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Two legendary Bakersfield singer/songwriters
Johnny Barnett and Sonny Langley

Onstage at JD'S Cocktails in Ridgrecrest, CA circa the 70's. Left to right: Billy Armstrong - Don McNatt - Billy Mize - Jack Collier. Picture courtesy of Ted Lemon.

Roy Nichols - Nancy Reagan - Merle Haggard

Rose Maddox - Unknown circa 1985.

Unknown - Merle Haggard and Fred Maddox of Maddox Bros. & Rose circa 1985.

Here's a great picture taken by Barry Keen of Bill Woods and Roy Nichols shooting the bull.

This is the house that Merle Haggard had built when he resided to the East of Bakersfield. It was located at the mouth of Kern Canyon on Highway 178 where the mighty Kern River flows. This was an ideal area that he chose because Merle loved to fish that ol' Kern River. Photo courtesy of Barry Keen.

The legendary Bakersfield guitarist Gene Moles holding a Buck Owens' metalflake red, silver and metallic blue Telecaster guitar. Photo courtesy of Barry Keen.

Bill Woods strumming on a Buck Owens guitar in Buck Owens recording studio back in 1976. Photo courtesy of Barry Keen.

Vintage photo of Merle Haggard's band. Left to right: Ronnie Reno - Leona Williams - Unidentified man - Biff Adam (drums) - Merle - Tiny Moore - Roy Nichols - Norm Hamlet (steel). Photo courtesy of Barry Keen.

This picture was taken in 1977 of Roy Nichols and Tiny Moore performing in Calgary Canada. Photo courtesy of Barry Keen.

Here's a great picture of Bill Woods "The Father of The Bakersfield Sound" recording at Buck Owens studio in Oildale in 1981. Photo courtesy of Barry Keen.

This rare poster was sent to us by George Gilbert Lynch who writes local history
for Bakersfield Magazine and "The Blackboard Free Press".

Top photo: Bonnie Owens and Merle Haggard
The lower photo was taken at a club called Shuddysin Bakersfield where Sonny Langley was performing nightly. Shuddys was demolished in the late 90's to make way for a new motel. Left to Right: Rose Maddox, Sonny Langley and Shirley the then owner of Shuddys.

Bobby And The Rialtos
Bobby & The Rialtos was formed in 1959 in Tulare, Ca. Band members were Bobby Hollister (Lead Singer and rhythm guitar), Freddie Thomas (Lead Guitar) and Mike Nolan (Drums).

Courtesy Ray (

Courtesy Ray (

Courtesy Ray (


The Dave and Vi Stogner Story


Live from Bakersfield, Part 1
By ROBERT PRICE, Californian columnist
He's a legendary figure in Central California music, so it only seems right that the story of his arrival should have the aura of legend.
           One day in 1946, or the story goes, an itinerant musician from East St. Louis, jumped off a Union Pacific boxcar somewhere on the outskirts of Bakersfield. His name was Herbert Lester Henson, and 50 years ago this summer he helped bring live music to Central Valley television, an institution then still in its infancy. In the process, he and his musical colleagues heralded a cultural phenomenon that made possible everything from "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" to "The Beverly Hillbillies."
           From 1953 to 1963, Henson helped his audiences put aside their worries for 45 minutes, five days a week. Every weekday afternoon, just before the local news, there were no Cold War rumblings, no McCarthy hearings, no segregation debates, no Sputnik sightings. Just some old friends playing music on "Cousin Herb's Trading Post."
           Henson had some good company on Central Valley television screens. His primary competition was Jimmy Thomason, a Waco, Texas-born fiddler, who with his wife co-hosted "The Louise and Jimmy Thomason Show."
           There were also Billy Mize, a steel guitarist with matinee-idol looks; his cohort Cliff Crofford, who teamed with Mize to bring "The Chuck Wagon Gang" to Bakersfield audiences; and Dave Stogner, another Texas fiddler who brought front-porch charm from Fresno south to Bakersfield via "The Dave Stogner Show." Along the way, the Bakersfield television hosts launched several careers and cultivated an audience for the country music variety programs of the decade that would follow - two, notably, involving Bakersfield's most famous country music performer.
           Buck Owens, who went on to star on "Buck Owens' Ranch" and "Hee Haw," perfected his TV smile on local television shows like "Cousin Herb's Trading Post." Herb Henson was a whiz on the piano, but the fame he eventually would achieve had less to do with his skills as a musician than with his true gift - flat-out, aw-shucks likability. You had to be a tone-deaf sourpuss not to like stocky, amiable "Cousin" Herb Henson. Like so many other Bakersfield musicians, Henson's first jobs were in the agricultural fields of the San Joaquin Valley. But Henson was too people-oriented to labor long in the fields.
           His first stop in California was Modesto, 202 miles north of Bakersfield. There, he landed a job at the Wagon Wheel saloon on Ninth Street, playing piano six nights a week. In Modesto, he met a young radio personality by the name of Chester Smith. "He used to come out to the radio station and visit with me in those days," said Smith, who went on to achieve a measure of fame as a performer, followed by prosperity as a television station proprietor.
           "In those days, there was no such thing as an all-country station or an all-anything station," Smith said. "There was Bing Crosby for a half-hour, then someone else for a half-hour, then someone else after that. There wasn't much time in the programming day for all that much country music." Henson wasn't going to get a piece of the radio action in Modesto anytime soon. But he kept his ears open and eventually got wind of an opportunity. "He told me, 'I've got a chance to get on the radio down in Bakersfield,'" Smith recalled. "So he went down there, and lo and behold, he came up with a local TV show. And when he did that, all the musicians flocked to him because that was their chance to get some exposure."
           It didn't happen right away, of course. Before his success on TV, Henson worked part-time at radio station KMPC, and to make ends meet he made door-to-door pickups for a local laundry service. Once in a while, while picking up a load for Ted Salsbury Cleaners, he'd spot a piano in a customer's living room, and one thing would lead to another. Inevitably, Henson would start plinkety-plinking out some gospel standard, and he would eventually leave with more laundry than the customer had first intended to send out.
           "Herb just had a fine gift of gab; a natural born pitchman he was," Bill Woods, the bandleader at the Blackboard saloon, once said. "I've never heard anybody who could sell like him." Woods would know, having been a first-rate pitchman himself and a radio host on Bakersfield's KERN. Woods gave Owens his first big job as a performer and hired Merle Haggard as a member of his band. Woods never achieved national fame - his 1963 recording of "Truck Drivin' Man" was a local best-seller that never charted -- but he won a little unexpected notoriety from Haggard's early '70s song, "Bill Woods from Bakersfield" (written by Woods' friend and protege, Red Simpson).
           (Woods' "Truck Drivin' Man," written by Terry Fell, is something of a collector's item now. It was on Turquoise Records, a Bakersfield label run by Jimmie Addington, a promoter who happened to have turquoise inlays in his two front teeth, and the backup band was Merle Haggard's Strangers.)
           Henson's early radio work also included stints at KMPH and later KERO, and he made a splash as a comedian-musician at Bakersfield dance halls and honky-tonks like the Clover Club, Lucky Spot, Blackboard, and Rainbow Gardens.
           Among the established local stars in those days were Terry Preston (to be known later and more famously by his real name, Ferlin Husky), Tommy Collins, Fuzzy Owen, Lewis Talley, Jack Trent, Buster Simpson, and, of course, Woods.
           Henson was an immediate smash, though he was not universally loved. "Cousin Herb took Jack Trent's job playing the piano at the Clover Club," recalled Red Simpson, Buster's little brother, who would go on to become an accomplished songwriter and singer of trucking songs. "Ol' Jack wasn't too happy about it, either. He tuned all the keys wrong on the piano, just to mess with him. That first night, Cousin Herb couldn't even play. Had to come back the next night."
           An inauspicious start, to be sure, but Henson overcame it, and by 1953 he was the best-known nightclub piano player in town. That status got him through the office door of KERO-TV's general manager one day in September 1953.
           Jimmy Thomason and his wife, Louise, had launched their own program on KAFY-TV (later known as KBAK-TV) just a few weeks before. KERO-TV, Henson no doubt suggested in his impassioned pitch, couldn't let that foray go unchallenged. He left that day with a television program of his own. The programs went head-to-head, differing just enough to appeal to distinct segments of the viewing audience. Thomason was a master of western swing; Henson's style was more honky-tonk, with a gospel sensibility thrown in. Their battle for the affections of San Joaquin Valley viewers was decided not so much by ratings or advertising revenue as by Thomason's veering ambitions.
           Thomason had refined his skills in the music business with a long, previous stint alongside Louisiana Gov. Jimmie Davis, beginning in 1944 as a fiddle player in Davis' Sunshine Band. This wasn't just a band, though -- it was a central part of Davis' campaign apparatus. As soon as Davis, a Southern Democrat, defeated Gov. Earl Long (brother of the infamous Huey Long), he appointed Thomason Louisiana's secretary of defense and secretary of the Board of Tax Appeals.
           Davis left office in 1948 and bought a nightclub in Palm Springs called The Stables, and the Thomasons joined the Davises there. Davis starred in a nationally televised variety show for CBS, broadcast live Wednesday nights from The Stables, and the Thomasons were regular performers on it - Jimmy on fiddle and vocals, Louise as a featured vocalist. The Davises grew tired of the California desert after two years - it was more Davis' wife Alvern, actually - and they went home to Louisiana in 1950. The Thomasons relocated to Bakersfield, where Louise's parents had moved in 1941. Jimmy got a job as announcer on Bakersfield's KAFY radio.
           Davis, whose signature song, "You Are My Sunshine," has been recorded more than 350 times in a dozen languages, returned to the Lousiana governor's mansion a decade later, serving from 1960 to 1964. He remained lifelong friends with the Thomasons. Davis died at age 101 in November 2000.
           Oddly, Jimmie Davis wasn't the only future governor to give Jimmy Thomason a job. In 1936, Thomason worked for W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel, who was elected governor of Texas in 1938. O'Daniel, who was "moved" from Texas to Mississippi and spoofed in the film "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?," had been the announcer for the Light Crust Doughboys before he started his own band, W. Lee O'Daniel's Hillbilly Boys. Jimmy Thomason played the role of Casear the Fiddle Teaser on O'Daniel's radio program, based in Austin.
           Fans urged "Pappy" to run for governor, and in 1938 he took the leap. (By then, Thomason was back in Waco.) O'Daniel attracted massive crowds, featured a platform built around the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, and won the election in a rout. He served until 1941, when he was elected to the U.S. Congress.
           Thomason saw himself following Davis' non-musical path as well, so he quit his show after several months to run in the June 1954 primary against state Sen. Jess R. Dorsey. Louise Thomason carried on as host for about two months to fulfill the terms of their contract. Dorsey got 64 percent of the vote and the Thomasons, out of a job, moved back to Waco.
           Henson had won the television ratings war by default. Not that his KERO-TV show wouldn't have won anyway. "You were family to those people (in the viewing audience)," said Al Brumley Jr., who served as producer of the "Trading Post" for five years. "We were on five days a week. People just didn't miss it. None of those other shows compared to his."
           "Cousin Herb's Trading Post," originally co-starring Woods and Billy Mize, was a favorite throughout the entire valley thanks to a signal that boosted the program to the north, well past Fresno, and to the west, all the way over to the coast. Henson's opening-night cast of Mize, Woods, Johnny Cuviello, and Carlton Ellis was eventually fortified with several performers from the Clover Club and elsewhere - local musicians like Owens, Talley, Fuzzy Owen, Bonnie Owens and Roy Nichols.
           The list of guest stars over the years reads like a who's-who of country legends: Ernest Tubb, Tex Ritter, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Merle Travis, Johnny Cash, Gene Autry, Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, Spade Cooley, and, toward the end, a young Barbara Mandrell. Unlikely performers such as Rudy Vallee, Lawrence Welk, and the Lennon Sisters also showed up from time to time.
           In 1961, a stranger named Bill Ray called Brumley's office to say he had a "brother-in-law who sings," and Brumley agreed to audition him. The stranger walked into Brumley's office and picked up the Martin guitar he kept in a corner. Brumley knew almost from the first note - this guy, a year out of San Quentin, was a keeper.
           Merle Haggard was added to the show's lineup two nights a week. Favorable fan mail started pouring in, and soon Haggard was performing five nights a week on the Trading Post. Henson was smart enough to know when to share the spotlight, and with whom to share it. The other performers gave the show its color and variety; Cousin Herb was the anchor, the foundation, and he thoroughly convinced members of the viewing audience they were all part of the family.
           "Herb was the greatest emcee I ever heard in my life, and I've been around a lot of them," said Brumley, the son of gospel songwriting great Al Brumley Sr. and a performer himself. "Herb could put people in the palm of his hand. He was smart, because he surrounded himself with good talent. He didn't try to hog the show."
           Cousin Herb's TV commercials were every bit as entertaining as his nightly program. "You never knew what he was gonna say," Brumley said. "They'd put copy in front of him, but he didn't always pay attention to it. He'd just ad-lib if it suited him. He was a natural because he was himself.
           "One day he was doing a live commercial for an Army-Navy store, and there were a bunch of rakes and hoes in the background, and right when he was talking one of those rakes fell on his head. He says, 'Uh-oh, I've been raked.' People remembered that. He could get away with just about anything."
           Many of Henson's regular guests used the exposure as a springboard. Some started young. There was Mandrell, of course, who joined the show as an occasional guest in 1959, at age 10. Her "Trading Post" exposure helped her land a job on "Town Hall Party," based in Los Angeles, and she debuted on Red Foley's ABC-TV show, "Five Star Jubilee," as a young teen. Her band all played Bakersfield-built Mosrite guitars, though Barbara, encouraged by her music store-owner father, Irby Mandrell, preferred the pedal steel and saxophone. Years later, in 1980, NBC would give Mandrell her own Saturday night variety show, "Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters," which she used to achieve superstardom as a country artist.
           Ronnie Sessions joined "Cousin Herb's Trading Post" in 1958, at age 9, a year after taking his first guitar lesson from Andy Moseley of Mosrite guitar fame. He stayed on for three years, and the experience served him well. Sessions went on to make guest appearances on "The Jelly Sanders Show," "The Tommy Dee Show," and "The Billy Mize Show." He reached the country charts in 1968 with Hoyt Axton's "Never Been to Spain" and retired from the music business in 1987.
           Then there was Dallas Frazier, who debuted with Cousin Herb as a big-eyed 14-year-old. When he joined the "Trading Post" in 1953, Frazier had just signed with Capitol Records and recorded two minor hits: "Ain't You Had No Bringin' Up at All" and "Love Life at 14."
           "Don't ask what I knew about love then, because it wasn't much," he said. But Frazier, who went on to become a successful songwriter with hits like "Alley Oop" and "Elvira," was learning plenty about live television. Frazier's voice was polished, but his stage demeanor gave him away as the babe he truly was: Older Bakersfield viewers might remember Frazier as the bandanna-wearing kid who sang with one end of his neckerchief in each hand. As he warbled through a tune, Frazier kept time by yanking on the bandanna in a shoeshine motion against the back of his neck. Some might have considered it a nervous tic, but Frazier says he picked up the habit from Husky, his first Bakersfield mentor, on whom it somehow looked dashing.
           At age 15, Frazier joined Cliffie Stone's "Hometown Jamboree," a popular, Los Angeles-based TV show that featured stars like Tennessee Ernie Ford and Tommy Sands, and his star was on the rise. Over the course of the next decade, it became increasingly clear that Frazier's greatest talents were in songwriting, not singing. By 1966, the year Jack Greene turned his song "There Goes My Everything" into a hit (it was later recorded by Engelbert Humperdinck, Elvis Presley, and many others), Frazier was a songwriting star.
           Henson himself recorded for the Shasta, Decca, and Capitol labels. His version of the Arlie Duff composition "Y'all Come" became his signature song, and he often closed his show with a modified version called "Hurry Back." Henson also performed regularly in concert and, as a host-headliner, routinely drew 10,000 fans to outdoor shows - most notably at Hart Park, just east of Bakersfield.
           "Country was hot then," Woods, who died in 2000, said in a 1997 interview. "You could play a tambourine and draw a crowd." And no one drew crowds in Bakersfield better than Henson, whose local prominence rose to another level in 1960, when Valley Radio Corp. bought KIKK radio, switched its format to country music, and hired him as president and general manager.
           The station's call letters were changed to KUZZ, to play on Henson's celebrity, and Cousin Herb, whose TV show continued to make him a fixture in living rooms throughout the Central Valley, became "Kuzzin Herb."
           On September 12, 1963, two dozen country music stars gathered at the 11-month-old Bakersfield Civic Auditorium (now the Bakersfield Convention Center) to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the "Trading Post" show. Glen Campbell, Buck Owens, Tommy Collins, and Roy Clark were among the guest stars. It was to be Cousin Herb's last hurrah. (Jan. 2003)

Live from Bakersfield, Part 2
By ROBERT PRICE, Californian columnist
           In the middle of 1963, Cousin Herb Henson's life was a paradox. His business demeanor reflected sheer optimism. He was as popular as ever, now that he'd become the "Kuzzin" Herb of KUZZ radio, and he saw big things ahead on TV, too, having quietly made arrangements to switch from KERO to competing KBAK.
           He'd be hosting his "Trading Post" show's 10-year anniversary concert at the newly opened Bakersfield Civic Center, too, with stars like Glen Campbell, Buck Owens, Roy Clark and Merle Haggard on the bill.
           But Bakersfield's favorite piano-playing emcee was also beginning to suspect that his days were short.
           In October 1963, the month following the big anniversary show, he suffered a heart attack. He told his wife, Katherine, how painful it was to think that another man might raise their four sons.
           About six weeks after the big show, Henson woke up in the middle of the night and roused his wife from her sleep. As young and pretty as she was, he told her, she should marry again after he died.
           Henson's son, Rick, will never forget the events of Nov. 26, 1963. His celebrity father, finished with that evening's "Trading Post" broadcast, had come home for the day. Katherine was off playing with the KUZZ bowling team, so Cousin Herb went for a walk over to his sister's house, a regular activity prescribed by his doctors.
           A few minutes later there was a knock at the door of the Henson home. Someone needed to use the telephone: Cousin Herb was lying in the street. The four boys - Rick, Dusty, Mike and Rusty - were taken to their aunt and uncle's house. Their aunt tried to keep the boys' minds elsewhere, but that proved difficult. Every five minutes, it seemed, a TV announcer was telling viewers that Cousin Herb had died. News broadcasts had been full of grief and speculation for four days now, ever since the assassination of President Kennedy. And now this -- the music man of Bakersfield, dead at 38.
           "It was like losing the president all over again," said Al Brumley Jr., the TV show's producer.
           Several entertainers stepped up to fill the void. Some, of course, had been there all along. Foremost were Jimmy and Louise Thomason, who'd launched WACO-TV's own live-music program, "The Home Folks Show," back in Waco, Texas, before returning to Bakersfield in 1956.
           Billy Mize, a young, handsome steel guitar player, had taken advantage of the Thomasons' self-imposed two-year exile, stepping in to host his own program. He called his KBAK show "The Chuck Wagon Gang" and teamed for a year and a half with Cliff Crofford (later to earn a reputation writing songs for Walter Brennan and composing mid-'70s film soundtracks including those for "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Every Which Way But Loose").
           Mize "sang like a bird," said Roy Nichols, former guitarist for Merle Haggard's Strangers and a sometime-regular on the "Trading Post." "Looked good, too."
           "He had a lot a trouble with girls," Red Simpson said. "Trouble keeping them away."
           Mize, who rejoined the "Trading Post" gang after the Thomasons' return, became the show's host in October 1963 when Cousin Herb was forced to scale back following his first heart attack. After Henson's death the following month, the show moved to KBAK, and Mize continued as the show's host for its final years. The Thomasons essentially switched places with Mize, landing on KERO-TV.
           A native of Kansas by way of Riverside, Mize was all over the Southern California airwaves in those days. In a two-year display of road-warrior grit during 1964 and 1965, he racked up 3,000 miles a week driving his pink 1959 Cadillac back and forth between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, appearing on two live, daily TV music shows: "Trading Post" in Bakersfield and "Melody Ranch" on KTLA.
           Mize performed on several Los Angeles-area TV shows, including "The Hank Penny Show," "Town Hall Party," "The Cal Worthington Show," and "Country Music Time." He eventually sold his heroic, well-traveled Caddy to Buddy Mize, his songwriting brother.
           Before the Academy of Country Music gave its "TV Personality of the Year" award to Glen Campbell in 1968, Mize owned the trophy, winning three years in a row. He recorded for Columbia, Decca, United Artists, Zodiac and others, but his finest moment in the studio was probably the day in June 1966 that Dean Martin recorded three of his songs, including "Terrible Tangled Web."
           Dave Stogner was the other memorable personality who helped fill the void created by Henson's death. A genial, Texas-bred fiddler whom Henson had tried previously to recruit into Bakersfield, Stogner had been charming TV audiences (on three stations in Fresno, 100 miles north) for twelve years.
           Stogner arrived at Bakersfield's KLYD (later KGET) in 1965, bringing along that theme song so familiar to Fresno viewers: "Hello friends and neighbors / How do you do? / We're gonna play and sing / and we hope we bring / some happiness to you."
           Stogner's Western Rhythmaires had a great lineup: Norman Hamlett played steel guitar, Red Simpson was on piano and guitar, and Sonny O'Brien played drums. Dennis Payne sat in every once in a while, as did Ray Salter and Kay Adams. And on bass, starting in 1965: Dave's teen-age son Daryl.
           For the first six months, Stogner hosted a videotaped music show that originated in Nashville, introducing pre-recorded singers. It evolved into an all-live, one-hour show with local heroes such as Mize, Buck Owens, and Jan Howard, as well as Nashville-based guests like Dottie West and Roger Miller.
           Sensing a change in America's musical tastes, Stogner left Bakersfield in 1967. "Dad had the feeling that something was happening in country music," Daryl Stogner said. "You could see the pendulum swinging, and he was ready to step away."
           Hamlett went on to take a job playing steel guitar for Haggard's band, the Strangers, and Simpson signed with Capitol Records. Stogner, who recorded songs for the Decca and Mosrite labels, went into semi-retirement. He died in 1989 at age 69.
           Thomason, whose show ran for 81/2 years in its third and final KERO incarnation, was forced to quit in 1974 because of impending heart surgery. In 1975, he began teaching a course on the history of country music at California State College, Bakersfield, a pursuit that lasted several years. He died in 1994 at age 76.
           Mize's last run at more enduring fame came in 1972, when he taped two pilots of the "Billy Mize Music Hall," which he hoped to sell into national syndication. Despite guest appearances by Merle Haggard on one show and Marty Robbins on the other - and a new-look Billy, with medallion, leisure suit, and sideburns - no one picked it up.
           Since suffering a stroke in 1991, Mize speaks a little slowly but has recovered enough to play guitar again. Until just a couple of years ago, he remained a fixture in the crowd most Monday nights at Red Simpson's weekly showcase gig at Trout's Cocktail Lounge in Oildale, just north of Bakersfield. The bar is located just a couple of blocks south of the building that was once Owens' recording studio and the original offices of KUZZ radio.
           Simpson also plays at a senior center three or four times a month and a local grange hall the first two Saturdays of each month. He's still writing and recording songs, including an album project called Songs About Bakersfield, with tracks like "Cousin Herb's Trading Post," "The Mighty Hag," "Bill Woods from Bakersfield," and "Hey Buck, You Gave Everybody a Guitar But Me." (Red finally got one.)
           There were other Bakersfield TV hosts along the way. The best of the rest was Jelly Sanders, a fiddle player who'd come west from Oklahoma in 1938 at age 17. He became a familiar sight on Bakersfield bandstands and television sets in the early 1950s and got his shot at the limelight for about six months in the early 1960s, filling in on KBAK during one of Mize's longer expeditions into L.A. When Mize came back, Sanders returned to his role as sideman.
           Chester Smith, in a sense, became the Northern California version of Cousin Herb. When television came to Sacramento, he signed on with the local CBS affiliate, KXTV, and hosted a show every Friday night at 7 p.m., from 1955 through 1958. He had a show on Fresno's CBS affiliate, KFRE, for much of that same time. It was on Monday nights at 7 p.m. from 1956 through 1957.
           "It was a haul, but I had a driver and a new Cadillac," Smith said. "I didn't do the pink, though. Didn't put any signs in windows, either." The two TV commitments left Smith's schedule open for travel during the middle of the week, and he sometimes visited Bakersfield. "Somebody would book me for a weeknight at the Blackboard - a Tuesday or Wednesday, or whatever it was," Smith said. "The Blackboard was very colorful." To put it mildly.
           By the mid-'60s, things were changing. Vietnam, the Beatles, and network television had conspired to alter the national mood and the nation's entertainment tastes. By the end of the decade, if viewers wanted country music variety shows, they turned to Glen Campbell or Johnny Cash. Or, for that matter, to one of Bakersfield's own.
           Buck Owens' first national TV appearances were in 1963 and 1964 - guest spots on ABC's "Jimmy Dean Show" and NBC's "Kraft Music Hall."
           In 1966, at the height of his hitmaking powers, Owens forged a deal with two wealthy country music patrons, Oklahoma City furniture-store owners Don and Bud Mathes, to create a new, syndicated show.
           Dubbed "Buck Owens' Ranch," the half-hour program was taped on a soundstage at Oklahoma City's WKY-TV. It lasted eight years. The first show was broadcast on March 15, 1966. Owens bought out the Mathes brothers at the end of the first season, but he liked the arrangement at WKY: Four times a year he traveled back to Oklahoma with the Buckaroos, met up with his guest stars and, in marathon taping sessions, shot thirteen "as-live" shows over three challenging days.
           Owens' son Mike Owens became the show's announcer and ultimately its director, and another son, Buddy Alan, occasionally performed on it. Guest stars included Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Conway Twitty, Wanda Jackson, Jimmy Dean, Roy Clark and Tommy Collins.
           Owens developed a system: Starting in 1969, he and the band would record the instrumental tracks at Buck Owens Studios in Oildale, then do the singing in Oklahoma City, with the boys "air" strumming in the background.
           At its peak, the Ranch show was in 100 markets around the country, fifty-two weeks a year. It ran until 1973 -- some 295 original shows plus dozens of additional programs repackaged with new and previously broadcast performances, totaling 380 shows in all.
           In Bakersfield on a late-'60s Saturday afternoon, a country music couch potato could watch "Buck Owens' Ranch," the Wilburn Brothers' show, and "The Porter Wagoner Show" (featuring Dolly Parton), culminating that evening with "Hee Haw."
           "Hee Haw," which Owens co-hosted with Roy Clark, eventually proved to be the undoing of the "Ranch" show. When Owens renegotiated a new deal with Yongestreet Productions, which then owned "Hee Haw," the producers made him quit the "Ranch." They had noticed what everybody in the band knew all too well: Owens was playing the same thing on both shows - literally.
           "It had become painfully obvious," said Jim Shaw, Owens' keyboardist. "Very often we'd do the same song on the 'Ranch' show and then 'Hee Haw.' We'd use the exact same instrumental tracks and Buck would just sing them fresh at the taping. They got aggravated. They said, 'Hey, you're competing against yourself.'"
           "Hee Haw," first telecast on June 15, 1969, was more than enough for Owens anyway. Until he left the show in 1986 (it went on without him until the early '90s), "Hee Haw" in one way or another occupied a substantial portion of his life.
           The rest of his life was business. He bought KUZZ radio (then at 800 AM) in 1966, and a year later purchased 107.9 FM, which he turned into KBBY, a rock station. The FM station went country in 1969, reverted back to rock in 1977, and finally became KUZZ's primary dial location in 1988. Owens' broadcast empire at various times has included Bakersfield TV station KDOB (later KUZZ-TV) and Phoenix radio powerhouse KNIX.
           Owens has fared very well.
           In 1999, Buck Owens' family company sold its two Phoenix radio stations to Jacor Communications for $142 million. Owens Broadcasting, owned by Buck Owens and family members Michael, Buddy and Mel Owens, sold country station KNIX (102.5 FM) to Cincinnati-based Jacor for $84 million. Also, OwensMAC Radio, a partnership between Owens Broadcasting and MAC America Communications, sold adult contemporary station KESZ (99.9 FM) to Jacor for $58 million. Today he owns only KUZZ-AM, KUZZ-FM and their sister station, KCWR.
           Meanwhile, Cousin Herb's widow, Katherine Henson Dopler, has settled quietly in Oklahoma. She says people still ask her about her late husband.
           "It amazes me that people in Oklahoma know him," she said. "A lot of people, I guess, have moved back here from California over the years, like we have. They tell me, 'Yeah, we watched him every night.' It's kind of nice, you know?"
           A son, Mike Henson, intends to give Cousin Herb's many fans something more to gnaw on. He envisions a Cousin Herb Henson's Trading Post and Museum on his 20 acres some 100 miles south of Tulsa.
           He plans to complete an outdoor amphitheater by spring 2003 and hopes to bring in enough quality country music acts to put Sallisaw, Okla. - on Interstate 40, just west of the Arkansas state line - on the country tourism road map.
           Can he sell America on his ambitious little project? If he's got an ounce of his father's "come-on-down" DNA, he can. (Jan. 2003)



Above pictures courtesy of Ray Melendez of Bakersfield. []

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