By Bob Strauss
Billy Mize was the biggest deal in California country music that you’ve probably never heard of. A founding father of the Okie-influenced Bakersfield movement, he gave early boosts to its eventual superstars Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. But Mize was an equally talented singer, picker, writer and regional television host who never quite made it beyond the L.A. airwaves.
His grandson William J. Saunders’ documentary “Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound” is the loving tribute you would expect, but is also, quite happily, a damn fine piece of filmmaking. Treasure troves of rare footage and recordings are deployed to tell the exuberant Mize’s sometimes tragic story and give us a comprehensive history of the music scene that challenged Nashville’s dull dominance in the 1950s, ‘60s and beyond.
Mize himself, effectively (but not entirely) silenced by a stroke since just when he was making his big push for national recognition, is still with us and an invaluable asset to this culturally perceptive, poignant and musically delightful slice of marvelous Southern California and showbiz history.
As for his story, well, if you ever meet a more admirable man than the one shown in this movie, marry him immediately.