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 May 2011 fortnight’s favorites

aggie 1002 dick miller Now I'm goneFirst from the West Coast, a fine crossing between Hillbilly Bop and Rock’n’Roll (because of the drumming): DICK MILLER and « Now I’ Gone« . I’ve added a second song from him, very different, this time, 1957 on Mercury Records, « My Tears Will Seal It Closed« .mercury 6347 hill

mercury 71658 dick miller my tears will seal it closedEddie Hill and « The Hot Guitar » was combination of various guitar stylings, Merle Travis, Hank Garland, Chet Atkins.Very nice fast tune.

hi-q 17 rufus shoffner it always happen to mekyva 707 ked killenphilmon 1000 hiram

Rufus Shoffner is not a stranger. Here on Detroit’s HI-Q label, he delivers an energetic  « It Always Happens To Me« , backed by his sister/wife (I don’t know) Joyce Shoffner.

A real mystery now. Ked Killen was cutting Hillbilly Bop as late as 1969 on WESTERN RANCH. Bopping has recently posted a track by him (Fortnight’s favorites, May 2010). Here « You’d better Take Time« , on a Starday Custom pressing, has welcome gospel overtones. The name HIRAM PHILMON isn’t that common: he cut on his own PHILMON label the fine Hillbilly « I‘m Lonesome Baby« . Just to finish with someone who, with is biting guitar sound, was very close to Rock’n’Roll, FRANKIE LEE SIMS – he cut for Specialty, here on Johnny Vincent’s VIN label, the great « She Likes To Boogie Real Low« .

frankie lee simsvin 1006 frankie lee sims she likes to boogie real low