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Passings: Billy Mize, Bakersfield Sound Pioneer (1929 - 2017)

by VVN Music

Billy Mize, one of the early developers of the influential Bakersfield Sound in country music, died on November 1 in a nursing home in Pleasonton, CA. He was 88.

Mize never reached the level of popularity of his Bakersfield contemporaries, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, but he, nonetheless, was an important figure in the creation of the west coast country sound.

Born in Arkansas City, KS, his family moved to the San Joaquin Valley in California where he was raised among many others who were displaced during the Dust Bowl era. There, he was influenced by the folk and country songs that the people brought with them from the mid-west.

Mize originally played guitar but moved to steel guitar late in his teens. In his early 20's, he moved to Bakersfield where he formed his own band and began working as a DJ at radio station KPMC.

In 1953, he became part of The Cousin Herb Trading Post Show on KERO-TV in Bakersfield, which had many artists as guests that would go on to big careers including Owens, Haggard, Tommy Collins, Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky.  Because of the strength of the station, the program was seen throughout southern California, bringing the fledgling sound a large audience.

Television would become his main career for the rest of the 50's, first with Hank Penny and Cal Worthington before getting his own syndicated program.

Mize began recording in 1953 for the Kord label and, in 1957, moved to Decca where he released the single "It Could Happen" / "Solid Sender". It wasn't until signing with Columbia in 1965 that he would have his first, minor, success with a series of singles. Eleven would eventually make the charts but only two broke into the top forty country singles, "Make It Rain" (1969 / #40 Country) and "It Hurts to Know the Feelings Gone" (1976 / #31 Country).

Even without hit singles to boost his career, he was recognized often for the work he did to spread the Bakersfield sound, including two TV Personality of the Year awards from the Academy of Country Music in 1965 and 1967. He was also one of the inaugural members of the Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame.

For a number of years, Mize played steel and rhythm guitar for Merle Haggard. His songs were also recorded by a number of artists in both country (Charlie Walker, Haggard, Ernest Tubb) and pop (Dean Martin).

In 1990, his singing career came to an end when he suffered a stroke, but he continued playing guitar and, eventually learned to sing again after intensive therapy.

Mize is survived by two daughters.