Various Artists

The Other Side of Bakersfield, Vol. 1: 1950s & 60s Boppers and Rockers From "Nashville West"

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The "other side" in the title of Bear Family's two-volume 2014 set The Other Side of Bakersfield is effectively pre-history: it's the hopping, swinging hillbilly boogie that laid the groundwork for the snapping, twangy train-track sound that popularized the Californian town in the '60s. Several of the seminal names of Bakersfield country are indeed here on this 31-track set: there's Tommy Collins laying into the high-octane Western swing of "Untied," Buck Owens masquerading under the name Corky Jones and cutting the crackerjack rockabilly "Hot Dog," and, as the collection comes to a close, Merle Haggard surfaces singing "Skid Row," an early number that shows he was still indebted to Buck. Despite these titans, this emphatically is not a showcase for the electrified honky tonk that is popularly known as the Bakersfield sound. This chronicles the aftershocks of Ferlin Husky's hit "A Dear John Letter," a song a huckster called Hillbilly Barton traded to Lewis Talley for a car not long after Barton produced the original version with Fuzzy Owen and Bonnie Owens. Scott B. Bomar lays out the details of this complicated story in his liner notes, which also include a terrific track-by-track overview, but the broad strokes are apparent. Once the gold rush started, Bakersfield was filled with singers and Western swing bandleaders who were intent on playing any kind of country boogie or rockabilly that'd fill a dancehall floor. Consequently, the songs chronicled on this compilation swing to an R&B beat and sometimes have nagging nonsensical choruses (some of the prime offenders are unloaded early, with Alvadean Coker's "We're Gonna Bop" and Bill Woods' "Go Crazy Man"). The earlier sides here demonstrate a stronger tie to jump blues and swing and that abandon can be heard in the records from the late '50s and early '60s, but these singles bear the hallmarks of the nascent Bakersfield sound: lots of echo, lots of lean guitars, and a creeping reliance on electricity. Novelties abound -- the most ridiculous being Ernie Kelley's "Seal Rock," coming complete with a sea lion bark on the chorus, but Bob Ross' "Stingy Daddy" illustrates how most of these one-offs balanced humor and a big beat -- but that's a big part of the appeal of The Other Side of Bakersfield: this was a group of singers who would do anything to entertain, who would do anything to have a hit. Only a handful struck pay dirt -- even Hillbilly Barton hit the jackpot only once, then he saw the gold rush go to others -- but this wildly entertaining disc shows how hustlers, rockabilly cats, Western swing crooners, and savvy guitar players wound up constructing what the sound of Bakersfield became.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:32
2 2:14
3 2:17
4 1:59
5 2:02
6 2:20
7 2:19
8 2:07
9 2:23
10 2:23
11 2:20
12 2:09
13 2:41
14 2:08
15 2:29
16 2:20
17 2:16
18 2:09
19 2:04
20 2:14
21 1:51
22 1:57
23 2:13
24 1:36
25 2:19
26 2:32
27 2:07
28 2:18
29 1:53
30 1:45
31 2:42
blue highlight denotes track pick