“I’m not going to beg and compromise what I believe in just because somebody in Nashville don’t approve. Screw that. I am who I am, I am what I am, I do what I do and I ain’t never gonna do it any different. I don’t care who likes it and who don’t.” –Buck Owens*
The late, great Buck Owens would have turned 84 on August 12th. Along with his band The Buckaroos, Owens’ helped pioneer what has become known as “the Bakersfield sound,” a collective rebel-reaction against what some deemed as the over-slick sound of Nashville produced country music with its lush string arrangements and choral backing singers.
To commemorate Owens’ birthday and the sound he helped innovate, we’ve put together a new Pandora genre station, Bakersfield Country.
Bakersfield Country was born during the mid-1950s in the quaint California city near the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Along with Owens, other country musicians like Merle Haggard, Jean Shepard, Susan Raye, Wynn Stewart and Freddie Hart preferred to play and record upbeat, honky-tonk tunes punctuated by the rich tones and springy picking of the Fender Telecaster guitar. Though Gram Parsons is often credited for inventing country-rock, that rocking tempo in the rhythm section was forged in Bakersfield saloons and roadhouses. In fact, Parsons’ first country recordings with The International Submarine Band used the Bakersfield sound as a template.
The Bakersfield sound began as country music’s underdog, but it eventually resonated as far as Liverpool, England. In 1965, The Beatles covered Owens’ “Act Naturally” for their fifth studio album, Help! and Ringo Starr handled both drumming and singing duties on this one. He and the band understood that “Act Naturally” (along with most of the country music coming out of Bakersfield) shared a very similar backbeat to the recordings of The Beatles. The Fab Four even performed Owens’ song on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Owens’ stamp on country music still resonates strongly today among artists like Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill and Brad Paisley. They’re keeping the faith with twangy and upbeat songs steeped in the honky-tonks of a California city that many folks today still refer to as “Buckersfield.”
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville now features a special exhibit dedicated specifically to Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and California Country; the exhibit celebrates the raw-edged, down-to-earth style of the Bakersfield sound, an uncompromising edge that lives on today.
*Buck Owens quote.