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Museum Exhibit The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, And California Country Closes December 31, 2014

December 01, 2014
Exterior of Country Music Hall of Fame taken from a drone.

NASHVILLE, Tenn., December 1, 2014 – After nearly three years, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum will dim the lights on its major exhibition, The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country on December 31, 2014. This sweeping look at West Coast country music opened in March 2012 for a 21-month run but was extended due to its popularity with museum visitors.

On March 27, 2015, the museum will shift focus from one sixties-era music community to another when Dylan, Cash, and The Nashville Cats: A New Music City, presented by Citi replaces Bakersfield. The new exhibit explores the Nashville music scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time of great cultural vitality for Music City. When Bob Dylan came to Nashville to make his classic album Blonde on Blonde, he brought unprecedented attention to the city’s ultra-talented musicians, and many folkies and rockers followed in his wake. With his network television show, Johnny Cash offered these outsiders who came to Nashville to record a platform to reach a national audience, the same as he did for his fellow country artists.  The new exhibit looks at the impact those events had on the Nashville Cats and Music City as a whole.

The museum will send the Bakersfield Sound exhibit out in style with a series of three special programs included with museum admission and membership.

Saturday, November 22                                12:30 p.m.
Family Program: Songwriting 101
Write a song with professional songwriters and learn songwriting fundamentals, including the basics of song form, rhyme scheme, and meter, and secrets behind the creative process. Participants will analyze a song written by Merle Haggard before crafting original song lyrics as a group. Ages 7 and up. Presented in support of the exhibit The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country. Takes place in the Taylor Swift Education Center. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Children and up to two accompanying adults may attend the program and tour the museum at a discounted rate.

Saturday, December 6                      1:30 p.m.
Film Screening and Southeastern Premiere: Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound (2014)
Billy Mize's charm and golden voice helped shaped the Bakersfield Sound. A performer on the brink of fame, his is a spectacular tale about identity and sacrifice amidst a Country music revolution.  Featuring interviews with Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Ray Price and Billy Mize himself, the film delves into the tragic personal history of an exceptional performer, while exploring the music scene he helped to build. His little-known story is brought to light with exquisite archival footage, rare photos and an exhilarating soundtrack. 100 minutes. The film’s director, and Billy’s grandson – William J. Saunders – will answer questions following the screening. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Sunday, December 7             1:00 p.m.
Bakersfield Guitar Sounds Demonstration: Pete Finney with Scott Icenogle
Pete Finney will demonstrate electric and pedal steel guitar styles associated with the Bakersfield Sound. Discussion will highlight pedal-steel guitarists Tom Brumley, Norm Hamlet, and Ralph Mooney, and Fender Telecaster stylists James Burton, Roy Nichols and Don Rich. The program will feature songs by Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Wynn Stewart. Finney’s resume includes work with Trace Adkins, Bobby Bare, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless and Reba McEntire. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members.

Saturday, December 13                    2:00 p.m.
Concert: Close Up the Honky-Tonks: Chuck Mead and Special Guests Pay Tribute to the Bakersfield Sound
Through his work as a solo artist, with bands BR549 and the Hillbilly All-Stars, and as musical director for the Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet, Chuck Mead has brought the sounds of traditional country and honky-tonk music to contemporary fans.  He will lead his band through a rollicking set of Bakersfield Sound classics from Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Wynn Stewart and others. Special guest appearances by indie singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose, California-bred new artist Cam, California double-neck guitar whiz Deke Dickerson and others. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Limited seating. Program pass required.

Sunday, December 14                       1:00 p.m.
Double-neck Guitar Demonstration: Deke Dickerson
Based in Los Angeles where he fronts the Ecco-Fonics, Deke Dickerson is a master of the double-neck guitar styles that gained popularity along with the Bakersfield Sound. He has collaborated with Larry Collins of the Collins Kids, Duane Eddy, Randy Fuller (of the Bobby Fuller Four), Los Straitjackets, and the Trashmen. Dickerson has recorded guitar for various film, television, and radio projects, including the films Election and Sideways, and Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan on Sirius XM Radio. Dickerson also is well known as a historian of roots music; he has contributed liner notes to reissue projects for such labels as Capitol, RCA, Bear Family, and Sundazed Records. Included with Museum admission. Free to Museum members.

Saturday, December 27       12:30 p.m.
Family Program: I Spy Design: Bakersfield
Design is all around us. In the museum, design is seen in intricate costumes, one-of-a-kind instruments, customized cars, vintage photographs, and many other distinctive artifacts. This workshop will begin with a brief conversation about design principles—including line, color, shape, and texture—followed by an exploration of our exhibition The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country. Aspiring designers will examine rhinestones, embroidery, and symbolism before taking a photo that captures a design element. Participants will walk away with their design picture in a custom-made frame. Cameras are optional. Offered in support of the exhibition Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country.  For ages 5 and up with accompanying adults. Takes place in the Taylor Swift Education Center.  Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Program pass required. Children and up to two accompanying adults may attend the program and tour the museum at a discounted rate.

Sunday, December 28                       Noon – 2:00 p.m.
Family Program: Hall of Fame Plaque
Create your own Hall of Fame plaque or medallion! Buck Owens and Merle Haggard are two of the many members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. They have made significant contributions to country music history. Reflect on 2014 and think about your accomplishments and what you hope to achieve in 2015. What Hall of Fame would you like to be a member of? What will you be known for? All ages. Presented in support of The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country. Takes place in the Taylor Swift Education Center. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members. Children and up to two accompanying adults may attend the program and tour the museum for a discounted rate.

Sunday, December 28           2:00 p.m.
Film Screening: The Buck Owens Show featuring Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens (1967)
Buck Owens and the Buckaroos grin through two episodes of this television series with music, comedy, and bright, sequined costumes. Owens welcomes guests the Blue Ridge Quartet, Merle Haggard, Bonnie Owens, and Don Rich. These episodes feature some classic Haggard and Owens songs, such as “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “Sam’s Place.” 54 minutes. Included with museum admission. Free to museum members.

The exhibit explores the roots, heyday and impact of the Bakersfield Sound, the loud, stripped-down and radio-ready music most closely identified with the careers of Country Music Hall of Fame members Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

The story begins during the Great Depression, when Bakersfield’s cotton farms and oil fields attracted a mass migration of Dust Bowl refugees from Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.  Born in Texas in 1929, Owens moved with his sharecropping parents to Arizona before heading to Bakersfield in 1951.  Haggard’s family, driven to the area from their East Oklahoma farm, lived in an old converted railroad boxcar, where Haggard was born on April 6, 1937.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Bakersfield sported a plethora of dance halls and honky-tonks (most notably the Blackboard Café), the payday respite for wall-to-wall rambunctious workers eager for the boogiefied honky-tonk of the Maddox Brothers & Rose or the eclectic swing sound of Bob Wills.   Also on the bandstands were enormously influential musicians Wynn Stewart and Tommy Collins, whose classic honky-tonk songs Owens and Haggard would later record, and for whom they worked as sidemen before launching solo careers.

The story also includes Bill Woods, widely regarded as “The Father of the Bakersfield Sound,” and the city’s other musical architects: “Cousin” Herb Henson, Billy Mize, Fuzzy Owen, Bonnie Owens, Red Simpson and Lewis Talley, among others.

As they came to prominence in the 1960s, both Owens and Haggard remained faithful to the classic honky-tonk style and, at the same time, gave country music a harder, rockabilly edge in keeping with the drinking, loud talking, fist fighting and romancing that characterized the night club culture of Bakersfield.  Journalist-author John Morthland once wrote that, “In Bakersfield, instruments were tuned to a high, shrill pitch.  Guitars crackled and steel guitars shrieked.  Bakersfield put fiddles and high harmony vocals where Nashville put string sections and vocal choirs.”  It was also a sound tailor-made for AM Radio.

Owens and his top-notch band, the Buckaroos,  first popularized Bakersfield’s amped-up hybrid of honky-tonk, rockabilly and western swing with  1960s chart-toppers like “Act Naturally,” “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “Together Again,” “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” and “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line.”  Haggard and his equally stellar band, the Strangers, soon followed with the unforgettable Bakersfield Sound gems “Sing Me Back Home,” “Mama Tried,” “Hungry Eyes,” “Workin’ Man Blues” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”   Owens and Haggard were Bohemian originals who scored nearly 60 #l hits between them.   Many of their songs have entered the American popular music canon and continue to be recorded by a wide variety of country, rock and pop artists.

Including publishing houses, recording studios, booking and management agencies and performance venues, the exhibit focuses on the Bakersfield music businesses that evolved in the 1960s, particularly Buck Owens Enterprises, the music empire owned and operated by the savvy Owens.  It will also explore the enduring impact of the Bakersfield Sound on subsequent generations of musicians, singers and songwriters, from country-rock pioneers the Flying Burrito Brothers to Dwight Yoakam, and many others.

Among other narrative elements, visitors learn about the importance of Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson, who recorded numerous Bakersfield classics including many of Owens’ and Haggard’s major hits, and who has now been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame; and the role of the Buckaroos and the Strangers in developing the Bakersfield Sound, with emphasis on key sidemen such as steel guitar innovator Ralph Mooney, Telecaster ace Roy Nichols and lead guitarist/harmony vocalist Don Rich.

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is operated by the Country Music Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization chartered by the state of Tennessee in 1964. The Museum’s mission is the preservation of the history of country and related vernacular music rooted in southern culture.  With the same educational mission, the Foundation also operates CMF Records, the Museum’s Frist Library and Archive, CMF Press, Historic RCA Studio B and Hatch Show Print®.

More information about the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is available at or by calling (615) 416-2001.

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