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Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame Shines Light on Local Icons, From Buck Owens to Korn
The Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame
It's been a busy time for Kim McAbee-Carter, co-founder of the Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame. While the museum was created to promote the rich heritage of music from Kern County, California -- particularly the Bakersfield sound pioneered by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard -- there is much more to the museum than those two artists. It has inducted 17 acts over the past year – with another ceremony forthcoming.
"I have the third one yet to do. But our second one was notable because of our induction of Don Rich in there and Susan Raye, which were the country artists that we inducted for the second, as well as rock music's Korn."
The inductees can also be business-related. "Larry Daniels was so influential in the radio industry here, so it's not just musicians. It's anybody who influenced our music here in Kern County and Bakersfield."
The induction of Korn proves that the area's reach extends far beyond the country music that the Highway 99-adjacent city is known for. McAbee-Carter insists that if you researched any city with a musical legacy, you might be surprised at how deep those roots run. "I think probably for all cities, if every city had a Hall of Fame, which many of them do, you would be surprised about how varied the influences are. I've learned about Lawrence Tibbett who was a New York Metropolitan opera singer, but he also was a famous movie star, and he was born in 1893. I had no idea who he was, but I realized that I was familiar with some of his films, such as The Rogue Song, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. I did not know he was born in Bakersfield."
Those musical influences all run together to form a strong musical stream, says McAbee-Carter. "Jonathan Davis, the lead singer of Korn, was probably 15 or 16, running around in the recording studios when I first started. I actually recorded some demos with his father. Jonathan was in there helping produce my album with his father, my demo album. He went to Highland High School here in Bakersfield and learned to play the bagpipes in high school. If you'll notice his shows today with the band, he's playing the bagpipes during his shows with his kilt on."
When it comes to her favorite item in the museum, she didn't hesitate. "I'm going to tell you the coolest thing I have in there - because I've worked with Buck and the Buckaroos for so many years - is the fact that I have his piano. I have the piano he and Elvis Pressley both bought, a Knabe piano. Elvis Pressley had his painted white and Buck had his painted black, and so I have it up on our stage," she said. "We wanted it to sound like it did when Buck played it. We fixed what we could and left the rest alone. It sounds perfect, and I let the performers come and play on that piano. We roll it out on the stage and they get to play on that."
McAbee-Carter was a member of The Buckaroos, Owens' longtime band that still plays monthly at the Crystal Palace nightclub that Owens opened in 1996. She recalls the singer's final show there on March 24, 2006 – just a few hours before his death. "He didn't feel good that afternoon, and we were all told he's probably not going to make the show that night. He was actually leaving to go home, and he met a couple from Washington that had made the drive just to see him. So, he ended up coming back and doing the show. Then he went home. That was all the way to the last minute. He did it til he died."
Another of the inductees this year is the late Don Rich. Regarded as one of the great instrumentalists of all time, his guitar, fiddle, and harmonies were a crucial element of the Bakersfield sound. He played with Owens from age 17 in 1958 until his tragic death in a motorcycle accident in July 1974. His son, Vic Ulrich, tells Billboard that he's still amazed how his father's music influenced so many.
"It amazes me that there a lot of people who know so much about him and his music – even young people today. It's really surprising to me. I have an 18 year old who has two friends that are musicians, and he never told him who his grandfather was. They were fans of my dad. I think that's amazing."
Seeing his father inducted into the Bakersfield Hall was an experience that Ulrich won't forget. "It's interesting for me. I remember that as a little kid, we would go to these shows, and that it was a big deal. But you've got to think about it in the context that I just looked at as my dad playing. That's what he did. You forget how excited people get when they hear the music. It was an exhilarating experience. My wife and daughter were with me, and they remarked about how great it was to hear people cheering for him. That was cool."