The Bakersfield Sound and a primer on how to play it, sing it and write it is in the Tommy Collins’ beauty Put Me In Irons, Lock Me Up (And Throw Away The Key). I’ve written in an earlier blog that Tommy was a touchstone in country music and his legacy, heard in the voices and styles of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, can not be overstated. Tonight on what would have been Tommy’s 81st birthday is as good a time as any to back that claim up.
The Bakersfield Sound was the hard country answer to Nashville heading uptown and remains to many a tonic to the orchestral strings and back-up singers that were laid over much of the commercial country music of the 1960s. The key components were Fender Telecasters and a backbeat. The sound was high and hard and the crackle of the chicken pickin’ guitar work was as hot as anything being recorded in the rock world. This was good time music custom made to be amplified in loud bars with little loss of quality.
Put Me In Irons, Lock Me Up (And Throw Away The Key) isn’t the best song to come out of Bakersfield, but it’s an odd little blueprint for everything that would come after it. Listen to the kick drum and staccato steel guitar jump start things and recognize the intro to half of the Buckaroo’s songs. Listen to the first line:
I’m going to her town again, I’m gonna pick and sing and grin.
Is that where Roy (I’m pickin’) Clark and Buck (I”m grinnin’) Owens got that line from? And then this lusty little song hits the chorus and the high harmony comes in tight next to Tommy’s lead vocals, the instruments lay way off and every line is punctuated with the kick drum until the whole thing revs back up again with some fine cross picking on the steel guitar.
The steel guitar and telecaster trade licks out of the chorus much like Tom Brumley and Don Rich would do later behind Buck and another quick verse and chorus finish things up. The song barely clocks in at 1:57 and it’s glorious.
Tommy Collins is one of those guys that will never be a household name, but for those that love that California country music he is a guiding light and we should raise a glass. Happy birthday Tommy.
I won’t have a prayer when I see her there, oh mercy, oh me
Put Me In Irons, Lock Me Up (And Throw Away The Key), Tommy Collins