Sisters Di Sharman and Glenda Rankin are dedicated to making sure no one forgets about the Bakersfield Sound and all those who made it, not just those two big names who tend to get the bulk of the credit.
With the help of filmmaker Chuck Barbee, the sisters are working on a documentary called "The Music That Came Out of Bakersfield." On Monday, people will have the chance to see a sneak peek of the work-in-progress at the Fox Theater, before its screening of "The Grapes of Wrath."
What will be shown on Monday is 20 minutes of what will be a full documentary, completed — the filmmakers hope — by the end of the year. Sharman and Rankin, who work through their nonprofit Citizens Preserving History, are eager to share not just their own work but the stories of the people they have interviewed.
"We want all of the musicians to be there and see somebody does care," Sharman said. "It's been a true joy talking to all the musicians and seeing how their lives were so intertwined."
While Merle Haggard and Buck Owens get plenty of credit for the Bakersfield Sound, they weren't the only ones making it.
"We wanted to give them some recognition," Rankin said of the other musicians of the era.
Since starting the project in 2015, the two have conducted about 50 interviews, with original Bakersfield Sound musicians, their surviving family members and the new generation.
Some whom they have spoken to who will be in the first 20 minutes include: Ed Rogers, Jerri Arnold, Tommy Collins Jr., Fuzzy Owen, Norm Hamlet, Lillian Haggard Rea, Jimmy Phillips, Tommy Hays and Bobby Durham, among others.
"The music that was coming out of Bakersfield was different than the music coming out of Nashville," Sharman said. "In Nashville, everything was perfect. With the Bakersfield Sound, they just let them go. They just recorded the way they played in honky-tonks."
The documentary as it is now covers two segments: one explaining what the Bakersfield Sound is and another about the Dust Bowl migration.
"It's our local history," Sharman said. "The Dust Bowl migration brought out all these hard-working people looking for a better life, and they found it here in Bakersfield."
The filmmakers want other segments to cover the hey-day of honky-tonks, local musicians still performing and the newer generation of the Bakersfield Sound. Rankin said the music is "still alive and well."
"It's just really important that the children of Kern County know their history," Rankin said. "There will never be honky-tonks the way there was before, but there can be something that takes its place."
Capturing the history of the Bakersfield Sound is a big task, but Sharman and Rankin have accomplished their share of projects. In 2008, they helped move their mother's home, the Lopez-Hill house, to the Kern County Museum. In 2017, they got a plaque in honor of Red Simpson at the Rasmussen Senior Center.
But their biggest project was probably moving Merle Haggard's childhood boxcar home to the Kern County Museum, an effort that first started in 2013, with the home finally opening in 2017, following refurbishment.
Through that adventure, the sisters met many of the original members of the Bakersfield Sound. It wasn't long until they decided on another project.
"'If we ever get this car moved, we're going to do something to honor you and your contributions,'" Sharman recalled telling the musicians.
Showing the progress on their video before the Fox Theater's showing of "The Grapes of Wrath" seemed appropriate, with the common Dust Bowl theme. Theater manager Matt Spindler didn't need much convincing, the sisters said.
"Everything we have done on the boxcar and our mom's house, we had to pull some teeth," Rankin said. "Showing this at the Fox, I had no idea it could be that easy! He was so welcoming."
Original Bakersfield Sound musicians Tommy Hays and Jimmy Phillips will be at the theater before the documentary's screening, as will Ed Shelton, who will perform some traditional country music. Doors open at 6 p.m., with the documentary playing at 6:30 p.m. and the classic film at 7 p.m.
Even as Sharman and Rankin continue working on their documentary, they are already thinking of the next project. They'd like to create some kind of local display, possibly at the Kern County Museum, to share the history of the Bakersfield Sound and honor its musicians.
"We need to do it while they're still with us," Sharman said. "So many of these musicians are in their late 70s or 80s. How wonderful for them to see a display (commemorating their contributions)."
There are no immediate plans to show "The Music That Came Out of Bakersfield" again before it's finished, so anyone interested in seeing an early look at it should be sure to come out on Monday.
"The people of Bakersfield need to embrace our history," Rankin said. "When they hear a (Bakersfield Sound) song, they can't listen to the song and not tap their toes."