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What it's Like Backin' Up Buck: On The Streets of Bakersfield 
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka, Dr. B.L.T. 

The people of Bakersfield are wonderful. They sang very well!
Ritch Sublett, Producer, CMT 
(Country Music Television). 

  •  Listen to/download the "FUNKountry" one-sound "soundtrack" to the following article (free of charge) via this link:Backin' Up Buck, words and music by the author of this article, Dr. B.L.T. (c) 2005 
Where were you on the night of June 29, 2005?  I can proudly proclaim that I was on the streets of Bakersfield backing up Buck Owens on a CMT-video-taped version of the country classic, The Streets of Bakersfield.  Notice that I used the term "proudly" with a small, not a capital P.   Much to my chagrin, I was one of nearly 200 Buckaroo-wannabes who stood on that same street near the intersection of Sillect Avenue and Buck Owens Boulevard, right next to the Crystal Palace, singing the same song.  We were the dewy-eyed desperadoes who answered the call proclaimed in the June 29th edition of the Bakersfield Californian to participate in the creation of a production involving the top twenty country songs based on American cities.  The Streets of Bakersfield is right near the top of the list, so I'm told.  

The song was originally released on May 14, 1973.  But it didn't really catch fire until Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam (Merle Haggard's replacement) re-recorded the song with a Tex-Mex flavor with on June 17, 1988.  It immediately stormed up to number one on the country charts, and ultimately won the duo a Grammy.  Needless to say, the song has become a classic's classic.   Therein lies the pressure and my concomitant dose of performance anxiety.  Would we, the group dubbed, "A new generation of Buckaroos," by the Bakersfield Californian, be able to do justice to such an inviolable standard?        

How did we rate as amateur Buckaroos you may ask?  Well, you can be the judge on August  27, 2005 at 7 pm, 8 pm (central), as CMT (Country Music Television) airs the show nation-wide, and, if I'm not mistaken, around the world.  

In the meantime, I suggest you take the word of CMT producer, Ritch Sublett. He was exceedingly complimentary in his comments to me about the people of Bakersfield, and about our collective performance at the event.  More specifically, he said, (and I quote), "The people of Bakersfield are wonderful." When I asked him to appraise our collective performance, he didn't hesitate for a second.  "(We) sang very well," he noted confidently.  It's worth mentioning that he struck me as an extremely honest man, and not someone who would simply tell me what I was wanting to hear. J  

Allow me to rewind in time.  Since I work only a few hours away from the Crystal Palace, getting stuck in traffic and being late was not a problem for me, as I understood it was for some others.  I also had a distinct advantage over the other Buckaroo-wannabes in this respect:  I was afforded an opportunity to engage in a dress rehearsal of sorts.  Though I dug my heels in the ground, and screamed in vehement protest (yeah, right!), I was eventually coerced into joining a group of teen-agers in a performance of the song for local television station KGET 17.   "He's like a father figure to me," declared 17-year-old Aaryon Moore, one of the more fervent members of this group of adolescent aficionados.  "If he comes out right now, I'll kiss his feet," added Aayron.  His buddy, 15-year-old Joseph Davidson, added succinctly, "Buck rules!"  

Much to their credit, they became a little carried away with their admiration of Buck, as loyal fans often do.  Nevertheless, I had to remind them that we were going on live television in five minutes and should probably at least glance at the lyrics of the song.   According to KGET anchorwoman, Lori Wallace, we passed the audition with flying colors.  Ms. Wallace also had this to say, when asked about what this "gig" meant to her:  "Buck represents the city of Bakersfield.  Anytime Buck Owens puts on an event like this, the whole community comes together. "  Wasn't that exactly what the Beatles instructed us to do--- to "Come Together"?  "Right now" was as good a time as any.  KGET photographer, Ken Takahashi agreed with ms. Wallace's remarks, adding "It's pretty neat to be here with Buck Owens.  He's such a legend!"  After our little "Crystal Palace prelude" was over, the boys reflected on their future as a prospective musical act.  They asked if I would be their agent.  The answer was an unequivocal "No way!"  Hey, I can't even manage myself, let alone a would-be country-rap boy band.  17-year-old Brandon Moore shined the idea of forming a band, but couldn't resist adding his two cents to the conversation:  "50 Cent needs to do a rap about the Crystal Palace called "Bling Palace."  

I'm really enjoying this event.  
I like almost all country music--- 
especially the stuff with the twang 
Mike Bell, Director, 
Clear Channel 
Communications Inc.  

I'm really looking forward to this.  I want to be on TV.
The refreshingly candid comments of Gracie Murdoch, Age 6 

I decided it was time to expand my sphere of interaction, so I politely left the boys and mingled with the crowd that had slowly gathering in the street.  I tried to tap into the existential experience of folks representing a diverse range of ages, occupations, and personality types.   Don Jaegar, Bakersfield Convention and Visitor's Bureau president, had just spent nearly two days hanging out with the folks form CMT.  He told me how grateful he was to share in this experience.  "I'm excited to see the enthusiasm people have, and the respect they all share for Buck Owens, "said Jaegar. This is clearly an historic moment," he added.  

Bakersfield resident, Mike Murdoch, said "This is great for the community... a great way of getting involved."  He brought his daughters, Ellie, aged 4, and Gracie, age 6.  Little Ellie, was dressed in Western gear and sported a charming, down-home country smile to boot (pun intended).  This was not her first moment of glory.  She has already made her debut on Direct TV.  Her older sister, Gracie, was no stranger to fame and fortune either.  Gracie has the distinct honor of having graced the screen on a Hallmark commercial in which she was joined by a bunny rabbit.    When asked what she liked most about attending this event, she stated unabashedly: "I really want to be on TV."  Now she is somebody I can respect: A candid camera-lover.  No hidden motives here.  No shame in her self-promotion.   Psychologists like me are never ones to recommend shame, or anything like it that goes by any other name.   

My moments of mingling came to an abrupt end when CMT Producer Ritch Sublett gathered us all together for the big event.  Before he arrived we were all roaming aimlessly around the streets of Bakersfield, like bucolic, "Buckaholic" sheep without a shepherd.  He skillfully gathered the flock together and turned chaos into continuity, just in time for the grand entrance of Buck Owens, his beautiful wife, and his beautiful signature red-white-and-blue guitar.  The rest was history---literally.  

We rehearsed a few times with the "aid" of a car stereo.  We could have used a louder stereo system, but hey, we're just plain old country folk.  We weren't born with silver spoons in our mouths, and we have no sense of entitlement.  We took what we could get and fervently attempted to memorize the song, especially the part we were responsible for-the chorus.  After a few runs, the CMT cameraman exclaimed from the rooftop of his car, that the session was over---no more takes were required.   Our photo op was over, just like that---the in the fleeting blink of an eye.   Well, almost.  We had one more chance to make our marks on country music history.  

We were given the opportunity to perform again--- this time as individuals or, as duos or small groups.  This time it was me who had the unfair advantage---me and my friend, and fellow band member, Jerry Rothberg.  We were told we were not allowed to use a lyrical cheat-sheet.   That was our excuse for forgetting the second last line of the first verse.  After it became obvious that few of us knew the lyrics to one of our favorite songs, the bar was drastically lowered, and lyrical cheat sheets abounded.   Performances varied in terms of confidence and skill levels.  For one or two country crooners, this was perhaps the beginning of something very big.  I was clearly not among them.  

Our hero departed to the tune of a thunderous applause and uproarious chants of Buck, Buck, Buck!!!!  The burning sun beat down upon mercilessly as we left the now-conspicuously-starless street.  

I headed towards the parking lot to dump off my notes.  Let it never be said that I don't know how to park.  As luck would have it, I had parked right next to, Melanie Fields, CMT Associate Producer, who arrived at her vehicle just in time for me to hit her up for a succinct summary statement.  She couldn't have summed up the event any better: "The turn out was great.  We were very excited to celebrate the song, the legendary Buck Owens, and the city of Bakersfield."  (Too bad I had just given away my last copy of a CD containing songs from my forthcoming Buck Owens tribute CD, but I detest that sort of sycophantic opportunism anyway (in myself and others), and, besides, this was Buck's big night, not mine.)    

I grabbed my free CMT T-shirt and made my way into the Crystal Palace, where my friend Jerry and I sought to cool off a bit before going home to brag to our wives.   Buck Owens had made history once again.  As for the rest of us, we marveled in the fact that we had been extraordinarily blessed that day.  We had actually shared the street-stage with one of the greatest pioneers to ever grace the evolving pages of country music history.  

As my friend Jerry and I reflected on the activities of the evening, Jerry reminded me that things never happen as one expects them too.  He was as pleasantly surprised as I was.  He's a wise man, and he's nearly always right.  His statement about fate rang true.  When I used to strum my guitar in front of Starbucks on the corner of J and 19th street in Sacramento, I never expected to be approached about being on what became Cake's hit, MTV-video-award-nominated music video for Short Skirt Long Jacket.  Moreover, when I invited 60s folk star, Barry "Eve of Destruction," McGuire to a psychology class I was teaching at the time (at Chapman University in Sacramento, California), I never expected him to accept, and I surely never expected him to sing back-up on a song I wrote about him called The Fire in Barry McGuire.  In my wildest dreams, I never expected to sing back-up for Kern County's country legend, Buck Owens.  I had officially kissed that dream good-bye) as revealed in the following line from my Buckaroo-broken-dreams-ballad, Starbuckaroo: I always wanted to be one of Buck's Buckaroos

Backin' up Buck, but I'm outa luck...) 

As luck would have it, that was a pre-mature wish-list good-bye kiss.  I never expect to be invited to become a member of The Buckaroos, even in the loosest sense of the term.  But here I was, a bona fide, if unofficial and amateurish, member of the back-up band I admired most.  I walked out of the Crystal Palace with my head held high and took one more proud walk down The Streets of Bakersfield.   


 Copyright © 1996 - 2005 The Phantom Tollbooth