California

Nashville likes to think they’ve got a monopoly on this country music thing. They’ll tip their hat to Texas but California may as well fall in the ocean for all Nashville cares.

Fortunately for country music fans, nobody in California needed Nashville’s permission to make some of the greatest country music that has ever or will ever be made. Country folks fleeing the Dust Bowl brought their music with them. Western Swing, in particular, became a craze (even amongst high society types) in the ’30s and ’40s. Capitol Records got in on the action. In the ’50s, a bunch of players in Bakersfield threw electric guitars (read: Telecasters) and rock music ingredients in the mix to create the Bakersfield Sound – pure, uncut honky tonk.

Learn more about the California country music scene in the below episodes of Cocaine & Rhinestones.

CR010 Buck Owens & Don Rich, Part 1: Open Up Your Heart

CR010 Buck Owens & Don Rich, Part 1: Open Up Your Heart

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Buck Owens is an inkblot test. Ask 20 different people, get 20 different Bucks. Whatever else is true (and some of it certainly is), today we’re talking about the one who brought real country music to the world in a time when we desperately needed someone to do that. Sticking to that real deal honky tonk sound from Bakersfield made him a very famous man. Shrewd business practices made him a very rich man. Both of these things made him more than a few enemies.

However, all you need to take on the whole world is one true friend and Buck Owens had that friend in Don Rich, his guitarist and right-hand man. Here in the first part of this story, we’ll hear how everything came together, all those years ago…

This episode is recommended for fans of The Bakersfield Sound, Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart, western swing, guitar, David & Goliath stories and the Revisionist History podcast.

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Merle Haggard

CR005 Breaking Down Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee

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The song was just what so many Americans needed at the time, in 1969. Conservatives needed someone to stand up and defend small town, traditional values. Politicians needed someone to justify America’s continuing involvement in the Vietnam War. Oklahomans needed someone to redeem the meaning of the word “okie,” a hateful slur that arose from The Great Depression.

The only thing is, Merle Haggard wasn’t doing any of those things when he wrote the song.

Then what the exact hell was he doing, you ask?

Maybe things will become a little bit more clear once you know what Merle Haggard knew about Herbert Hoover, The Great Depression, The Dust Bowl, okies and satire. Maybe.

This episode is also recommended if you like: Gram Parsons, Ray Wylie Hubbard and the Revisionist History podcast.

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Bobbie Gentry

CR004 Bobbie Gentry: Exit Stage Left

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In 1967, Bobbie Gentry’s recording of a song she wrote, called “Ode to Billie Joe,” directly influenced the future of every major musical genre in America. In the early ’80s, she disappeared.

What happened in the decade between?

Why did Bobbie Gentry vanish?

Who was she, even?

Since we can’t ask Bobbie for answers, these are mysteries we either have to learn to live with or try to solve for ourselves.

People you’ll hear about in this episode: Glen Campbell, Elvis Presley, Jim Stafford, Nick Lowe, Kanye West, Eminem, Drake, Lauryn Hill, Snoop, A Tribe Called Quest, Jody Reynolds, Rick Hall, Lou Donaldson, Sheryl Crow, kd lang, Lucinda Williams, Alfred Hitchcock, Barry White, Bobby Womack, Burt Bacharach and, believe it or not, more.

Also, you may not like what you hear if you’re a fan of Jim Ford.

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Spade Cooley

CR003 The Murder Ballad of Spade Cooley

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Spade Cooley came to California in the early 1930s, as poor as everyone else who did the exact same thing at the exact same time. Only, Spade became a millionaire. And all he needed to accomplish that was a fiddle, a smile and a strong work ethic. If it sounds like the American Dream, stick around to hear how it became an American nightmare of substance abuse, mental illness and, eventually, sadistic torture and murder.

If this episode doesn’t screw you up, you’re already screwed up.

Recommended if you like: Western Swing, murder ballads, My Favorite Murder, True Crime Garage (or any other “true crime” or “murder” podcasts, really), Tex Williams, Bob Wills, fiddles and having nightmares.

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