Waiting to walk the streets of Bakersfield

Published 10:00 am Thursday, February 9, 2023

By Ricky Swindle

Howdy, friends!

As the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men.

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I’ve always heard if you want to hear The Lord laugh, tell Him your plans.

My plan last week was for me and my squaw to get back to our traveling bucket list. We were leaving last Tuesday flying to Hollyweird California. We would be flying back to Memphis at 1:40 a.m. the following Monday.

If oughtas were quarters, we’d all be rich.

Hollyweird is just a spot I want to see just to say I saw it. My greatest interest was 90 miles due east of Los Angeles and the town of Bakersfield.

Why would an older Southern gentleman have any curiosity in an obscure town in CA you may ask.

Once upon a time there was some outstanding Country music recorded in that town and is still referred to even today as The Bakersfield Beat.

Artist such as Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Wynn Stewart changed the way Country Music sounded at the time.

In the 1960’s, the Nashville studios were going towards a more slick, pop kind of sound after the success of artists such as Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold had crossed over to the Pop charts. 

Ray Charles had tremendous Pop and Country hits with the stringed sounds of his album, “Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music”.

Then along came a studio musician by the name of Buck Owens, who teamed with a lead man and arguably the best back-up Country harmony singer who ever lived, Don Rich. 

They developed a sound with Telecaster guitars and Fender amplifiers that was the direct opposite of The Nashville Sound. It was good, too, and folks liked it a lot.

Shortly thereafter, a young man serving time in San Quentin Prison witnessed a prison concert by the great Johnny Cash, changed his outlaw ways and was inspired to pick up a guitar and follow his path to Country Music glory.

That fellow, being also influenced by the legendary Lefty Frizzell, was Merle Haggard, and he reinvented Country Music along with Buck in Bakersfield. 

Merle was blessed to have that old Telecaster chicken picker Roy Nichols along with steel guitar player Norm Hamlet too.  

I love music and eventually I will see Bakersfield, just not at the moment. I wanted to write a column for you folks beginning with the line in Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakum’s hit song by stating, “How Many of You That Sit and Judge Me, Ever Walk The Streets of Bakersfield?”

That was my plan, and plans get changed.

We have a family dinner at our home most every Tuesday night. We changed our supper to that Monday night so we could visit with our Heathens before we left town.

My wife and my baby daughter both being registered nurses did not like the way my brother Mike was looking and urged him to go to the ER which he wouldn’t do. 

So, the next morning I convinced him to go see our family doctor and his nurse practitioner. Dr Linder and NP Magan Shipp had me take him immediately to the Oxford ER to be treated for pneumonia.

They kept Mike until Friday and he’s doing okay so far. As a matter of fact, he’s sitting right beside me now at the shop in his office chair as I peck out this article.

Every gray cloud has a silver lining and so does this story. Do you remember all those prayers you good folks sent up for Mike when he was battling cancer ? Well, know this. After multiple CT’s, scans and X-rays, his cancer is nowhere to be found. Fighting pneumonia is a lot easier than fighting cancer.

As far as Bakersfield goes, after seeing Mike that Monday, my wife knew I wasn’t going anywhere with my brother sick, so she canceled every plan we had made that night and called me the next morning and said for me to take care of Mike and we’ll reschedule.

I’m going to get to Bakersfield eventually and see Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace and Merle Haggard’s Kern River. One day I will.

Take care of yourself folks, play a little Merle and some Ol Buck and judge me all you want, but I’m gonna walk those streets of Bakersfield one day and I’ll let you know I did.