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
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
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:
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."
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