Great country musicians have been debuting out of Bakersfield for decades, with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard being the pioneers. It's no surprise that another act from Bakersfield is breaking pavement in the music industry.

Bakersfield's Josh Graham and Rick Russell, former members of the Bakersfield country group Smokin' Armadillos, are on yet another musical journey together as country duo Lucky Ned Pepper.

"It was an amazing blessing to be able to do it one time but twice -- awesome!" said Graham, who plays acoustic guitar.

When the Smokin' Armadillos said farewell in 2005 after a 13-year stint, the band members went their separate ways in life. Graham went on to do sound engineering and Russell centered his life around his family.

"Deep down, I always knew that I would record a solo album just to see what it sounded like, but at that point when the farewell show ended, I just really started focusing on my kids," said Russell, lead vocals, on Lucky Ned Pepper's website, luckynedpepper.com. "Then I just kept getting the itch. I really wanted to get in there and record again."

Russell sought out help from longtime bandmate Graham with putting together a solo album. In a matter of time, the idea of becoming a duo intrigued the two.

"I got back in the frame of mind that it would be fun to make music with Rick again because for 13 years, that's all we did together," said Graham on the website.

Named after Robert Duvall's character from True Grit, a 1969 John Wayne film, Lucky Ned Pepper performed for the first time in February 2011. They released their debut CD, "Get Lucky," in September 2012.

"It was pretty strange and even uncomfortable at first," Graham told Bakersfield Life. "There's a certain amount of freedom that comes with only two of us calling the shots, but I noticed quickly how much I relied on all the other members of the band for so many things once that safety net is gone. I'm much more comfortable now, and it really has been fun to get a chance to do it again and recreate ourselves musically."

With hit songs like "I Remember the Music," written by some of the greatest songwriters in the country music industry, Ashley Gorley and Wade Kirby, Lucky Ned Pepper will soon be a household name.

"It's an adventure and a pleasure," Graham said. "Rick and I have always gotten along very well, and he's an amazing talent as well as a good friend. I wouldn't want to do this with anyone else."

The group has played numerous shows throughout California this year and also in Bakersfield, including at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace and the Kern County Nut Festival. See them next Sept. 13 at the Tulare County Fair and on Sept. 25 at our very own Kern County Fair.

Music from the band can be found and purchased on their website (luckynedpepper.com), or purchased on iTunes.

-- Do you know someone from Bakersfield who is finding fame, or is representing Bakersfield while in the spotlight? Email us an idea at bakersfieldlife@bakersfield.com with the subject line: Finding Fame.

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