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Vince Gill And Paul Franklin Break Down The Bakersfield Sound

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Vince Gill And Paul Franklin Break Down The Bakersfield Sound

Music Interviews

Vince Gill And Paul Franklin Break Down The Bakersfield Sound

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If you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea. And it's time now for music.


VINCE GILL: (Singing) Tonight, the bottle let me down.

GONYEA: We are about to be joined by a pair of country music legends. Vince Gill has been recording and making records since he was a teenager. He's a gifted multi-instrumentalist and singer and songwriter. His newest work is a joint project with someone you may not know but have certainly heard if you like country music. Paul Franklin plays pedal steel guitar like few others have.


GONYEA: Their new recording is called "Bakersfield." It's a tribute to a particular kind of country music that came out of Bakersfield, California, and which was created and championed by a couple of guys from that town named Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Vince Gill, Paul Franklin, thank you for joining us.

GILL: Man, what a treat.

PAUL FRANKLIN: Thank you. Yeah.

GONYEA: OK. So this is one that's always kind of hard to describe for people. What is the Bakersfield sound?

GILL: So many of those musicians migrated west from the Dust Bowl looking for work and a place to scratch a living out of the dirt like they'd been doing, and they seemed to take that music with them: very honky-tonk driven, very beer-joint driven. And it just was unabashed. It wasn't smooth. It wasn't croonish. You know, I think that what you have to do is compare it to what was going on with the country music that was being made primarily in Nashville, which was a lot smoother - string arrangements and kind of cosmopolitan.

And along comes Buck and Merle, and they got these twangy Telecasters and Ralph Mooney playing a singing steel guitar. And in a way, it's like the Rolling Stones of country music.


GILL: (Singing) Tonight the bottle let me down.

GONYEA: So let's talk about some of the classics on here. You guys knew these songs when they first came out, first go-round - Buck Owens' "Together Again."


BUCK OWENS: (Singing) Together again.

GILL: You got to put that in the top three of all time. Every now and then, you know, a song, a singer and a record production, all those things just fall in line. And you make the most amazing piece of music you could ever hope to make. It's simple, but it's heartfelt. It's got the greatest solo in the world. It's got Buck singing his brains out. And that for me is - that's a top five all time greatest record ever.


GILL: (Singing) The love that we knew is living again. No, nothing else matters now. We're together again.

FRANKLIN: Those guys had a knack for writing material that delivered the message with a minimal amount of words. And I think that's why everybody can sing it, and it's a thing that just, you know, touches your soul.

GONYEA: So this disk ends with a Merle Haggard classic "The Fightin' Side of Me." When that song hit in 1969 - you guys were both kids - it landed smack dab in the middle of the culture wars in the United States.

GILL: True.

GONYEA: Vietnam was raging. He takes a shot at protestors, sings: If you don't love it, leave it.


GILL: (Singing) I hear people talking mad about the way we have to live here in this country.

GONYEA: Talk about the decision to do that one, aside from the fact that it's a Merle Haggard classic.

GILL: Well, I've always admired someone like Merle Haggard that wasn't afraid to bow up on somebody, you know, and tell the truth and stick up for people. They talked about him being the poet of the common man, and it was really true. You know, you go to somebody like Johnny Cash, who's a great defender of people that were downtrodden or weren't treated fairly or disrespected or whatever, and they just had a sense of fairness about them that was inspiring.


GILL: (Singing) If you don't love it, leave it, let this song that I'm singing be a warning. If you're running down my country, hoss, you're walking on the fighting side of me.

I was really taken with singing this song because I didn't take it as a very bravado-ish type song of, you know, I'm going to take you to task if you don't stick up for this. And I looked at it as my life of watching and knowing. And I've done a good bit of work with the men and women of our armed services who do stick up for us and defend our freedoms. And I have a great deal of respect for them.

So my response to this song was much more emotional than bravado. And I think as a 56-year-old man, I took it a lot differently than maybe I would have as a young buck. I was really taken with the emotion of the lyric of that song. It's really quite poetic.


GILL: (Singing) Yeah, walkin' on the fightin' side of me. Runnin' down the way of life, our fightin' men have fought and died to keep.

GONYEA: I'm speaking with Vince Gill and Paul Franklin about their new album "Bakersfield." So Buck Owens, of course, has passed on, Merle Haggard still very much with us. And...

GILL: Very, very much, yeah.


GONYEA: ...he wrote the liner notes, and he says, quote...

GILL: He did.


GONYEA: ..."I like the whole album." Did you talk to him first?

FRANKLIN: Well, I mentioned to Vince, I said, wouldn't it be great if we could get Haggard, after we've finished everything, to write the liner notes? So we waited for several days on pins and needles because of all the people that would hear this record, he's the one that mattered most, you know? Because if he didn't like it, it's like we're crushed because he's our hero.


GILL: (Singing) I'd like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am. But they won't let my secret go untold.

GONYEA: I want each of you to talk briefly about the other for a moment. Paul, let's start with you. What about Vince Gill? Is there something that you hear, you know, something that we civilians might not notice?

FRANKLIN: Oh, God. I mean, I could go on for days. But just to talk about his singing, very few singers get to his level of emotion. He can sing all the (unintelligible) in the world, you know, the technique and all that, but I've never heard him - I can honestly say I've never heard him sing a note that he didn't feel with all his heart.

GONYEA: So, Vince, your turn. What is it about Paul Franklin's pedal steel work that just stops you cold?

GILL: It's got to be his eyes. No, I'm just kidding.


GILL: You know what? Here's the - to me, the great thing about Paul is, even though he's his own stylist in definitive playing, he's got enough of the history in his heart - that's the most important place - that he knows what Ralph Mooney played like. He knows what Buddy Emmons played like. He knows all these greats that were such a huge part of this history that gives him a vocabulary that's deeper than anybody I've ever known that's played the instrument.

And it's always been my favorite instrument. You know, I even tried to learn to play the steel guitar as a young kid at 18, 19 years old, and we eventually had to sell it. We called it a mercy selling because it was killing people.


GILL: I think I've always loved the instrument the most because it sounds like a voice to me.


GONYEA: Have you taken these songs back to Bakersfield for a live performance yet?

GILL: We get to. We're going to - we're touring all the rest of this year, and we're going to play "Bakersfield" on October 25. So we've both got that circled as probably a career highlight.


GONYEA: That's going to be some fun.


GILL: (Singing) I know that you've been fooling around on me right from the start.

GONYEA: That's Vince Gill and Paul Franklin. Their new album of classic country music is called "Bakersfield." Gentlemen, it has been a real pleasure. Thanks.

GILL: Thanks, buddy.

FRANKLIN: Thank you, Don.


GILL: (Singing) Fooling around with two or three. Come on home and fool around with me. I wasn't fooling around the day I said I do. But many nights I wish that I'd been fooling too. I know it's foolish taking all this misery. But when it's you a fool I'll always be. I know that you've been fooling around on me right from the start.

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