That sharp-edged electric guitar sound — usually played on a Fender Telecaster — was a key element in the classic recordings by Owens, Haggard and other West Coast-based artists and remains a major influence on Brad Paisley and just about any other country musician who ever walked on a bandstand.
The Bakersfield Sound evolved from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl era when refugees from Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas headed west in hopes of finding a better life in the California farms and oil fields. The museum’s exhibit explores Bakersfield’s club scene in the 1940s and 1950s and acts such as the Maddox Brothers & Rose, Wynn Stewart and Tommy Collins and other pioneers of the West Coast country scene.
The 5,000-square-foot exhibit tells the story via audio narration by Dwight Yoakam and his video interviews with Haggard and Chris Hillman taped at Hollywood’s Capitol Records Tower, where many Bakersfield Sound hits were made.
The stage costumes and musical instruments are the focal points, however. Among the clothing are outfits worn by the Maddox Brothers & Rose, featuring floral motifs, elaborate embroidery and fringe, created by famed Hollywood designer Nathan Turk. Several other Turk-designed suits are on display, too, including the yellow sequined jacket Owens wore on the cover of his 1966 album, originally titled Carnegie Hall Concert. Nudie Cohn, better known as Nudie the Rodeo Tailor, is also represented by a suit designed for Stewart.
Among the iconic instruments are the late Merle Travis‘ electric guitar, one of the first solid-body electric guitars ever constructed. It was designed by Travis and built by Paul Bigsby. Another Bigsby instrument, a 1948 steel guitar owned by the late Speedy West, had apparently been stored at a salvage yard until Owens learned of its whereabouts and retrieved it. Owens’ Telecaster guitar, as well as one played extensively by his lead guitarist, Don Rich, are also showcased.
The exhibit officially opened Friday (March 23) and runs through Dec. 31, 2013.
Special programs are being presented this weekend, including Saturday’s session, “Together Again: Pioneers of the Bakersfield Sound.” The panel discussion will feature songwriters Dallas Frazier and Buddy Mize, fiddler Don Maddox (the only surviving member of the Maddox Brothers & Rose) and Country Music Hall of Fame member Jean Shepard, along with Rose Lee Maphis and Red Simpson.
Also taking place Saturday is a concert headlined by Simpson with guest performances by Frazier, Maddox, Maphis, Shepard, Mize and others. Guitarist Deke Dickerson will lead a band of musicians from Tennessee and California.