the FARMER BOYS, Bakersfield Hillbilly bop (1955-1957)

Bobby Adamson walked over to a coat closet in the entrancy of his comfortable home in Exeter, California and pulled out a garishly colored jacket and trousers. He held them up, displaying them with pride. Golden yellow in color, the suit was decorated with strappings of California’s San Joaquin Valley, icons which were no different from any other farming community in 1950s America : husks of corn, bales of hay, and barefooted, overalled farmers carrying buckets. The suit was designed for Adamson by Nudie Cohen, rodeo taylor for stars. In those days, a Nudie suit was the mark of stardom for country and western performers ranging from the Maddox Brothers and Rose to Elvis Presley. In the mid-50s Bobby Adamson was a member of this select fraternity of celebrities, for he and his boyhood friend Woody Wayne Murray were the Farmer Boys, a talented vocal duo whose brief moment in the spotlight lasted for only a few years before being obliterated by the coming of rock and roll. Despite recording for the prestigious Capitol Records label and touring with stars of the Grand Ole Opry as well as Elvis Presley himself, the Farmer Boys are never mentioned in the annals of country music history. Yet the Farmer Boys helped popularize the distinct and provocative « Bakersfield Sound » that lives on today in the music of Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam. (suite…)

Bakersfield, Ca. sound: the labels and the artists (1956-1959)

Bakersfield, Ca. Sound: the Pep, Tally and Bakersfield labels

(from the notes of Bo Berglind for the CD « Just Around Bakersfield »(2009)

The Bakersfield’s sound could also be called the story of the Buck Owens’ sound.It developed during the 1950s in smoke-filled honky-tonk bars that offered music seven nights a week and of course on radio and television stations in Bakersfield and throughout California. The town, known mainly for agriculture and oil production, was the destination for many Dust Bowl migrants and others from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and other parts of the South. The mass migration of « Okies » to California also meant that their music would follow and thrive, finding an audience in California’s Central Valley.

map1

bud hobbs pic

Bud Hobbs

This music was brought to the public by a myriad of small Bakersfield labels such as Audan, Bakersfield, Fire, Global, Hunco, Impact, Indio, Kord, Millie, Pike, Rose, Rural Rhythm, Super-Sonic and Tally. From nearby cities came Pep (Pico Rivera, later Los Angeles) and Chesterfield (Los Angeles) to name a few. Of these only Tally became real big in the 1960s: Tommy Collins, Merle Haggard for example.

The labels

BAKERSFIELD

The label was formed in 1956 by R.B. Christensen; it had a 100 and 500 series. It lasted until 1959.

FIRE

Formed in the early months of 1956, the label had twelve releases, the most well known being done by the veteran Tommy Duncan, « Daddy Loves Mommy-O », but also had Dusty Payne, later on Rodeo/Excel labels.

tommy duncan

Tommy Duncan

fire 101A tommy duncan daddy loves mommyo


PEP

The label made its debut in 1955 with its owner J.E. Swarr, later Claude Cavener.

Among its roster was a young Alvis Edgar « Buck » Owens. Already a seasoned performer and recording artist (La Brea label), Owens cut three first class records for the label including classic rockabilly under the alias of « Corky Jones ».

Another claim to fame was the very first version of « Crazy Arms » by Kenny Brown: the song, heard by Ray Price, rised up to # 1 in 1956, before being revived by Jerry Lee Lewis the same year. Other good Pep artists included Ronny Branam.

ROSE

Said to have been Bill Wood’s own label, it issued Terry Fell‘s « Truck Drivin’ Man », which Capitol re-released in 1962.

TALLY

Founded by Lewis Talley in 1955, its roster included Fuzzy Owen. It was in the little crampted building, not bigger than a bathroom, of Tally that Buck Owens cut « Hot Dog » b/w « Rhythm And Booze ». Fuzzy Owen also cut there « Yer Fer Me ». The biggest star on Tally was of course Merle Haggard, between 1962 and 1964.

The artists: I have concentrated on the more Country and Rockabilly artists.

  • Bill Carter (born in 1929 in Arkansas), was at one time stationed in U.S. Army in northern part of California. There he met Big Jim DeNoone and had even records on Gilt-Edge and Republic. His sides on Tally were cut in 1957-58 and the best is « I Used To Love You » (Tally 115). He later went to Black Jack and later moved to Nashville to form his own Bill Carter singers.

  • Charles « Fuzzy » Owen, also from Arkansas (1929). He picked cotton with relatives in California during the day and played three nights a week at the Blackboard, then just a hole-in-the-wall tavern. They were inspired by Ernest Tubb: Fuzzy was on steel, his first cousin Lewis Talley on guitar and vocal and an accordion player. After a stint in the Army, in 1952, Fuzzy and Bonnie Owens recorded the Hillbilly Barton’s song « A Dear John Letter », with a very limited distribution. The same year however, Ferlin Husky and Jean Shepard picked up the song to #1 position. Fuzzy Owen also cut the fine « Yer Fer Me » In 1955 Owen and Tally formed Tally. They cut rocker Wally Lewis, and later went to higher grounds with Merle Haggard.




  • George Rich didn’t became rich with his « Drivin’ Away My Blues » (Tally 105), then disappeared completely.

    Tally 105a


  • Lynn Billingsley recorded (Bakersfield 107) his « Childhood Boogie » with Johnny Cuvellio Orchestra (Red Simpson on lead guitar, Johnny on drums). Record came late in 1956.

    BILLINGSLEY - BAKERSFIELD  107 B


  • Custer Bottoms cut his claim to fame (« Stood Up Blues », Bakersfield 108) with a band that must have included Buck Owens on these very hot lead guitar licks, ca. early 1957.




  • Sid Silver is another unknown musician that made the terrific « Bumble Rumble » on Bakersfield 510). Bill Woods in on guitar with Johnny Cuviellos band.

    bakersfield 510B Sid Silver

  • Phil Brown recorded on Bakersfield (# 130) with Bill Wood’s band, « You’re A Luxury », which stands as the nearest to Hillbilly Bop of all the selections. He disappeared afterwards.




    BROWN BAKERSFIELD 130 A


  • Buck Owens was born in 1929 in Garland, Texas. He came to Bakersfield in 1937-38 making a living harvesting vegetables, picking peaches, before switching to music: first, mandolin in 1940, before guitar in 1951 (having in the meantime married to Bonnie, before divorce). Bill Wood’s sideman Tommy Duncan noticed Buck’s guitar picking, which led him to join Bill Wood’s Orange Blossom Playboys at the Blackboard Café. It was to become Buck’s home base until 1957. 1953: first recording (« Blue Love »). He played with Bud Hobbs on « Louisiana Swing » (see earlier: the debut of Bakersfield sound). In 1955 he cut his first sides for Pep, real country music, before his rockabilly classics from 1956, « Hot Dog » and « Rhythm and Booze ». The rest is a Capitol contract and international history.

    pep 107 Corky Jones


  • Charles « Kenny » Brown, part Choctaw indian, was from Little Rock, another from Arkansas (1928). When he was 13 he went to California where his mother has settled after divorcing. He started his own band, after discharge from U.S. Army, Kenny Brown and the Arkannsas Ramblers. In 1955, he got in touch with Pep which issued their first record by him.. He cut « Crazy Arms » on Pep 102 (written by young Ralph Mooney), later picked by Ray Price, who sent it to # 1 in April 1956. He later had two other records on Pep, « Throw A Little Wood On The Fire » being the better, before leaving to Sundown (co-owned with his third wife Geanetta). Kenny Brown died in 1996 due to a bad medical treatment.

    Pep 100a 78




  • Louise Duncan, from Waco, Texas, moved early in California with the desire to become a country entertainer, but had to wait the age of 24 to cut her first sides on Bakersfield. A pleasant Hilbilly, « Wherever You Are », which attracted the ears of Ken Nelson at Capitol records and gave her a national distribution.

  • Bill Woods, musician and disc jockey, the real « Father of the Bakersfied sound » went from Denison, Texas (1924). His father, an itinerant preacher, settled in 1940 in Arvin, Ca., just south of Bakersfield. After several moves, and beginning to play guitar, he became bass player for Tommy Duncan, ex-Bob Wills’ Playboys singer. In 1949, he founded his own band, the Orange Blossom Playboys, ORANGEBLOSSOMPLYBYS


    not long before recruiting Buck Owens on guitar, himself playing the piano on his first record (« Trusting You », Cliff Crofford, vocal) for Modern. Many musicians passed through his band, in much demand on records cut in Bakersfield, and even on Capitol. As for himself, he cut great rockers like « Bop » and « Phone Me Baby », as well as great country tunes like « Ask Me No Questions ». He also liked stock-car racings, until an accident in the early ’60s. He later played piano for Merle Haggard, but suffered more surgeries and died in 2000.

    bakersfield 125 bill woodsfire 100 bill woods bop
















    Cliff Crofford fronted first Bill Wood’s band on Modern (« Trusting You ») before cutting for Tally some Rockers, « There Ain’t Nothin’ Happenin’ To Me » or « A nght For Love » (Tally 104). He wrote several songs by himself, and later went duetting with Billy Mize on Town Hall Party (search for him on Youtube).


       Bonnie Blue Bell (who sounds male) had a good rocker with « Let’s Go » on Bakersfield 105.

    For more information, get the CD « Just Around Bakersfield » (2009) as shown below:

    bakersfield frontbakersfield CD rear











    Thanks to Bo Berglind for loaning some rare label scans. Also to Terry Gordon’s « Rockin’ Country Style » site

Late August 2009 fortnight

Howdy folks, here I am back with some goodies. First, Ole’ Buck is back for a song he recorded late in career for kids, IF YOU CAN’T FIND A REASON TO BE HAPPY. Romping Country rocker à la Buck Owens, of course! Then back to late 50s, early 60s, the unknown (to me) Doug Davis on the obscure Nite Star label (from Texas, I think) and the beautiful Country-rockaballad ALL BY MYSELF – lot of nice steel and heavy bass, rich vocal too. Joe Franklin next had a rich career by himself, and I still wonder what instrument he plays here, since the piano is to the fore – maybe him? The nice HITCH-HIKIN’ BLUES on MGM (1953). A romper now with Hardrock Gunter and his first version (on Bama, out of Birmingham, Alabama, 1951) of GONNA DANCE ALL NIGHT (he recut the same track in 1954, and leased it to Sun). In 1950 there were Country singers chanting « Gonna Rock and Roll, gonna dance all night », yes sir! Something different now. A fine duet Bluegrass style, already a classic of the genre, ROAD OF BROKEN HEARTS, by the Webster Brothers, from 1954. We come to an end with a Prestige recording of Otis Spann – he lays down a very atmospheric OTIS IN THE DARK on the 88; Enjoy the selections!