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▸ June 8, 2015

Sometimes legends get lost in the annals of time, still legendary to those in the know, but increasingly forgotten within mass popular culture. ‘Billy Mize and The Bakersfield Sound’ aims to change that for its subject, a principle performer and television personality in an acclaimed era of country music. Billy Mize was born in Kansas during the Great Depression, and like many other families, they were forced to migrate to Bakersfield, California, in search of jobs. This migration found many different styles of music from varying states culminating in one small area, and Billy Mize became a founding member of what would become to be known The Bakersfield Sound.

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This feature-length documentary film, directed by Joe Saunders, begins on the cusp of Billy’s 80th birthday, back in April 2009. There is to be a tribute show on his birthday by friends, peers and more, and we find him reflective but in high spirits. It is clear from the outset that Billy has problems speaking; we later discover that it’s due to a very bad stroke he suffered during the mid-1990s, the culmination of a drinking problem following many years of hardship.

Although this documentary goes into depth on what Billy, and his ex-wife Martha, overcame in life (including the loss of two sons at the prime of his career), it also is an extremely informative answer to the question of “Who is Billy Mize?” With interviews from many of the pioneers of the time, including Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Ray Price, we find ourselves taken back in time to the beginnings of Billy’s career and how he became the legend that he is. Filled with countless songs and performances (the credit list took over a minute to list them all), amazing insights into the scene and how it impacted country music as a whole, as well as rare footage and commentary from Billy himself, this is a fantastic look into the life of the man who should have been bigger than Buck Owens.

Watching this movie was fascinating, entertaining, heartwarming and a little heartbreaking too. Around 90 minutes in length, I would happily watch it again and again, which is not something I can say about a lot of films. Currently you can purchase the DVD, which has special features, or you can host a screening of the film at your local theater or community venue. Click here for more details.

It’s no surprise that this movie has had critics enthralled at festivals all over, so be sure not to miss this great addition to your collection of country music in film.

Written by Vickye Fisher


▸ June 2, 2015

Bakersfield locals can now pick up a DVD of the Billy Mize doc at the Emporium Western Store.


▸ May 29, 2015

Glen Campbell playing White Lightning and Mountain Dew on Melody Ranch.

Billy Glen

▸ May 27, 2015

Get your DVD with never before seen bonus features – exclusively at billymizemovie.com


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▸ May 26, 2015

Our friends at Hometown Country Music are offering a free Billy Mize DVD! Click the link for more info and a chance to win: http://www.hometowncountrymusic.com/contests/win-billy-mize-the-bakersfield-sound-dvd/


▸ May 19, 2015

Yes! This album still exists and you can find it on eBay. You can also purchase a CD version with Merle Haggard doing his best Bob Wills impression on MERLE’s WEBSITE. Enjoy!

▸ May 13, 2015

See more great archive footage in our documentary Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound now on DVD and online.

▸ December 3, 2014

CMT Edge graphic

CMT Edge: by Craig Shelburne

For fans of California country’s golden era, Billy Mize is an icon. A good-looking guy with a natural hosting ability, he transitioned from touring musician to TV personality with ease.

But the story doesn’t end there. Actually, there’s a whole lot more to be said, which is the premise of a new documentary, Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound. The film will have its Southeastern premiere on Saturday afternoon (Dec. 6) at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.


After giving up a steady gig playing steel guitar with his musical hero, Western swing bandleader Tommy Duncan, Mize chose to stay home with his wife, Martha, and their growing family. Instead of traveling relentlessly, he’d play seven nights a week in Bakersfield, just as the Bakersfield Sound was about to explode. Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Ray Price are among the musicians who attest to Mize’s influence in the film.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Mize became a West Coast star by emceeing TV shows like Chuck Wagon Show, Cousin Herb Henson’s Trading Post and Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch. Along the way, he also penned a country classic, “Who Will Buy the Wine,” recorded by Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ernest Tubb, Charlie Walker and many more.

After two unthinkable tragedies, the storybook ending unraveled, but Billy is still around to recount the story — even though a late-career stroke nearly stole his voice. The final scene, though simply shot, is quite astonishing when you consider all the circumstances.

Joe Saunders, the film’s director and producer (and Mize’s grandson), answered a few questions by email.

CMT Edge: When did you start working on the film? And what sort of preparation did you do before the first day of filming?

Saunders: I shot the first interview (Martha’s solo) in 2009 and worked on it when I could between projects and life’s other priorities. This entire film evolved over the years. I had spoken with several of Billy’s friends over the phone before the first interview and had a general idea of what happened in Bakersfield. But there were still many surprises, both in Billy’s personal life and his career, that I would discover in subsequent interviews.

Can you share some of those examples?

Sure thing. I didn’t know that Elvis was a fan of Billy’s or that he borrowed Billy’s style. I also didn’t know Billy used to be an actor. He has all these headshots as different ‘professions’ — doctor, bad guy, office worker, etc. I touch on this a little bit in the documentary, but I didn’t realize it was such a viable option for him.

I also didn’t realize that once you’re a performer, you’re always a performer. I’ve been a documentary filmmaker for over a decade now, and I’m used to directing nonactors. Billy and I were doing a publicity shoot in front of the yellow “Bakersfield” arc outside the Crystal Palace, and I asked Billy to turn to the arc and turn back to the camera. He nailed it with that smooth charisma that awarded him so many TV hosting gigs. I was floored, then remembered he’s been doing that his whole life. He’s a pro.

There are a lot of scenes from Billy’s TV shows, and those were some of my favorite parts of the film. What was on your mind when you were looking at the vintage footage?

It’s hard to pinpoint one feeling when watching that old footage. I felt sad at first. To see what a great talent Billy was — and to know that age and health conspired to take his voice — it’s so tragic. You feel bad for him. But he looks like he’s having so much fun singing and performing that you also feel proud and happy he was able to do what he loved — even if he would lose that ability.

What do you remember most about the day you showed the final film to the whole family?

During the sequence of Billy Jr., my aunt Marji turned to her son Kyle and said, “I never realized how much you looked like my brother.” He truly is a spitting image of Billy Jr. It became very emotional for everyone.

▸ November 10, 2014


“Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound,” a long documentary, took Best in Show on Sunday in the second annual Outside the Box Bakersfield Film Festival.

The documentary about songwriter Mize’s contributions to Country Western music took one of 21 awards at a ceremony presented by the Tejon Ranch at the Fox Theater. Read More ▸

▸ November 6, 2014

BY JENNIFER SELF The Bakersfield Californian jself@bakersfield.com


The temptation to liken the life of Billy Mize to one of the melancholy country songs he wrote is a potent one — except that no one would ever write anything so damned sad.

Unthinkable family tragedies, one after another, medical setbacks and a stroke that prematurely ended his career offer a pretty compelling case that Mize just may be the biblical Job of country music.

Filmmaker Joe Saunders reports he’s just signed a deal with a company called Cintic to distribute the movie. “It looks like we’ll be distributed digitally via Film Buff (its sister company) who will put us on all digital platforms in early 2015,” Saunders wrote in an email. “And they are out looking for TV opportunities, etc.” Read More ▸

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We’ve partnered with Tugg.com, a web-platform that enables individuals, groups, and organizations to set up personalized screenings of Billy Mize and The Bakersfield Sound in theaters and community venues across the country. Events can be used as fundraisers and can include audience discussions.

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