Bakersfield country musicians and fans have enjoyed some much needed attention since the release of Ken Burns’ "Country Music" documentary last month.
While Bakersfield’s Smokin’ Armadillos may not have reached the legendary status as Red Simpson, Buck Owens and other heroes of the Bakersfield Sound after they walked away from the stage, there was a moment when ‘Dillomania was a real thing in town as well as national country radio and music television. And it's back this weekend for a two-night engagement at the Fox Theater.
The band formed in 1992 during the new country era led by Garth Brooks, George Strait and the Dixie Chicks, when the crossover popularity was so strong it wasn’t at all strange to find a copy of Snoop Dogg’s “Doggy Style” next to the latest Trisha Yearwood release in CD collections.
Buck Owens was a few years away from opening the Crystal Palace and other legends were toiling away in the last remaining honky tonks. Meanwhile, the Smokin’ Armadillos played local pizza parlors (I remember Papa Pete’s) to larger growing crowds and, in 1995, the band inked a deal with Curb Records in Nashville. Finally, Bakersfield country fans could claim the ‘Dillos as country’s newest country stars. In 1996 the Smokin’ Armadillos was at its peak. The group had already sold 150,000 copies of their independent debut EP “Out of The Burrow” at shows and produced their own music video for the song “Red Rock.” Now with Nashville in their corner, success was almost guaranteed.
I can recall watching the video of “Let Your Heart Lead Your Mind” on CMT at 2 a.m. in awe. Just a few years earlier, they were playing the same dives with the rest of the locals and now they were on national television. The ‘Dillos had hit the big time.
Their first single wasn’t a big hit by country music standards reaching No. 53 on the Billboard charts, the follow-up single “Thump Factor” at No. 68, but competition at the time was fierce as Curb labelmates Tim McGraw and LeAnn Rimes were vying for equal attention. The ‘Dillos songs were on par with all the country radio hits of the day, but after pushing out a third single, the album slowly faded. It’s a hot and cold business, but the ‘Dillos weren’t out just yet. The band released their sophomore album “Strike The Match” independently, landing a single on the soundtrack to “Major League 3: Back to the Minors.” After a farewell show in 2005, the group parted ways for solo projects, life, marriage and parenthood.
Fast forward to 2017, original members vocalist Rick Russell, guitarists Josh Graham and Scott Meeks, fiddle/mandolin player Jason Theiste, bassist Aaron Casida and drummer Darrin Kirkindoll reunited for new recordings and a new single, “The Other California.” The ‘Dillos were about to re-enter the ring as country ambassadors from another era altogether. The single hit a pretty good stride, even making it into regular rotation on KUZZ.
Now with two big reunions concerts, one of which quickly sold out, get ready to hoot, holler, stomp and give the Smokin’ Armadillos a proper Bakersfield homecoming. Welcome back, fellas.
Smokin' Armadillos, 8 p.m. Friday (sold out) and Saturday, Fox Theater, 2001 H St. $35 to $70, plus service charge at eventbrite.com or at the Fox Theater box office. 324-1369 or smokinarmadillos.com.
Infest, 7 p.m. Saturday, Jerry’s Pizza, 1817 Chester Ave. $15 and $20. 633-1000.
Fall is here, the fair is over, and that means local shows can finally get back to business. What better way to kick off the Halloween season than with some classic power-violence hardcore punk that will bring you back to the sweaty, mosh filled nights at Munoz Gym. The all-ages show is headlined by Valencia vets Infest, who also performed at the final show held at the former east Bakersfield boxing gym in 2015, a year before the gym closed its doors. Countless bands played in the tiny space, many of whom traveled long distances to be part of the venues hallowed punk history. Sadly, the gym’s longtime owner Paul Munoz passed earlier this year. Munoz’s grandson Ron Ramirez, owner of Going Underground Records, continues to throw and co-host shows in the same DIY spirit he did at the iconic gym. Also appearing on the bill is Gulch, Fuga, Sandxcoffin, Barrette and Incision.