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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