Searching for Bakersfield
Despite the idea that country music’s permanent home is Nashville, California has provided fertile ground for what might be one of the genre’s most important turning points. Artists who embraced what became known as “the Bakersfield sound”—Merle Haggard and Buck Owens the most well-known among them—revitalized a genre that had sunk into a quagmire of polished, overproduced and soulless pop-country singles.
Essentially, what California brought to country music was oil: a dirty, gritty life in Bakersfield’s oil fields translated into an edgier sound. And despite the later watering down of Owens’ reputation (due in large part to his co-hosting of Hee Haw), the fact remains that the Bakersfield sound pumped new life into country music.
Around Sacramento, the importance of California to country music at large is rarely felt. Perhaps it’s because country once again has slipped into the spit and polish of the music industry. There are but a handful of country acts in this town, among them Richard March, who hosted the recently defunct Americana series at the Blue Lamp, bringing together whatever country musicians he could find (from Sacramento and elsewhere). A handful, yes, but for the most part the Sacramento-area country-music scene is nonexistent. Sacramento, it seems, is no Bakersfield.
Enter the Bottom Dwellers. Perhaps it showed something of my own shortcomings when I saw a band dressed in Western-style shirts setting up onstage at the G Street Pub in Davis and found myself looking through the paper to see who else was playing in town. But then something happened: The band began to play. Almost from the first notes, it was revealed that this wasn’t just some group of amateurs “playing” country. Instead, they had something dirty and gritty in them, a pure understanding of the genre that was as surprising as it was remarkable.
Hailing from nearby Yolo County, the Bottom Dwellers may well be the Sacramento area’s country-music saviors. A blistering combination of traditional honky-tonk, with rock-influenced back beats and beautifully melodic, lightning-fast guitar work, the band is frankly the most exciting Americana-related act this reviewer has seen in a good long while. It is when the band veers into Bakersfield territory, and into that of bastard country-music thieves like the Rolling Stones (think 1972’s Exile on Main Street), that the Bottom Dwellers really shine. On their current CD, Twang Americana, that sound is particularly apparent in “Radiant Heat,” a slow burner augmented by guest star Keith Cary on Hammond organ.
If there’s a high point within an already superb band, it’s in the guitar work of Adam Hancock. Like another local roots-rock guitar hero—Steve Randall—Hancock has the speed, dexterity and sense of melody that, in combination, make for exciting lead breaks. Combining that with the solid drumming of Chris Eynon and bass work of Mark Eagleton and the songwriting and guitar of Ivan Sohrakoff makes for a solidly interesting and entertaining band. Go see them; you won’t be disappointed. In the end, maybe Sacramento is a bit like Bakersfield after all. More information is at www.bottomdwellersmusic.com.