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The Bakersfield Sound

By Kelly Shire

In 1988, Dwight Yoakum had his first number-one hit with “The Streets of Bakersfield,” a song he recorded with Buck Owens. Like a lot of Yoakum’s songs, its twangy guitars and vocals throwbacks to an earlier, less slickly produced sound in country music.

Owens was an older, more established performer from California's Central Valley who, along with Merle Haggard, pioneered “the Bakersfield sound.” Bakersfield, I'd later learn, was a hotbed of honky-tonk acts in the nineteen-fifties, thanks to the influence of poor white families called Okies who'd emigrated to the area from the Dustbowl states and brought their music along.


I didn't know about any of that in the early months of 1980, when I was a fifth grader living with my family in a rented house in Bakersfield. We'd lived in that dusty oil town for only nine months when one day, without leaving a note or other warning, my dad drove off in our Pinto and wasn't seen or heard from again for months. Left behind in our sun-blasted corner, without family or even a car, my mom had had no choice but to return to her native L.A. suburb, moving herself, my toddler sister and me into the spare bedrooms of her parents' modest house.



About the Author

Kelly Shire has been from Tuscon to Tucumcari, and Lake Eufala to Lake Tahoe, but she's never yet visited the East coast. Recent work has appeared in The Coachella ReviewMemoir Mixtapes, and Entropy, among other online publications. Another essay was included in the Seal Press anthology “Spent: Exposing Our Complicated Relationship with Shopping.” A third-generation native of Los Angeles county, she lives in Temecula, California with her husband and two teens and is completing a memoir about music, family and road trips. She can be found at kellyshire.com.