As the nation celebrates the life and music of Earl Scruggs, (he died Wednesday at age 88), I was surprised to read Flatt & Scruggs played at the Avalon in San Francisco in the 1960s. Bear with me, dear readers: I wasn’t born yet!
I was struck by the idea of these guys playing to the long hairs, but I suppose it makes sense. After all, the appeal of bluegrass and country music cuts across all kinds of cultural borders. Especially when you’re talking about a master of the craft. I love the way Steve Martin put it in a recent tribute to Scruggs the New Yorker: “Before him, no one had ever played the banjo like he did. After him, everyone played the banjo like he did, or at least tried.”
California has boasted masters like that.
I’m talking here, of course, about the Bakersfield Sound. Back in 2006, when Buck Owens died, the California Report pulled a lovely 1999 profile from Steve Cuevas out of the archives. Oh, to be a fly on the wall while Owens talked for an hour and a half!
The contribution of musicians like Owens and Merle Haggard is getting some righteous attention in Nashville these days, thanks to “The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country” at the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s packed with all kinds of gems, like Dwight Yoakam explaining “Nashville came out of the churches. Bakersfield came out of the bars.”
He continues “Then bar music joined up with the church music and went on to what we got.”
Well, that’s part of the story. There were some other influences at play: Western swing, hillbilly music, R&B, even Mexican norteño music.
That last influence doesn’t get enough airplay for Jim Fusilli, who otherwise gushes about “The Bakersfield Sound” in the Wall Street Journal. I dunno, Jim: sounds to me like a pitch for another exhibit…
In the meantime, here’s a little something to put a smile on your face. Gosh, they were good.