When considering the question of where country music comes from, it’s easy to assume it originated in Nashville, Tennessee and other places located in the Deep South, like Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana. In fact, California belongs firmly on the list of places that played a role in the development of the country music genre. It was the birthplace of a number of artists that would later become Country Music Hall of Fame inductees.
The city of Bakersfield, home to the “Crystal Palace,” a night club, famously owned by the great Buck Owens, was particularly prominent in showcasing new and established country bands in the area. The collective of unique music they produced came to be known as the Bakersfield Sound in the mid-late 50s, the first country music sub-genre heavily influenced by rock and roll and contributing to the rise of country rock in coming years.
One of the earliest bands to make its way west to California’s Central Valley, was The Maddox Brothers and Rose. They left the Midwest during the Dust Bowl, looking for work picking vegetables with fellow migrants. While they toiled in the fields of Bakersfield, CA, enduring brutally hot conditions, they were inspired by the sound of a country music playing on the radio.
The Maddox Brothers and Rose formed a band with the goal of finding a better way to make a living than migrant farm work. Their act caught on, eventually settling in Modesto and went on to find success in the late 1940s-1950s. Along with local musicians, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and others, they were part of the group of artists who originated the Bakersfield Sound.
Buck Owens had a long and successful career, both producing music and starring in the famous TV show, Hee Haw. Merle Haggard survived a rough upbringing, including a stint at San Quentin Prison before becoming a prolific musician, writing and performing country songs that are still popular today. He credited Johnny Cash’s visit to the prison as a turning point for him.
In addition to these national treasures and their catalog of music, there’s more about California’s Central Valley to learn. The area has a rich, diverse history that is well worth taking the time to discover.