Detroit has Motown, Seattle has grunge, and San Francisco has psychedelic rock. Just three examples of American cities where unique musical styles developed and thrived, gaining international attention and helping to define the very image and sound of those places.
Here in the San Joaquin Valley, you can add another city to that list – Bakersfield. It was here in the 1950’s and 60’s that young musicians - children of the Dust Bowl migration to California - began to develop their own brand of country music. It was loud, rough and rowdy music born in small clubs with names like The Blackboard and Trout’s. They played for oil field roughnecks, farm laborers and blue collar workers of all stripes.
Their music spurned the lush pop influenced “countrypolitan” sound that dominated Nashville at the time at, with the signature twang of the pedal steel and the bright cutting sound of the solid body Telecaster electric guitar. The sound swept the nation, making Bakersfield “Nashville West” for a time and making Buck Owens and Merle Haggard international stars. Even the Beatles got in on the act, covering Owen’s “Act Naturally.”
But as tastes change, so do communities. The heyday of the "Bakersfield Sound" was decades ago, Owens died in 2006, while Haggard who is now 77, continues to tour and record. So where does the Bakersfield Sound stand today? And what does Bakersfield sound like, in 2015? That’s the topic of a free event presented by our partners Zocalo Public Square at the Metro Galleries Wednesday night. We got a preview of the event on a recent segment of FM89's Valley Edition.
Robert Price, editor of the Bakersfield Californian and author of the upcoming book "The Bakersfield Sound: How a Generation of Displaced Okies Revolutionized American Music"