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These Roots Were Made for Rockin
Nashville West Revisted: Part II

Rock n Role Model Interview with Glenn J. Pogatchnik  
By Psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. B.L.T., The Rock Doc
 

when Iím down
and Iím lonely
and Iíve lost me
when I feel downhearted
and I canít go on
I take a walk
down Buck Owens Boulevard
past the Crystal Palace
where I find my song

these roots were meant for rockiní
these roots buried deep in my soul
these roots were meant for rockiní
in Bakersfield, the place that I call home...

extracted from These Roots Were Meant for Rockin

words and music by Dr. B.L.Thiessen, (c) 2004
 

For those of you who thought that my investigation into The Bakersfield Sound began and ended with my revealing interview with Mark Yeary, The Lone Stranger, (Merle Haggards right hand man of nearly twenty years) well, you were half right.  http://www.tollbooth.org/2002/features/myearly.html

Thatís where it began, but thatís not where it will end. My inquiry has only just begun. Iím in the process of tracking down as many of the surviving heroes and witnesses of that mighty movement as I can find, and giving each of them an opportunity to tell his or her story. Itís a story and a legacy that has rich, enduring value and significance for this and many future generations to come. 

Passion that goes beyond Psychologism Those who are well schooled in psychology may readily identify my interest in The Bakersfield Sound as one that entails psychologism-- that is, one that involves a psychological interpretation of historically significant events according to established psychological theory. What a mouthful! But I believe it is only half a mouthful, and my esteemed colleagues are only half correct. 

It is true that the psychologistic significance of The Bakersfield Sound is immense. But my interest goes beyond what can be explained in scientific terms. It has always and will continue to touch my heart and move my soul in ways that shall forever remain a mystery--beyond the reaches of even the most diligent attempts at theoretical analysis. In many respects, the paroxysms of passion that flooded Kern county in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s defied analysis of any kind. Though psychologism proved to be a useful framework for examining the experiences of Glenn Pogatchnik, it also fell far short of tapping into his thoughts, his feelings and his unique perspective on the movement. 

Who is Glenn Pogatchnik, you ask?

Around these parts, it is almost considered irreverent to ask. He is known as ďThe Ambassador of The Bakersfield Sound.Ē After reading my article on Mark Yeary, The Ambassador sent me an e-mail. The rest would become recorded history. 

The Glenn Pogatchnick Interview

Rock Doc: Glenn, when did you begin to take an interest in the exciting developments in country music centered right here in Bakersfield, where many of country music's first big stars were born? 

The Ambassador: Well Bruce, I guess you could say I was born into a musical family from the day I was born on Oct 10,1949 the third born of four children. At the time my parents were working for my Uncle Jimmy Ballard at Visalia Music Service which was a record shop and jukebox business. 

Rock Doc: So, it all started with a musical family and a little shop where you were constantly surrounded with the latest music? That sounds intriguing. I understand that this little record shop and jukebox joint began to take on somewhat of a magical quality. Can you tell me more about your experiences at that record shop and jukebox business? 

The Ambassador: Things were really hopping back then and many stars of the day used to drop by the music store to sign autographs and promote their albums before they played at local barn dances in the area. Mom said that Jean Shepard who lived in Visalia used to come in the store all the time and say, "I'm gonna be a big star one day." Although my parents Mary Lou and Albert loved their jobs it wasn't enough income to pay the bills so my father got a job with the Edison Co. Well, in 1952 he was transferred to Delano which they absolutely hated but endured. 

Rock Doc: That sounds like a real drag. I'm sure that as a boy, you were completely enraptured by the little shop and all of the excitement that surrounded it, including the opportunity to meet these up-and-coming artists who would one day define The Bakersfield Sound and the central California community that would become known as Nashville West. How did you and your music-loving family survive this agonizingly difficult setback? What kept your spirits alive? What, and/or who kept your passion for music burning? 

The Ambassador: We eventually moved out in the country and when my dad bought a TV, we would watch the Cousin Herb Henson Show and I remember as a child I focused on one particular performer on that show because he could play so many instruments and that man was Bill Woods. 

Rock Doc: That's fascinating, Glenn. So the Cousin Herb Henson Show, and Bill Woods in particular, became the forces that kept your passion for music alive and kept the spirits up in your household. 

Now Glenn, there are many young musicians and music-lovers out there who may not be familiar with the Cousin Herb Henson Show or the legendary Bill Woods. You've already shared about the therapeutic benefits that the show, and Bill Woods, afforded you and your family, but the man, and the show also had a much broader historical significance. For the benefit of the young people and others who may not be familiar with the history of The Bakersfield Sound, can you tell us about the historical significance of this show and the person of Bill Woods? 

The Ambassador: The story of Bill Woods life is best said in a song written and recorded by his best friend Red Simpson. Even Merle Haggard recorded the song, to pay homage to a man that was an integral part of his career as so many others he helped out. The song was "Bill Woods From Bakersfield." Some of the lyrics went like this "Well Bill never hit it big but he didn't miss it far, but in my books he'll always be considered a star."

Bill Woods came from very humble beginnings. He was born in Denison, Texas on May 12,1924. Incidentally, Buck Owens was born eight miles away in a town called Sherman. Even as a child as his family was struggling to make ends meet Bill already was performing on a local radio show. That probably was a precursor of what was to come.

Please forgive me if I get the dates or circumstances out of chronological order because my memory is not the best. I remember sitting down with Bill one hot Sunday afternoon in his kitchen drinking a cup of Joe and he told me of his earlier life before Bakersfield. Eventually his family moved to California seeking a better life. They eventually settled near the Visalia area when Bill was a teenager. That is where he told me he recorded his first acetate at a local music store. During those years leaving Visalia he lived and performed in Richmond, California. He also played over in Las Vegas at Governor Jimmie Davis's Club for a while and he even made a short movie with Hoot Gibson in Las Vegas who at the time was a big cowboy movie star.

Eventually Bill settled in Bakersfield. In 1953, Bill, Billy Mize and Herb Henson put together a local TV show called the Cousin Herb Trading Post Show. The signal from that show was so strong the show could be seen as far as Fresno,all the way over to the central coast and Los Angeles. As you can imagine, the show was wildly popular because it not only featured fledgling acts such as Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, Jean Shepard, Bonnie Owens, Ferlin Husky, etc., but many national acts such as Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. Bill told me that he was the promoter for the TV show and to play on the TV show you had to agree to play at the Blackboard Club that nite. During this time Bill Woods was also a Disc Jockey and also a session man at Capitol Records in Los Angeles. I remember when I was at Bill's wake before his funeral I met one of his sisters and she told me that during most of Bill's career that he was so busy she had to get an appointment to see him. Bill was literally working seven days a week. Eventually Bill was so coveted as a session man at Capitol Records that they offered him a permanent job but Bill declined because he had so much going on in Bakersfield. He recommended one of his friends to take the job. That friend was Glen Campbell. 

During this time Bill was the bandleader of the Blackboard but took off for awhile to start his own club called the Bill Woods Corral. Eventually, because things didn't work out, he came back. One story that Bill told me that stuck in my mind was about Buck Owens. He hired Buck to play guitar but one night when Bill's throat was giving him trouble he let Buck sing. He told me Buck was singing too low and Bill raised the key to force him to sing higher. He said Buck got madder than a wet hen but capitulated because he knew Bill knew what he was talking about. So obviously Buck owes Bill a lot for his career that came to follow.

Rock Doc: Thatís something I wasnít aware of. Can you tell me a little more about Bills recordings?

The Ambassador: During Bill's career he recorded many songs on his own record labels. He earlier recordings in the 50's were Rockabilly with Buck Owens playing lead guitar. Although he recorded many songs over the years a song titled "Truck Drivin' Man" is probably what he will be best remembered for. He had several versions of that song. My personal favorite was Don Rich harmonizing with Bill and Don playing fiddle. Don Rich was Buck's lead guitarist. Another one of Bill's favorites was a song called "Lousiana Swing" featuring Budd Hobbs on lead vocals, Bill Woods on piano, Buck Owens on lead guitar and the amazing dual fiddles of Oscar Whittington and Jelly Sanders.

Rock Doc: You are making me wish I was there when this all took place. Can you tell me a little more about what kind of person Bill Woods was?

The Ambassador: One thing you will hear from many people that knew Bill Woods was he was a generous and patient man. He was just fun to be around because he was so vivacious and full of life. He was always willing to help out anybody that needed a helping hand even if they need a little food to eat.

Rock Doc: He sounds like someone who would be a lot of fun to hang out with. Can you tell me a little more about 

The Ambassador: The Cousin Herb Show went on until the untimely death of Cousin Herb in 1963.Other shows were tried but by that time Bakersfield was a different place. Bill, like many others, then starting making a living the best they could usually holding down several jobs. He even sold cars for a while. The love of cars is what temporarily disrupted his career. He was hurt badly in a stock car race which put his career on hiatus. Eventually, he recuperated and was physically able to perform again on the Jimmy Thomason TV Show, which featured many of the local acts in town. Bill could play anything (piano, bass, guitar, fiddle, pedal steel, banjo)on that show. For awhile, I believe it was two years, he toured with Merle Haggard playing piano. In 1974 it was declared Bill Woods Day in the city of Bakersfield. I believe that same year a tribute album was recorded at a hall in East Bakersfield. Many of his friends showed up to entertain the audience as well to say, ďThank you Bill Woods for all your help.Ē That album is on display at the Kern County Museum. Some other facts about that I learned about Bill Woods as I became friends with him is that he had a phenomenal memory for dates and the circumstances that transpired on those dates. Several times as I was visiting him he would get calls from his friends asking for his expertise. One day while I was there visiting his friend Merle Haggard called him to ask Bill if he could remember some lyrics to a song. Bill immediately rattled off those lyrics to Merle. Bill also had a keen sense of humor and told me many hilarious stories of some of the escapades that happened in the various venues he performed at and stories of his friends and fellow performers. Some of which can't be repeated in polite company.

What was really interesting is that Bill didn't listen much to country music on the radio. He favored the big band music and the old time standards.

In the latter years of his life he had a talk show at KCHJ in my hometown of Delano. It was called the Bill Lambert and Bill Woods Show. Eventually, due to failing health, Bill spent most of time home confined in a wheelchair but he always kept busy. The phone was always ringing and many of his old pals came to visit him as well as young entertainers asking him for advice. 

I would highly recommend a book called Working Man Blues by Gerald D. Haslam which is available at most bookstores or at www.amazon.com. Many of Bill's accomplishments are documented in that wonderful book. Obviously, some of my recollections of Bill Woods are measured in the three years that I knew him and are just the tip of the iceberg of this manís legacy that he left us all. He was known as the "Father Of The Bakersfield Sound," a title that he humbly accepted. On April 30,2000 Bill passed away from complications due to a stroke. On that day we lost a man that was responsible for putting Bakersfield on the map but to those who knew him personally we lost a dear friend. 

Rock Doc: What events were set in motion that would eventually lead you and your family to be placed once again, at the hub of the country music world? 

The Ambassador: Eventually my dad bought a few jukeboxes to augment his income and placed them in a few bars in Earlimart and Delano. Then he received a phone call in 1963 which changed everything. A fellow by the name of Fred Harling who owned a record shop in Delano as well as a jukebox business along with pinball machines, cigarette machines, shuffleboards and pool tables. He was big-time but wanted to retire and asked my father if he would like to buy the business and naturally dad replied "yes." That was my introduction to the music business because everyday after school I would work at music store and then oftentimes would go with my dad's employees to change the records on the jukeboxes at all the bars and jukejoints. I also typed the title strips for the jukeboxes and the counterboxes. I also used to go with my father to L.A. to get jukebox parts and, most importantly, records from our distributor. 

Because of all that being exposed to music of all kinds (country, rock, soul, r&b, mexican)I felt very lucky. Naturally, at the time Buck and Merle were red hot and man did we sell a lot of their records. 

Rock Doc: Were there any other events that you can point to, that led you to the privilege of being right in the middle of The Bakersfield Sound movement? 

The Ambassador: Another turning point was a call from brother Ron when he was stationed in Memphis while in the Navy. He told me he had bought an electric guitar and told me I should buy one and we could jam when he came home on leave. Well I did and from the very first day I bought my guitar I practiced and practiced. Well one day I got a call from a fellow by the name of Pat Shoptaw ,a drummer who played in a band in McFarland and he heard I played a guitar. Their lead guitar played had moved and they needed a guitar player because they had gigs to play. Boy, the pressure was on me, but we rehearsed and rehearsed and finally did our first gig at Swanees' Pizza Parlor in Delano. I was scared shitless at that one. 
The name of the band was Headman Cross and we played blast ass Rock N' Roll. We played in Bakersfield quite a few times but for some odd reason we were very popular in Lake Isabella and out in the high desert. 

During that time I was attending Bakersfield College and the income we made from the band paid for my education. Eventually, the band dissolved because the other fellows were attending major schools. 

My brother had a mobile home on Oildale Drive in Oildale while he was away in Vietnam and he let me live in it while I was attending college. That was my first introduction to the fine folks who live in Oildale. 

Rock Doc: Yes, I know a few folks from Oildale, and they are fine folks all right. Now, tell me, Glenn, what ever became of that old record shop?

The Ambassador: In 1971 I moved back to Delano. My father sold me his record shop and the vending machine business to an outfit in Visalia. During that time, I played in many types of bands and gained more experience.

In 197,3 I let my sister Nancy run my business while I toured Europe with a musician by the name of Luther Hahn whom I had played with in Hollywood.

Rock Doc: Rumor has it you guys opened for a pretty fantastic band while touring in Europe. Its a band who introduced the song every new guitar player starts with, ďSmoke on the Water.Ē

The Ambassador: Thatís right, we did get to open for Deep Purple. And that was all an incredible experience, but eventually I came back and ran the store till 1982 when I decided to try a different type of business.

Rock Doc: And what type of business was that?

The Ambassador: The business was an automotive paint store I opened up in Oildale on North Chester Ave called Valley Paint. I ran that for about four years then semi retired and just goofed around until I opened another music store in Oildale which was a flopper. 

Rock Doc: So, what are you doing these days?

The Ambassador: Well in 1995 I had the opportunity to move over to the central coast in Los Osos where I am living now. I currently have a music store on my property as a hobby 
now and sell a guitar every once in awhile. 

Rock Doc: Now that youíve shared a little bit about your history, can you tell us a little more about your present role in keeping the faith-- in preserving the remarkable history associated with that singular movement?

The Ambassador: Sure. I can't remember the circumstances, but in June of 1997 I called Bill Woods while visiting friends and family in Bakersfield. He told me to come over which was a thrill because I would be meeting one of my childhood heroes.

Bill Woods was one of the kindest individuals I have ever had the great pleasure to have had as a friend. He was a walking dictionary of all the processes that formed The Bakersfield Sound and he was willing to share that knowledge with me. At every opportunity I either videotaped or recorded his experiences. He gave me many rare recordings which I hope to transfer to a CD format.

Through his friendship I met many or talked to many of his friends such as Billy Mize, Red Simpson, Bonnie Owens, Tommy Collins, Oscar Whittington, Johnny Barnett, Gene Moles, Ferlin Husky, Jean Shepard, Tommy Hays, Larry Petree, Roy Nichols etc. On Oct 3,1999 I did a tribute show for him at the Rockin' Rodeo and gave him a wireless mike to emcee the show which he enjoyed immensely. Many of his friends showed up and played and the show went on for six hours. I videotaped the show. 

Also, I called Fender Guitar Co. and told them Bill had used the first Telecaster on the stage of the Blackboard in 1949.They asked me what I wanted and I said, "Could you donate a Fender Telecaster to Bill because he was probably responsible for many sales of Telecasters because he introduced the guitar to Buck Owens." Well after they investigated Bill's contributions, they sent me an $1,800 gold-plated Fender 1952 Tele Special to give to Bill. I remember the day I gave that guitar to Bill he got misty eyed because he said it was the first good guitar he had owned in years. 

Like Bill said, "Glenn, I guess I'm famous but it doesn't put no beans on the table.Ē Unfortunately, at the last years of his life Bill didn't have much money but he was rich in friends. I tried at every opportunity to generate income for him via the sales of the Live At The Blackboard CD and other projects we had planned before his untimely death on April 30,2000. 

Eventually, I hooked up with my friend Bob Timmers in Burns, Tennessee, who has a love for documenting history and he offered to run a site dedicated to the Bakersfield Sound. I made a promise to Bill I would do my best to preserve The Bakersfield Sound for all to enjoy on the Internet, most importantly, for free. 

The best part of our site is that is like a big clubhouse for old friends to get together again and share all their old memories and educate the generations to come of what transpired in Bakersfield in the glory days of The Bakersfield Sound. 

Every time I visit Bakersfield I am appalled when I asked some of the young folks if they have ever heard of Billy Mize or Bill Woods or Cousin Herb Henson and their answer is "No I've never heard of them" These are men that put Bakersfield on the map. That needs to changed through education. 

Rock Doc: Glenn, thanks for educating me on one of the greatest movements in the history of country music. 

For more information on The Bakersfield Sound, go to http://www.rockabillyhall.com/bakersfield.html 


 
 
 

 

 
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