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Here's the Man behind the Streets of Bakersfield
Songwriter, Homer Joy
The Rock ‘n Role Model Interview: by Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen,
aka Dr. BLT 
Yes, Barry Manilow did write the songs, at least quite a few of them, but, like Buck Owens, there was at least one signature hit song that he didn’t write. For Barry it was (ironically enough) I Write the Songs. For Buck it was Streets of Bakersfield. Barry owed an ineffable debt to Bruce Johnston for writing I Write the Songs. Bucked owed an equal, if not greater debt to the man I was fortunate enough to find for this rare interview: Homer Joy. 

That’s why Homer Joy has become a rock ‘n “role” model for me. I know that some of you are very upset at the government for tapping into personal conversations you believe the government has no business tapping into, but I assure you, Homer and I won’t object to you listening in on this one. So pull up a chair, grab a bite to eat (and perhaps a cup or mug of whatever it is that you drink) and hear this: 

Dr. BLT: I’m a psychologist, so you may know that my first question will be: Will you please tell me about your dreams? 

Homer Joy: I always thought my hopes, dreams and aspirations mirrored Buck's in a lot of ways. That's why, when I decided to send some of my songs (to see if people would like them), the only place I sent a tape was to Buck Owens Enterprises. I looked at Buck's life and told myself, if Buck could do it, maybe I could too. 

I was born the oldest son of 10 kids, in a dirt poor Arkansas family. Nobody gave me much of a chance at succeeding at anything. Music was a constant escape for me. From poverty, from abuse and from the rejection I felt from almost every other area of my life. I played and sang on the skid row streets of Spokane, Washington, from the time I was only 5 years old. I hit the dance halls when I was 14. I grew a moustache and beard when I was 16, and they let me play in the honky-tonks. I've probably played almost every kind of venue you can imagine. It’s all because Buck Owens, Bob Morris, and Lillian Sams believed in me, more than I believed in myself sometimes. I have accomplished everything in the music industry I set out to do. It doesn't get better than that. Now, it's all just frosting on the cake.

Dr. BLT: Why do you think that so many people relate to your song?

Homer Joy: It's always been obvious to me, that Buck and hundreds of thousands of other people, not only hummed "Streets of Bakersfield", they lived the life. Buck connected with "Streets...." and people connected Buck. With Buck gone, the song, "Streets of Bakersfield" seems to, in some small way, fill part of the void he left.

Dr. BLT: How did you learn about the death of Buck Owens?

Homer Joy: A friend of mine called me from Fort Worth, Texas and first told me the news. Then, Robert Price from the Bakersfield Californian called. When I talked with Jim Shaw a little later, I think he pretty well summed it up for everyone when he said: "We all thought Buck would always be here. It just doesn't seem real that he's not." 

Dr. BLT: How would you describe Buck Owens? 
Homer: I've been asked this question before and my answer now is the same as it was the first time I was ever asked. Describing Buck Owens reminds me of the story of two blind men describing an elephant, while standing at opposite ends. Buck Owens was a whole lot of things to a whole lot of different people: Business man, entertainer, musician, songwriter, father and friend. In the Bible, the apostle Paul said, "I am all things to all men, in that some might be saved." Buck was all things to all people in order that he might help somebody. The uncanny thing about Buck to me was: No matter how long it was since the last time you saw him, the conversation seemed to start where he left off the last time. I am proud to have shared some very personal things with Buck and I will never forget the great debt that I owed him.

Dr. BLT: How did it come about that Buck Owens ended up recording Streets of Bakersfield?

Homer Joy: The lyrics of Streets of Bakersfield, made an instant connection with Buck. Buck always said that one day it would be a hit song. He was right. 

When he was asked by the CMA to perform a song on their anniversary show, it was supposed to be with Merle Haggard. When Merle couldn't make it, Buck turned to Dwight Yoakam. They were both fans of each others music and honky-tonk style. The performance on the CMA show just blew people away. So the Producer's asked Buck to come back the next month and do the song on The Academy of Country Music Awards. The response was even greater. Obviously, because of the public response, it became a record. The part that made me smile was when Buck told me that the sound track they used for the song on both of the shows was mine. I had the best music tracks. So that was my contribution. 

Dr. BLT: How did the lyrics to Streets of Bakersfield come to you? 
Homer Joy: At the time I wrote Streets of Bakersfield, the lyrics reflected things I was going through at the time, as well as some unpleasant feelings from the past. I think that's why so many people relate to it. It fits a part of their life and brings back certain memories: Some of them good, some of them not so good. I had come to Bakersfield to record a Hank Williams Sr. "sound alike" album. I didn't want to do the album because I didn't want anyone to think I was trying to be Hank. I was promised that if I would do the sound alike album, I would be able to record 3 or 4 of my original songs. I took the deal. 

We did the Hank album in about 4 hours and then the problem started. I was told that it wouldn't be possible for me to do a recording session at the time. The Buckaroo's had to rehearse for a tour. So everyday I showed up at Buck's studio to remind Bob Morris of the deal we had made. I told him I wasn't leaving until I got my songs recorded. 

One night, just about at the end of my rope, I got in the car and started driving toward downtown Bakersfield. For some reason I can't recall, all of a sudden, I just pulled over to the side of the road, got out and started walking. I'd just bought a new pair of boots and it wasn't long until I had blisters on my heels and didn't know if I'd be able to get back to the car or not. You can imagine, by the time I got back to the room and got my boots off, I was pretty upset. I tore a piece of paper out of a notebook and wrote down "Streets of Bakersfield". Just that quick: I came here lookin’ for somethin’ I couldn't find anywhere else… 

I had come to Bakersfield for the chance to share my music. 
I'm not tryin’ to nobody. I just want a chance to be myself. I loved Hank Sr., and his music, but I didn't want to be him--just myself 
I've done a thousand miles of thumbin’ and I've worn blisters on my heals/ tryin’ to find me somethin’ better, on the streets of Bakersfield… 

When I was a 17 year old kid, an old uncle and I had hitch hiked from Santa Rosa, New Mexico to Spokane, Washington. My blisters from the streets of Bakersfield were just as painful.

You don't know me but you don't like me. You say you care less how I feel. But how many of you that sit and judge me, ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?

How do you know you like my stuff or not when you haven't heard it? In the line, "how many of you that sit and judge me, ever walked the streets of Bakersfield," I knew that was a direct link to both Buck and Bob. They had both had it hard in the music business. I was just asking them to look back and put themselves in my shoes now. The rest of "Streets..." is just about hard times I'd as soon forget. But I got to Bakersfield from there, so I guess going through it was just part of the plan. 

Dr. BLT: What was it about the song that allowed Buck and Dwight to turn it into such a big hit? 
I think Buck and Dwight connected with everything about the song... Both of them had "been there and done that"... Buck said he chose the song to perform at the CMA show, because he not only thought it represented the "Bakersfield Sound", but also the "Bakersfield Music Experience" in general. Friends of mine in Nashville say the same thing. Though the song says "Bakersfield", people struggling in Nashville connect to the song because they relate it to their own experiences. 

First of all, it was the right time, the right place and the right people. Buck represented the musical struggle and the founding of the "Bakersfield Sound". As an upcoming artist, Dwight was seen as picking up the Bakersfield "torch" and being the promise of things to come. People in general seemed to connect with the lyrics and see themselves in them. With the example of Buck's and then Dwight's struggle to be accepted, everything just worked. 

"Streets of Bakersfield" was a hit record in 1988. "Streets of Bakersfield" is still a hit record in 2006! It’s hard to imagine a song that can last for 18 years like "Streets of Bakersfield" has. 

Dr. BLT: What is happening in your life right now, and what do you have planned for the future? 
Homer Joy: It's strange how things go. There are radio stations on the east coast, calling and asking how they can get more of my music. Right now, they are gleaning some of the older country music stations and coming up with copies of my old Capitol records. From the mid-west to the east coast, we're hearing from more and more stations. We have a few songs we are having mastered now. I recorded a gospel album called, An Old Outlaw Comes Home. I wrote the title song about Buck and another good friend, 1955-56 World Champion Saddle Bronco Rider, Deb Copenhaver. We're blessed that cowboy's in the PBR and PRCA call An Old Outlaw Comes Home, the Christian Cowboy National Athem. Check it out on rodeoattitude.com. We've been asked to appear at so many places. That's impossible to do, since I'm waiting for this heart transplant. But when I finally get through all of this, trying to show up in as many places as I can is my next goal in life. 

In my experience : We are having a hard time, just coming out of a hard time, or headed for a hard time. The Apostle Paul said, "I have learned to be content in whatever condition I am in." For the rest of us, there's "Streets of Bakersfield." 

At this point, Homer joy passed on his “kindest regards,” and rode off into the sunset. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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