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by Jim Allen

July 25, 2013

Bakersfield and Beyond

by Jim Allen  |  July 25, 2013

These days, Bakersfield, California's place in country music history makes it seem almost as mythical as Middle Earth or Asgard, but in the 1950s it was the place where enterprising Okies like Tommy Collins and Jean Shepard kicked off a West Coast country revolution. The Bakersfield sound was the antithesis of what was making cash registers ring in Nashville at the time; eschewing slickly produced tunes soaked with strings and background choirs, it tapped into the energy, electricity (both literal and figurative) and rhythm of the emergent rock 'n' roll phenomenon. By the mid-'60s, Bakersfield's patron saints, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, were crashing the top tier of the country charts with their straight-ahead, stripped-down approach, biting Telecaster riffs and a bigger beat than country had ever heard before.

The hard-hitting, honky-tonking Bakersfield sound has become a basic building block of country, championed throughout the decades by fervent flamekeepers like Dwight Yoakam, Dale Watson and more. And as you'll discover in this Bakersfield breakdown, even some of rock's most respected acts have brought their own touch to classics by Merle and Buck.

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