Most fans of West Coast country music would recall Dennis Payne as the D. Payne credited as co-author of the Red Simpson clasic "'Highway Patrol." Although an undeniable classic, "Highway Patrol" was simply an early part of Payne's career, and Dennis the son of former Light Crust Doughboy Charles Payne still has a lot to offer. Music played a prominent role in the Payne family, as well as his father's musical exploits, his uncle Leon Payne was a recording artist and songwriter immortalised by Hank Williams' version of his song 'Lost Highway.'

Born in Bakersfield, like many other locals Dennis was exposed to Cousin Herb Henson's Trading Post television show where the likes of the Collins Kids, Bonnie Owens, Fuzzy Owen, Lewis Talley, Jean Shepard and many others performed.


His first exposure to live music in the first person was at his mother's local Pentacostal Church, where other members of the congregation played instruments while a young Dennis waited for the meeting to end and to be able to play outside. Dennis recalls, "One time this guy let me hold a guitar, that was it, I was sold. I didn't mind going to church anymore."

Eventually his mother purchased him a guitar of his own, and he played along to the Trading Post Gang teaching himself the chords. By the age of 14 he was singing and playing and forming bands with school friends. One such school friend's mother Pat Rush and her sister appeared on the televised Dave Stogner Show. Dennis became a regular at the Rush household with Pat and her husband Ray, he began sitting in at jam sessions where he met the likes of Tommy Collins.

Eventually Dennis was hired on acoustic guitar for the Dave Stogner Show with regulars like Red Simpson, Norm Hamlet, Daryl Stogner and Kay Adams.

Around this time he joined the local Musicians Union through Bakersfield bandleader Bill Woods, who was not only his musicians union sponsor in 1964-65, but Woods also had Dennis work on his television show in Bakersfield on channel 29 KBAK, as well as some club dates. Of Woods Dennis fondly recalls, "Bill was some kind of guy, we worked together a lot. The guy could play anything, but I think I loved his piano playing the best. he just had his own sound."

Red Simpson, a one time member Wood's band and a regular on Dave Stogner's show was to play a prominent role in the career of Dennis through the same network of Bakersfield pickers. Simpson had written some truck driving material for Bill Woods, which was brought to the attention of Capitol Records Producer Ken Nelson. Nelson had unsuccessfully tried to convince Merle Haggard to record some 'truck driving songs,' and turned to Simpson as his singer on the project in late 1965.

During the sessions Dennis attended with Ray Rush, Gene Moles and George French, during this time Nelson commented that more songs were needed and that some songs about police and the highway would be ideal. It was at that session that Red, Dennis and Ray Rush co-penned "Highway Patrol," an upbeat West Coast country twanger from the viewpoint of a no-nonsense lawman.

Dennis ended up playing bass on the sessions which supplied most of the material to Simpson's first two Capitol albums in 1966, while he continued to co-write material for Simpson to record.

By this time Dennis was building a career in the clubs, despite being underage at the time. He had teamed up with bandleader and KUZZ deejay Larry Daniels, joining his band the Buckshots on lead guitar and playing throughout Bakersfield, Northern California and Las Vegas backing artists like Wynn Stewart, Joe & Rose Lee Maphis and Eddie Dean. Playing the clubs and bars underage wasn't always a success, one night at Tex's Barrel House Dennis was arrested for working in a bar under age, was sent to jail and paid a fine.

By 1967 Dennis was playing various gigs with a variety of artists as well as working with the Buckshots at the Fresno Barn when Gary Paxton opened a new studio in Bakersfield, building it into an old bank building. Paxton had recorded under performed under a variety of names since the 1950s and through the early 1960s had built a name for himself as a songwriter, performer and studio engineer, opening his own Hollywood home studio in the mid 1960s. Dennis' connection was not immediate, but through Larry Daniels he was introduced to the newest studio boss in town. Paxton was on the look out for local writers, as Larry didn't write he suggested his young lead guitarist for the job.

At the time Paxton had envisioned a Buck Owens/Buckaroos style instrumental album with session players like Jerry Scheff and Mike Cannon involved. Dennis was brought in on acoustic guitar and inevitably became part of the Paxton studio band and played on a variety of different projects, most of the time with the assurance of being paid someday. Instead he moved into the studio as a home base, still working with Larry Daniels & The Buckshots, some recordings under that name were basically Dennis in the studio.

The first solo record he had out "Who Cares What Happens" was written by Dennis and Ray Willis and issued on A-S Records (named after the owner Al Sherman who leased many different recordings from Paxton), and produced by Paxton. To promote the record Dennis recalls that "Larry Daniels and I drove from Los Angeles to New York and back hitting all the radio stations just like in the movies."

At the time Paxton was doing well with the Gosdin Brothers, a country-rock meets country duo that scored a minor hit with 'Hangin' On' in 1967 on Paxton's Bakersfield International label. Dennis also played on some of their sessions and the group were bought out by Capitol Records.

Before too long Dennis had his own projects, although in most cases the recordings made at Paxton's studio would later be finished in a Hollywood studio. Along with local rock musician Kenny Johnson, a songwriter performer who had left Bakersfield with his band the Avengers to work the Los Angeles scene, they also formed the nucleus of the Californian Poppy Pickers studio band.

Despite Paxton's constant dealings with labels like Capitol, A&M Records and Tower Records, one of his most regular outlets was the Alshire label run by publisher, songwriter and label boss Al Sherman.

The California Poppy Pickers were simply a cash-in project on the Californian folk-rock and country-rock bands at the time. Paxton and Sherman envisioned the concept and the studio group was left to concieve the project.

For the sessions Kenny Johnson was the main singer lead and handled most of the backing vocals, he also played guitar, bass, and drums. Like Dennis, he was tied into Paxton's publishing company and wrote most of the material. Dennis also played on the albums, and when a steel guitar was needed they used local steel player Leo Leblanc.

It was Dennis and Kenny Johnson that both played on all the Poppy Pickers albums except for the last one, called Honky Tonk Women. Dennis recalls that "We got $200 each for each album, then Paxton would ask if we could help pay the rent and some of the other bills, we always did."

The duo kept working at the studio, with the hope that Paxton would be able to get them a record deal under their own names.

Dennis alongside Clarence White and Hugh Brockie also appeared on a guitar anthology album 'Guitar Country' by Bakersfield Big Guitars, a group only in name as it was taken from various instrumenals that the guitarist had recorded at Paxton's studio. The album was issued on the Bakersfield based Jaisco label and seems to mark the end of Paxton's involvement with the Alshire label. Dennis had two self penned songs 'Buckshot' and 'Bakersfield Steed,' while he co-wrote Rindin' The Grapevine' with Hughie Brockie.

In 1969 Paxton became involved with the Native Amercian ocupation of the former prison Island Alcatraz.

There had been two previous symbolic Native American occupations of the Island in the 1960s, but this time various memmbers of different tribes had decided to live on the deserted prison complex to create an awareness and press about the plight of 'Indian Rights.'

They decided to record an album in tribute to the situation and while working on the concept Paxton gained enough funding for himself and Dennis to fly to the island and visit the new occupants, also taking a film crew with them.

Although the documentry was never completed, an album simply titled and credited to "We're Indian (Featuring Dennis Payne)" was completed as Red Man 1492; Red Man was another Paxton label.

Recorded in an intimate Johnny Cash acousitc style the album recieved a good review in Billboard Magazine in early 1970, then sunk without much more attention. A single 'Token (The Ballad Of Alcatraz)' taken from the album was also issued on Redman, credited to Dennis Payne and the Renegades.

One of the last Paxton recordings that Dennis was involved with was an album by Stan Farlow, which Paxton produced for Chess Records in 1970. Once again it was recorded at Paxton's Bakersfield studio in the late 60s, with Dennis and Kenny Johnson supplying most of the backing and some songs. According to Dennis, Stan Farlow lives in Texas and is now a preacher, and when thinking of the sessions he recalled going out at night on the highways with Paxton to record the truck horn and engine sounds for the Johnny Cash style album of road songs.

Through this period Dennis continued playing the clubs, generally taking his Telecaster to the infamous Blackboard Club and playing lead with the house band, sometimes Merle Haggard and Roy Nichols would also sit in with the group.

In 1970 unhappy with Paxton's low pay and still no solo deal Dennis split from Paxton's studio, and joined with Mosrite Records. Despite the original Mosrite Factory's closure in 1969 the label and guitar manufacturing was still going, although on a smaller basis. At the time deejay Larry Scott was there as A & R/ producer for the record label. Dennis worked at Mosrite Guitars and signed with Mosrite Records but never did record anything, the label had run it's course and no further recordings were made under the Mosrite name until it was revived in the 1980s in Tennessee.

Dennis soon moved onto another independant group as an engineer at Bakersfield Sound Studios where worked on various productions for the Nashville West label.

Some of the artists who recorded for Nashville West included Kenny Johnson, Mark Moseley (formerly of Mosrite) and sides by Dennis were also released as Dennis Payne and The Country Mile in 1973 and 1974.

Some time around 1974 Dennis left the Nashville West label and signed with Buck Owens. Dennis not only recorded at Owens' studio in Bakersfield, he was also signed Capitol Records as an artist, as a songwriter to Owens' Blue Book Music and his business partner manager Jack Mcfadden booked Dennis' live performances.

At first it seemed a great deal, Dennis had a contract which allowed him to use whatever studio he wanted, the pickers he wanted and the songs that he himself chose were the ones that were cut.

His solo singles included "Come On Home, Girl" (Capitol 4083), "I'm Stoned"(Capitol 4024), and " Love Me Like You've Never Done Before" (Capitol 4196); all from 1975 and recorded in Buck Owens Studio in Bakersfield.

None of the singles were hits and at the time there was little push from Capitol which was beggining to move it's country operations to Nashville and Buck Owens was just about to enter one of the quietest periods of his recording career. With little chart action and only a small Californian tour booked Dennis finished his committments and decided to move to Nashville.

His original connection to Nashville was artist representative George Ritchie who had gotten a deal for another singer named Bob Jones who had also been previously signed to Buck Owens and Jack McFadden. George Ritchie had also worked for Buck, he had produced Freddie Hart's 'Easy Lovin' hit album in the early 1970s.

In 1976 Dennis left Buck Owens and moved to Nashville, he'd managed to get out of his management deal with Buck and Jack McFadden although there would be some red tape with B.M.I. and Owens' Blue Book Music publishing company that would cause problems later when it was time to sign deals with other labels.

Without a record deal he sought out Gary Paxton and once again began to work on various Paxton projects. Once again it was a series of mis-adventures and projects, Paxton even got Dennis Payne songs placed on recordings by Vern Gosdin and Tommy Overstreet, in 1979 Vern cut a version of Dennis' 'All I want and need forever,' which achieved a top #10 chart position.

Dennis issued a single on Paxton's Garpax label "California Girl" b/w "True Blue" (GPX-4545) in 1981. As with most Paxton product publishing, production and the arrangement were credited to Paxton, although Dennis wrote the songs. In the end Dennis once again sought a new studio and label, as with Paxton it was a lot of work with little reward as a recording artist.

Around 1980 Dennis teamed up with another native of the Bakersfield scene, Mark Moseley who's father Andy was part of the Mosrite Company in the Bakersfield days. Together they built their own Tennessee based studio, which they worked from for a couple of years then went their own ways. Mark continues with his own studio business to this day.

Dennis worked at another studio, signed with the independant Troop label and made some recordings, eventually returning to work with live bands. He played guitar for Nashville legends Little Jimmy Dickens and Cal Smith. His stint with Smith lasted a couple of years and while with his band worked some dates with other artists like Vern Gosdin in the 1980s.

While in Nashville he also played casuals and even worked with steel player Leo LeBlanc who had played on 1960s sessions with Dennis in Bakersfield and Hollywood.

After a short stint with the independant True Records, "I Know All About Her" (TU-87), he went on to work with singer Tommy Overstreet's band for a couple of years, and through those connections eventually went to work at Gene Breeden Studios. Breeden was originally based on the West Coast and had a variety of studios since the late 1950s, moving from Northern Californian to the Pacific Northwest and evetually basing himself in Tennessee. At the time Breeden's studio alternated between demos for unknowns to sessions for veteran talent like Tommy Overstreet, and Dennis found his engineer studio skills in demand.

In 1989 Dennis wed fellow song writer Jill Wood who he had met in Tennessee, this proved to be the marriage 'that took' after a less than successful run with marital bliss in the pass. Both continued to record and write their own material.

While working with Breeden Studios, Dennis engineered the comeback project for Chubby Checker that was intended to be released on Sun Records. Known as the 'Texas Twist' sessions the bluesy country influenced tracks featured Checker and the studio crew in top form. Sadly the sessions remained unissued and only a handfull of promo sides were issued in 1995.

In the mid 1990s Dennis was often working with Ugene Moles Jr. (guitarist son of Bakersfield legend Gene Moles), and later Alvis Barnette. The trio decided to pursue a recording project and decided to name their project the Bakersfield Boys.

The Bakersfield Boys recorded a version of the Arlie Duff composition "Y'all Come," a song that Herb Henson had made his trademark number on Bakersfield television in the 1950s and 1960s. As much a tribute to West Coast country as the Bakersfield sound, the group sought out a variety of veteran performers who helped shape the West Coast Sound to record with them. The Bakersfield studio they utilised was called Fat Tracks Studio and was formerly the home of Buck Owens radio and recording studio until the early 1990s when Buck Owens had a new studio built and sold off the property.

By the time Dennis travelled to Bakersfield and gathered together Red Simpson and Gene Moles Snr. to add their parts for the West Coast part of the "Ya'll Come" session, acts as diverse as Korn and gospel rock groups had utilised the studio.

The number also features the Bakersfield Boys with, Johnny Russell, Jan Howard, Doyle Holly, the Hager Twins, and Jean Shepard who recorded their parts in Nashville.

Eventually the Bakersfield Boys project fell apart due to a spilt in the decision as to who would front the vocals on the material. Dennis has kept the material and hopes to still finish and release the project.

In August of 1999, Dennis attended the Buck Owens Birthday Bash at the Crystal Palace Ballroom in Bakersfield where he was in attendence with the likes of Jay Dee Maness, Tom Brumley, Jim Shaw, Terry Christofferson, onstage and others like Dennis who were in the crowd, including his onetime boss Larry Daniels.

Back in Nashville Dennis and Jim Unger teamed up for their own studio, eventually moving it into a club where they were also the house band. Besides Dennis and Jim, the band members included Jack Daniels on guitar, Rick Boyer (bass), and drummer Jimmy Hyde. The group had originally formed to play a local beer joint bfore relocating to the club. Drummer Hyde had previously worked with Eddie Rabbit's band while Jack Daniels is another Californian picker who moved to Nashville, and is better known for being a founder member of Highway 101.

Jack also runs a successful website design company in Tennessee.

The band trimmed down to the four piece of Dennis, Jack, Rick and Jimmy and gigged around Nashville under the name Cigars & Cataracts.

By early 2002 their club gig had ended with a change in the venue, although the studio is still based in the same structure. When the drummer Jimmy Hyde left for another gig in Branson they replaced him and kept working live shows.

These days Dennis is involved with Jim Unger in the Rustywood Music Recording Studio in Nashville, while he also works from his own home studio. His wife Jill also has her songwriting studio where she works on her own material. Dennis concedes that Jill is a great songwriter although they never write together as they have their own style. Both are supportive of each other's studio work and careers.

Currently Dennis is focusing his career on more recordings at Rustywood, while maintaining a live edge.

A couple of new sites have also appeared in 2002. The first was put together as a tribute by a fan who caught Cigars & Cataracts live. The second was due to Dennis and one time bandmate Daryl Stogner catching up via the internet. Although they hadn't kept in touch for many years, Dennis and Daryl hit it off, which led to Daryl designing a web page for Dennis which can be viewed at: http://www.dennispayne.net/

At the moment Dennis is thinking of adding the all-star recording of "Y'all Come" to the website where visitors will be able to download the tribute number.

Also available through his studio and website is a series of strong country albums Dennis has released on compact disc. All of them display his love of mixing blues into a strong country sound. (In his biography fact sheet, Dennis acknowledges his influences as Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, John Fogerty and B.B. King.)

His self released albums include "Dennis Payne; Volume 1-3" and the tribute set to the working man, "Roughneck," which displays his interest in writing about the salt of the earth types that work the Oilfields and labour hard for their pay. All of these this writer recommends for fans of real country music.

In the words of Dennis, "Make sure the music means more to you than all the applause and money."



The Official Dennis Payne Site





Rockabilly Hall of Fame