Monday, March 23, 2009

Bakersfield gets its due

Did somebody mention Bakersfield?

We may be uncovering the greatest slight in CMT's Top 100: Buck Owens. Despite charting with more than 70 songs in his career -- including an incredible 20 No. 1s -- Owens appears only once on the list, with "Act Naturally'' (at No. 54). Not even close to his best hit, but a damn sight better than Ringo's version.

What a colossal oversight. Buck's songs would be peppered throughout my Top 100 (and, yes, my personal Top 10 will soon be revealed).

Maybe the Bakersfield sound never reached Nashville, Tenn. I can tell you it did infiltrate my sleepy hometown of Whitehall, Wis., where you didn't order up a tap beer without plugging coins into the jukebox. And the jukeboxes were heavily stacked with country music.

When I was in high school I had a job on Sundays sweeping and mopping the floor of the Walgert Hotel Tap Room. And there I would be, all by myself, playing air guitar with my mop while listening to wailing steel guitars and twangy twin Telecasters -- the signature sound of Buck's unique Bakersfield blend. Merle Haggard had it down, too, as well as some notable followers who would see the light, like Gram Parsons, Dwight Yoakam and the Derailers (one of my favorite bands).

Well, I ain't got nothin' but the shirt on my back
And an old two-button suit
I walked outta my job about a week ago
And now I'm sleepin' in a telephone booth
But I'm a gonna be the richest guy around
The day you say you're mine
I got the hungries for your love
And I'm waitin' in your welfare line

The release of "Waitin' In Your Welfare Line'' in early 1966 completely altered the country music landscape. It hit No. 1 and stayed there seven weeks, and six of Buck's next seven songs also charged to the top of the charts (somehow "It Takes People Like You'' only made it to No. 2). Buck was on fire. Three years later he was brandishing a red, white and blue guitar as co-host of the cornpone TV hit "Hee Haw.'' And the rest, you're dang tootin', is history.

Bakersfield, baby. If they weren't pickin', we weren't grinnin'.


  1. Somebody asked me once if I liked Buck or Merle better ... I said I'm just like Bonnie Owens, I love 'em both!

    Wynn Stewart was pretty dadgum good too.

  2. Alas, Merle also had just one song in the Top 100: "Okie From Muskogee (No. 20). CMT coulda made room for one more twanger by disregarding No. 45 on the list: the Eagles' "Desperado.'' Huh?