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Musician Jimmy Phillips still captivated by Bakersfield Sound

Jimmy Phillips' roots in the sound of Bakersfield run deep.

Raised in a labor camp during the Dust Bowl era, he would go on to take drum lessons from his teacher, Lawrence Foster. Now the local businessman — he owns Jim's Barber Shop in Tehachapi — still makes time to jam with the likes of Fatt Katt and Larry Petree at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace.

Kern County would not be the same without Phillips' influence.

"My granddaughter's friend said, 'Your grandpa's famous,'" Phillips said. "I told her, 'I'm just known.' It's just history. It's been a long hard road."

Phillips, 78, will be featured in the upcoming documentary "The Music That Came Out of Bakersfield," which chronicles the history of that unforgettable Bakersfield Sound. Sisters Di Sharman and Glenda Rankin of Citizens Preserving History worked with filmmaker Chuck Barbee to gather the few remaining living legends to capture the rich story of the musical movement.

Fans enjoyed a sneak peek of the documentary last spring at the Fox Theater, but there is currently no set date for the film's release. Undaunted, Phillips is vocal about keeping the history alive daily even in a conversation with a journalist.

Time is not on their side as we lose musical originators like Charles "Fuzzy" Owen, who died May 11 at age 91.

Phillips took the passing of his friend especially hard.

"When I found out about Fuzzy, I sat down and cried," Phillips said. "I'm one of the few left."

"He was my backup buddy on everything: 'Fuzzy, am I all right?' 'Yeah, Jim-Bo, sounds all right to me.'"

Noting Owen and his peers taught him everything, Phillips said he's proud to carry on the rich musical traditions.

"They wanted to call this music 'American Music,' and it is American but that doesn't say a thing about Bakersfield. Then they wanted to call it 'Nashville West.' That doesn't say a thing about Bakersfield.

"Calling it Bakersfield Sound let people know that it came from Bakersfield."

Phillips said his memories of performing through the decades "are absolutely phenomenal."

"I'm not boasting. It's a big sound. It's history."

The musician also looks forward to eventually returning to the Crystal Palace to perform with his friends.

"When we go back, hopefully we get to go back and play when things open up. I don't know. But I do know that we had an amazing show." 

Performing, like the film, is a way to keep the traditions and history alive.

"It's a certain feel," Phillips said. "People have told me that. With the Bakersfield Sound, you don't just play it, it controls you. You let it captivate you.

"To still be able to play that Bakersfield Sound is amazing and once I'm dead, it's gone. The world needs to know what this sound is."

Bowen West can be reached at 661-395-7660.

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