Classic Tracks: Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens' "Streets of Bakersfield"

Aug 4, 2010 6:25 PM, By Barbara Schultz


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Dwight Yoakam (right) with his hero Buck Owens

Dwight Yoakam (right) with his hero Buck Owens

Owens apparently enjoyed Yoakam’s friendship and admiration because he agreed to more performances with the band, and it was Owens who suggested that the two singers cut the Homer Joy song “Streets of Bakersfield” as a duet. The song was slated for album number three, with a new arrangement by Anderson. “When Dwight and I played clubs,” Anderson says, “I would sing occasionally. He would take a break, and I would sing a tune, and I used to do a song called ‘Anybody Goin’ to San Antone?’ which is a Charley Pride song, but I did it as a Tex-Mex polka sort of thing, and I thought it would be a cool way to do the Owens song because if you do a polka, everybody gets up and dances.” The arrangement also captured something essential in the song’s meaning: a sense of walking in the shoes of a newcomer looking for a better life in California.

By the time the team went to Capitol for the third time—to make Buenos Noches—they’d grown pretty comfortable in Studio B. “It was like a second home,” Wakeman says. “Plus, the two guys who worked with me over the years there, Charlie Paakari and Pete Doell, who were supposedly my ‘assistants,’ were way better engineers than I was at that time. I was also smart enough to ask them for advice. Charlie was my assistant for the first three albums. So when they would ask me, ‘How do you want to mike the drums?’ I would answer, ‘Well, what works well for you in this room?’ because those guys were there every day.’”

Wakeman recalls that drummer Jeff Donovan’s kit would have been miked “with [Telefunken] 251s for overheads, and they probably would have been [Sennheiser] 421s on toms and a [Shure] SM57 and an original [AKG] 451 with a pad on the snare and a 451 on the hat. We had one [AKG] C24 out in the room and a couple more room mics, probably U67s. But there was always a C24 up. The vocal would have been a [Neumann] U47 on Dwight and one on Buck. We probably used a 47 on fiddle and one on accordion.”

Wakeman says Buenos Noches was cut to Studer A800 machines: “I think we cut basics to 16-track and then synched up a 24 for overdubs.” All the basics were cut live in the way that Owens and his Buckaroos would have cut their songs 10 or 20 years before. And the ever-modest Wakeman, who by this time had become an in-demand engineer with a wealth of knowledge and appreciation for old and new technologies, still sounds like a kid in a candy store talking about Capitol Studios: “The A800s were the best. They had that awesome Neve 8068 that just everything sounded good through, and I remember we had an early Focusrite mic pre and EQ—one of the original Rupert Neve ones. We cut a lot of overdubs through that. And, of course, you know, Capitol’s got those eight incredible live echo chambers that should be made a national shrine that are underneath the parking lot. They all have different sounds and different shapes, and we used them on fiddles and accordion and vocals on ‘Streets of Bakersfield.’”

There was, however, an issue when it came time to record those vocals: “We were in a hurry to get Dwight’s vocal done because Buck was coming in and we needed Dwight’s to be complete,” Wakeman says. “I think we’d done five passes. In those days, Pete would sit at the console and I would run the remote, and we would do the comp. But we would do it by him marking on the lyric sheet and I would put it together later. Somehow, his numbers got off from my numbers—like we would keep the first two passes so maybe I would say [the others were] three through eight, but he called them one to five. I knew we had a great vocal in there, and Buck was on his way, and we thought, ‘We’ll put it together in the morning right before Buck comes in.’ Buck was supposed to be there at 11, and so at 10 Charlie and I were bouncing the vocal together, but somehow it doesn’t sound good. It was the wrong take. It was the worst instead of the best, and by the time we figured out what must have happened, Buck and Dwight walk in the room, ready to start singing.

“But we didn’t want to look like idiots,” he continues, “so I called Pete aside and told him what happened, and said, ‘You’ve got to stall them!’ So he goes out into the room and just starts asking Buck to tell stories while we frantically put the right vocal together. It took us 20 minutes with Pete stalling, and they never knew.”

The accordion part was performed by Norteño legend Flaco Jimenez in Capitol Studio C after the rest of the track was completed. Anderson describes Jimenez as “the Jimi Hendrix of Norteño accordion. Flaco just rolls with the wind. I played him the track, and he was like, ‘I know this groove,’ and started playing.”

“Flaco is a one-take player. If he feels it, it’ll be perfect, right off the bat,” concurs Wakeman, who has worked with Jimenez several times since they recorded “Streets of Bakersfield.” The engineer also continued to run Mad Dog in a couple of different incarnations and locations until last year when he became president of Mojave Audio. He can still be talked into playing or engineering for a longtime friend such as Pete Anderson, whose association with Yoakam lasted through 2003. These days, Anderson runs his own Little Dog Records label and Dog Bone Studio, as well as producing and playing on others’ records.

Owens passed away four years ago, but at least in part thanks to Yoakam, his comeback career continued for years after the two artists recorded together. He made another album for Capitol in 1989 and toured with and without Yoakam. When he wasn’t on the road, Owens performed weekly at his Crystal Palace club in Bakersfield until his last gig, just hours before his passing.

Yoakam is now known as a film actor as well as a singer/songwriter. Back in ’88, “Streets of Bakersfield” was a Number One country single, and Buenos Noches went to Number One on the country album charts. He hasn’t released an album in a few years; his most recent is the 2007 release, Dwight Sings Buck.

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