Dick Miller, California Honky tonk (1955-1961): the birth of the Bakersfield sound

    I’ll try to give the story the best I can. My dad’s family were farmers: grandad was a dutch/german immigrant and grandma was cherokee indian. When my dad was old enough, he couldnt wait to get off the farm, so towards the end of the second world war, he joined the air force where he worked in the hospital and was involved with the u.s.o. My mom and dad met in the service; mom had just returned from being in Japan for four years as part of the occupation force. They met, fell in love and got married, mom became pregnant and I was born at Bowlings Air Force base in Washington, DC. My dad wanted to break into the music business, as he already had been doing u.s.o. shows for the troops, so it was decided to get out of the service and head to southern California: it was 1951 and the beginning of hillbilly and rockabilly, although they didnt call it rockabilly, they called it country and later as the honky tonks started poppin’ up everywhere, they began to call it honky tonk music and because many of the artists themselves came from the country and the hills, they also called it hillbilly, for the purest though I call it honky tonk music. Papa nicks, the blue room, the hitching post, jubilee ballroom, the palomino are just a few of the many honky tonks, that my dad and others like him played everynight, dad drove a truck for his day job and worked the honky tonks at night. As at two a.m. in the morning all the bars in southern california close, so its grab a bottle and everybody head over to the house for a jam session. I can tell you they all came through our house at one time or another, everyone from Little Jimmy Dickens to (Ralph) Mooney on steel to Eddie Drake, Ferlin Husky to Hank Snow. In the garage they would play until the sun came up, those were the days when they created what they call today the Bakersfield sound, working in those small recording studios like Aggie and Toppa, two of the labels my dad was on as well as M&M and Mercury and Sundown. I remember this old honky tonk piano my dad got somewhere, it had a very unique sound and they had it in the garage, so they could jam all night after the honky tonks closed. So when it was time to record « Make Room For The Blues », my dad wanted that true honky tonk sound, so they took the piano to the studio and that’s the one you hear on the song as well as on « World’s Champion Fool », I really loved that old piano and always will wonder what became of it. In 2008 Dick Miller passed away, but what he left us is something that we can all cherish, good old honky tonk music that you can still dance to today. God bless and thanx for your interest & love of this wonderful music, feel free to edit this to suit your needs at your blog, also have many more pics and have 8 tunes on my hard drive and a big cardboard box full of reel to reel tape from the old days, am working on a best of compilation of Dick Miller and his band to release on compact disc in the very near future. Please stay in touch, am always around and love to chat, Roger.  (suite…)

late September 2010 fortnight

Howdy, folks! I didn’t have a particular « theme » chosing the selections this time (as I did sometimes in the past): just a few songs I like at the moment.

Early September I posted something about the ubiquitous Mr. DIXON. Since then, I did not find something new on him, be it at hillbilly-music.com or with google, under his 3 aliases (Walter, Mason, or Ted). There is even on Youtube a bishop named Walter Dixon, and I wonder if this is the same person! I even found a Mason Dixon Country 45 on ebay. This time you will be exposed to a 1961 rendition for the Alabama based REED label, and a great shuffle by MASON DIXON, « Hello Memphis« .  reed 1064 Mason Dixon oct 61

Staying in the South with a minor classic by SPECK & DOYLE , the Wright Brothers, « Music to my ear » on the Columbus, Georgia based strangely named SYRUP BUCKET label. A nice guitar, a medium beat for this relaxed Rockabilly/Hillbilly Bop from 1959.

syrup 1000

On to, probably, Texas, with a fast romper by JIMMY STONE on the IMPERIAL label from 1951, « Midnight Boogie« . I’ve never heard Stone had another record, but what’s this one? Entertaining lyrics, and most of all, a wild bluesy Rockabilly guitar! Who may the player be? Fine piano and even a short fiddle solo, Texas style. We are pursuing the musical journey to Indiana with a very young GAYLE GRIFFITH (he was fourteen when he cut his solitary record) and the out-and-out romper « Rockin’ And A Knockin’ » for the EMERALD label, from 1954. Griffith was at one time associated with WFBM Indiana Hoedown, although despite this promising first platter, he seems to have soon disappeared from the music scene.

gayle griffith pic

Gayle Griffith

gayle griffith Emerald 2003

51 Drifting

Billboard 1951 advert for "Drifting Texas Sand"

Now to California for the Louisiana-born EDDIE KIRK (1919-1997), who was consistently working with the Los Angeles musicians’ cream for CAPITOL records. Here he delivers a fine rendering of the 1936 Tune Wranglers‘ classic (also cut around the same time as Kirk by Webb Pierce) « Drifting Texas Sand » (Capitol F 1591). The backing is sympathetic, although ordinary. Harmonica player could be George Bamby, who cut with, among others, Johnny Bond.

As a bonus, we go to an end in Chicago with the underrated LITTLE MAC SIMMONS, singer-harmonica player (altho’ no harp heard here) and the frantic (great piano throughout, with usual Honking saxes, and a nice guitar) « Drivin’ Wheel » (PALOS label) from 1961.

mac

I hope you enjoy the selections. Don’t miss the other « regular » posts: recently Bopping had had Jack Bradshaw story, the Daffan label, Roy Hall and Riley Crabtree, to name just a few. Not to mention in the « hillbilly profile » section, Chuck Murphy. Till then, bye!

As usual, pictures from various sources. Excellent Terry E. Gordon’s Rockin’ Country Style site, or ebay. Sounds from my collection, or various compilations. I can name for every track who provided me! BUT you CAN download everything!