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The Streets of Bakersfield by Buck Owens:
Single Serving 
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr.  BLT

Itís the song that was aired on virtually every radio station in and around Bakersfield, California today at noon---our way of saying thank you and farewell to our pride and joy, our legend and our friend: Mr. Buck Owens.  The streets were suddenly silent and the city stood still.  The song says it all.  A picture may paint a thousand words, but a song says it all.  Though the song was written, and originally recorded by Homer Joy, the lyrics so closely resemble Buckís experience and core sentiments, that one gets the impression that it is a self-portrait.

The Streets of Bakersfield, an old Owens tune redone in 1988 as a duet with Dwight Yoakham, speaks of Buckís arrival in the town he so profoundly shaped:

I came here in looking for somethin'
 I couldn't find anywhere else
 Well, I don't want to be nobody, 
 Just want a chance to be myself.
He was himself, no doubt about it.  He wasnít on this earth to please his critics.  He was here to be Buck Owens, what you see (and hear) is what you get.  The authentic sound he carved out of Kern county proved that, above all, Buck was keeping it real.  That was, in fact, the very basis of his appeal: keeping it real.  He had to keep it real, simply because he was a man of the utmost integrity, and thatís what the voice of integrity told him to do, even if it meant going against the grain of the Nashville elite, who were content to bury themselves in all things commercial, while they pumped out the pabulum. 
 I've done a thousand miles of thumbin',
 Yes, I've worn blisters on my heels
 Trying to find me something better
 On the streets of Bakersfield.
Buck was a traveling man.  His family left the dustbowl in search of a better life.  Buck survived the depression, and went on to make a big impression on his fans.  But whether interpreted literally or figuratively, he did, in fact, do plenty of ďthumbiní and strumminí on his way to superstardom.  He had already carved out a legend for himself as a pioneer of the Bakersfield Sound long before this song hit #1 and long before it won him a Grammy.  Yet this song, above all others, is quintessential Buck and it captures the quintessential Bakersfield sound.  A little Nashville West twang, a little rebellious rhythm, and plenty of Nashville West angst. 
 You don't know me but you don't like me,
 You say you care less how I feel
 How many of you that sit and judge me
 Ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?
Believe me, if you had ever walked these streets, you would know exactly what Buck talked about when he sang this song.  This ainít Hollywood, and it ainít New York City.  It ainít paradise, and, in fact, some disparagingly refer to it as the armpit of California, but folks like Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and numerous others who would follow in their wake, took what some experienced as a lemon and turned it into lemonade. 
 Spent some time in San Francisco,
 Spent a night there in the can
 They threw this drunk man in my jail cell,
 I took fifteen dollars from that man.
Like Johnny Cash, Buck didnít do time in prison, perhaps, like Johnny Cash, he spent a night in the slammer, but in terms of the country music scene, he had all the street credentials he needed to carve out a timeless niche in country music history. 

Buck Has Joined Johnny in Heaven
Words and music by Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT ©2006

Nobody can deny Buckís legacy.  He paved these Bakersfield streets with gold records.  Nevertheless, even after his death, Iím sure there will be a few curmudgeon critics who will come crawling out of pathetic places with pejorative prose.  But for those critics, Iíd like to extend the invitation Buck left wide open long before he left us:

How many of you that sit and judge me
 Ever walked the streets of Bakersfield...
If, after walking these streets, you still have an ill word to say about this enduring pioneer, then this town ainít big enough for the two of us. One of us has got to go. 


 Copyright © 1996 - 2006 The Phantom Tollbooth