Buck Owens was extremely accomplished as a songwriter, and he seemed to have a knack for producing number one hits. According to Billboard, he had 15 consecutive # 1 records between 1963 and 1967, and a total of 20 # 1 records between 1963 and 1974. Twenty-six more songs, including four duets, made it to the Top 10 during that time, a remarkable achievement for any artist. So it's with a bit of irony that the song he is possibly best known for was written by somebody else.
The Bakersfield Sound was created in the mid to late '50s in reference to the eclectic country music that was coming out in Bakersfield, California during that time. It was so far apart from the country music that was coming out of Nashville, that it was coined with it's own genre.
Credit for this goes largely to Ken Nelson, who was in charge of the A&R division for Capitol Records. He recognized the uniqueness of music that was coming from this relatively small desert region, and signed artists such as Buck Owens and the Buckaroos and Merle Haggard and the Strangers to his record label. Many say that Bakersfield country was more of an attitude than a music genre, and a reaction against Nashville and it's smooth style of country music. The sound has gone on to inspire such acts as Marty Stuart, Dwight Yokum, Creedance Clearwater Revival, The Fabulous Flying Burrito Brothers, and The Rolling Stones (think "Far Away Eyes").
But no other song epitomizes the Bakersfield sound like one that was penned in 1972 by an unknown song writer named Homer Joy. It's called "The Streets of Bakersfield," and the story of how it came to be is almost as rich as the song itself. The offices of established country stars are very attractive for aspiring song writers who come in with hopes that an artist will record their material. Buck Owen's office was no exception, and he had a had a strict policy regarding these wayward songwriters.
"People would come around my office and unless I knew who they were, I would never see 'em." Said Buck. "One important reason was, if they have some song that you already have, or might acquire later, you're running a big risk of litigation."
Homer Joy, who had moved from Washington State to Bakersfield was relentless. Having been shunned several times by Buck, he never gave up on his hope of Buck recording one of his songs. Week in and week out he would enter the offices, only to be misdirected by Buck's secratary or other members of his staff. This rejection ultimately led Joy to write the verse that would become a country music staple...
You don't know me but you don't like me.
You say you care less how I feel.
But how many of you who sit and judge me,
Have walked the streets of Bakersfield?
Once again, as became the norm for Homer Joy, and this time with his new song in hand, he entered Buck Owen's office. Maybe he caught Buck on a good day, or perhaps his persistence impressed Buck, but the country music icon agreed to let the man into his office. Joy presented Buck with "Streets of Bakersfield," and Buck immediately fell in love with it. Buck recorded it and used it as an album cut on his Aint it Amazing, Graciealbum.
It's time was still to come.
"Streets" was released again in June of 1988 as a duet by Dwight Yokum and Buck Owens (with Flaco Jimenez on accordian), and it peaked at number one by early August and the rest is country music history.
"I always like that song," Said Buck in 1992. "The timing wasn't right before, I guess. I always thought it was a big song and that's why I harangued Dwight to record it; I didn't say, 'Record that song with me.' To be part of a #1 song years later was a great experience."