Founder/Father of The Bakersfield Sound Fuzzy Owen Has Died

Call him the Founder, call him the Father, but whatever you call him, make sure you recognize that without Fuzzy Owen, there may have never been a “Bakersfield Sound” in country music, and country may have never taken such a foothold on the West Coast to eventually influence generations of country and rock performers. When you made one of the first recordings for Buck Owens, signed Merle Haggard to his first record deal and managed him for decades, you deserve that level of distinction.

Charles “Fuzzy” Owen passed away on Monday, May 12th at the age of 91. Born in 1922 in Conway, Arkansas, his mom gave him his famous nickname after once finding him under his bed covers with his hair all fuzzed out. Fuzzy migrated to Bakersfield, California at the age of 17 to pick cotton by day, and play steel guitar at The Blackboard honky tonk for the blue collar workers by night. He joined the band with his cousin Lewis Talley after moving to California to take advantage of the state’s burgeoning country scene. This partnership would be one of the seeds that the Bakersfield Sound would sprout from.

Fuzzy and Lewis Talley found their first brush with fame via the song “A Dear John Letter.” Initially recorded by Fuzzy with Bonnie Owens (no relation), they tried to launch the single from their own fledgling label in 1952 to no avail. The song was eventually recorded by Ferlin Husky and Jean Shepard in 1953, with Fuzzy, Lewis Talley, and fellow Bakersfield legends Bill Woods and Tommy Collins all playing on the track. It became a #1 hit for Capitol Records, and the first hit of the Bakersfield Sound. Soon, a second epicenter for country music far away from Nashville would emerge.

Fuzzy Owen and Lewis Talley founded Tally Records in 1955, and made one of the very first recordings for a Capitol Records session player named Buck Owens called “Hot Dog” under the pseudonym Corky Jones. Of course, Buck would move on to record directly for Capitol in the coming years, while Tally Records continued to scout for talent, eventually signing artists such as Harland Howard, Bonnie Owens, Cliff Crofford, and Cousin Herb Henson.

The whole time, Fuzzy Owen remained a fixture behind the steel guitar in the local Bakersfield clubs, as well as on the popular TV Show Trading Post. He also wrote the song “The Same Old Me” that became a #1 hit for Ray Price in 1959. It was while playing in Bakersfield’s The Lucky Spot in 1961 when Fuzzy Owen discovered Merle Haggard fresh out of San Quentin Prison, looking for a band to play guitar in. Owen hired him, and then signed him to Tally Records.

Soon, Merle would be the boss, and both Fuzzy Owen and his cousin Lewis Talley would gladly be the employees along for the ride. They also helped Merle sign to Capitol Records, and eventually sold their Haggard catalog on Talley Records to the label. Also an early member of Merle’s backing band The Strangers, eventually Fuzzy Owen would transition into the position of road manager, while Lewis Talley became Merle’s long-time bus driver. Fuzzy Owen continued to work for Haggard as a road manager and right hand man all the way until Merle died in 2016.

“Today Fuzzy Owens passed away,” Haggard’s wife and widow Theresa Haggard posted Monday evening. “A dear friend to us and Merle’s road manager all of his career. He also was the one to record Merle the first time. We will miss him dearly.”

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