do That” —Tommy Collins (Capitol Records, 1954) / Written by Tommy Collins
Leonard Sipes came to California in the early 1950s on a vacation with the family of his girlfriend, future rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson. Impressed with the budding local music scene, he decided to stay. Sipes was hired by Ferlin Husky, who suggested he change his name to Tommy Collins. He became a Capitol recording artist, and this record features the instrumental talents of fellow Bakersfield musicians Buck Owens, Bill Woods, Fuzzy Owen and Lewis Talley. Best remembered as a gifted songwriter, Tommy would go on to pen “Carolyn” and “The Roots of My Raising” for Merle Haggard, “New Patches” for Mel Tillis and “If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’)” which was a hit for both Faron Young and George Strait.
12. “You’ll Never Miss the Water (Til The Well Runs Dry)” — The Buckaroos (Capitol Records, 1967) / Written by Don Rich
There was a period in 1966 and ’67 when bassist Doyle Holly left the Buckaroos to work as a solo artist. Buck hired Wayne Wilson as his bass player, who trades vocals with Don Rich on this excellent duet.
11. “Second Fiddle” — Johnny Barnett (Tally Records, 1963) / Written by Merle Haggard and Jelly Sanders
Barnett was one of the most beloved bandleaders on the local music scene in the 1950s and ’60s. He played regularly at The Lucky Spot from 1950 through 1963, and his band included several notable members at various times, including Fuzzy Owen, Cliff Crofford, guitarist Gene Moles, Red Simpson, Jelly Sanders and Merle Haggard. Sanders and Haggard teamed up to write this song, which marked the very first time a Merle Haggard composition was commercially released by any artist. It was the only record Barnett ever made, but it’s a great one!
10. “Playboy” — Wynn Stewart (Challenge Records, 1960) / Written by Bob Morris and Eddie Miller
Stewart wasn’t based in Bakersfield, but his impact on what’s come to be known as the Bakersfield Sound can’t be overestimated. He was a major influence on both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Back in 1960, he recorded “Playboy” with a backing band that included Bakersfield pickers Lewis Talley on guitar and George French on piano. Also on the session was Ralph Mooney, whose distinctive pedal steel guitar style virtually defined the California country sound. Both Bobby Durham and Dwight Yoakam had made “Playboy” an important staple in their repertoire.
9. “California Cottonfields” — Merle Haggard (Capitol Records, 1969) / Written by Dallas Frazier and Earl Montgomery
The lyrics tell of an Oklahoma farming family who set out for California with dreams of a better life, but wound up facing the same hard work and poverty they’d known back home. Though it wasn’t released as a single, it has become a classic in the Haggard canon for its un-romanticized portrait of the Dust Bowl era migrant experience that shaped the lives of so many in Bakersfield’s music community.
8. “Roll Truck Roll” — Red Simpson (Capitol Records, 1966) / Written by Tommy Collins
By the mid-1960s, Red Simpson had written big hits for Buck Owens, such as “Sam’s Place” and “Gonne Have Love.” When Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson was looking for someone to record an album of truck-driving songs, he asked Simpson to fill the bill. Red agreed and his first single, “Roll Truck Roll,” became a Top 40 country hit in 1966. Though Red was a prolific songwriter, this song was written by his old friend and fellow Bakersfield tunesmith Tommy Collins.
7. “Together Again” — Buck Owens (Capitol Records, 1964) / Written by Buck Owens
“My Heart Skips a Beat” was the A-side of one of Buck’s 1964 Capitol singles. “Together Again” was put on the B side, but proved to be just as popular with radio audiences. It eventually went all the way to No. 1 on the charts, but it had to knock “My Heart Skips a Beat” out of the top position to get there. Buck was so popular in the mid-1960s that he was competing with himself to reach the top of the charts!
6. “Streets of Bakersfield” — Homer Joy (Capitol Records, 1972) / Written by Homer Joy
Homer Joy was a truck driver from Spokane, Wash., who mailed a tape of his songs to Buck Owens’ Bakersfield publishing company in 1970. Such unsolicited tapes were usually thrown out, but someone thought the name “Homer Joy” was funny and decided to play it for a laugh. Turns out the songs were good, and Buck offered Homer a publishing contract. In 1972 Joy recorded his song “Streets of Bakersfield,” which was released as a single on Capitol Records. It later became a No. 1 hit in 1988 when Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam revived it as a duet.
5. “Truck Drivin’ Man” — Bill Woods (Rose Records, 1962) / Written by Terry Fell
Bill’s signature song was “Truck Driving Man,” which was originally performed by West Coast country singer Terry Fell. Singing backup on this record is Don Rich. Buck Owens never loaned out his band members to others, and once even denied Ray Charles’ request to borrow some of the Buckaroos for a recording session. But if anyone could get a special exception from Buck, it was his old boss and mentor Bill Woods.
4. “Who Will Buy the Wine” — Billy Mize (Decca Records, 1956) / Written by Billy Mize
Billy Mize was one of the earliest pioneers of the Bakersfield Sound, alongside Bill Woods and Herb Henson. He recorded extensively with Merle Haggard, including memorable background vocals on “Silver Wings,” and made his own records as an artist. He was nominated for 23 Academy of Country Music awards between 1965 and 1973, and his songs were recorded by Haggard, Dean Martin, Porter Wagoner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon Jennings and Barbara Mandrell, who covered Billy’s “Queen for a Day” on Bakersfield’s Mosrite label in 1966. “Who Will Buy the Wine” was later covered by Charlie Walker, who made it a Top 10 country hit in 1960.
3. “A Dear John Letter” — Fuzzy Owen and Bonnie Owens (Mar-Vel Records, 1952) / Written by Billy Barton
Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky’s recording of “A Dear John Letter” was the big bang that put Bakersfield on the national country music map when it became a major No. 1 single in 1953. The story of how it came about is the stuff of Bakersfield legend. In 1952 Hillbilly Barton launched an independent record company in Bakersfield and recorded Fuzzy and Bonnie. Barton wrote the song, but Owen and Lewis Talley gave Barton a 1947 Kaiser automobile in exchange for the songwriting credits and ownership of the composition. Figuring he’d pulled off a great scam, Barton drove around town bragging that he’d swapped a worthless song for a perfectly good car. Of course when Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky recorded it for Capitol, it became a massive success and a career-making hit for both artists. Billy Barton was furious. Eventually, all three men’s names would appear on the writer credits. As for Fuzzy Owen, he always liked to say, “Billy Barton was a con man who got conned.”
2. “Mama Tried” — Merle Haggard (Capitol Records, 1968 ) / Written by Merle Haggard
Haggard’s best known song is “Mama Tried,” a semi-autobiographical tale loosely based on Haggard’s own youthful brushes with the law that landed him in San Quentin prison in 1958. The opening line paints the visual image of the converted box car where Merle grew up, just steps away from the railroad tracks in Oildale. The song was a No. 1 hit for four weeks in 1968 and was honored with the prestigious Grammy Hall of Fame award in 1999. With a backing band that included hotshot guitarist Roy Nichols, James Burton, Red Simpson, Norm Hamlet and Bonnie Owens on harmony vocals, “Mama Tried” is a Bakersfield classic.
1. “Love’s Gonna Live Here” — Buck Owens (Capitol Records, 1963) / Written by Buck Owens
Buck Owens put Bakersfield on the national musical map, earning it the nicknames Country Music Capital of the West, Nashville West and — perhaps most appropriately — Buckersfield. He scored nearly 75 Top 40 country hits during his career, but this one stayed at the top spot on the charts longer than any other. Buck himself said, “That thing was number one for 16 weeks in a row. After all those years of being told you can’t make a country record if you don’t record it in Nashville, and you can’t be a country star if you don’t live in Nashville, we proved ’em all wrong with one record.”
What do you think of Scott and Randy’s choices? Agree? Disagree? Did you get a chance to hear their special on SiriusXM? They’d love to hear from you. You can email them at BakersfieldCountry@gmail.com.