When California Sang Country
Documentary Recalls Billy Mize, and When Los Angeles Rivaled Nashville
LOS ANGELES — Even the vinyl addicts among us have to dig deep for Billy Mize.
Scratching past Wynn Stewart’s “It’s a Beautiful Day” and the Jean Shepard and Buck Owens albums, I still couldn’t find a copy of Mize master sessions like “Please Don’t Let the Blues Make You Bad,” from Columbia Records in 1965. But there he was, sure enough, with the writer’s credit for “Who’ll Buy the Wine,” on Merle Haggard’s “Pride in What I Am” album.
Once Mr. Mize was well known here as the Bakersfield, Calif., singer-songwriter who did more than almost any other to challenge Nashville’s dominance of the country music scene.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Mr. Mize brought Bakersfield’s raucous, honky-tonk sound to his series of regional television shows, which helped make Mr. Haggard and others far more famous than he himself ever became.
Sometimes, Mr. Mize played backup instruments on albums like Mr. Haggard’s “Mama Tried.”
But on June 14, he will be recalled at the Los Angeles Film Festival for what he really was — a superstar who was only fully recognized by his fellow stars. The influence of Mr. Mize, now 85, is explored in the William J. Saunders film “Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound,” which will then begin screening in the festival’s documentary competition.
The Mize film will be competing with, among others, “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story,” about a half-forgotten jazz saxophonist who spent much of his semi-lost career in prison.
While the festival focuses on neglected musical genius, Warner Bros. is dipping into musical biography with “Jersey Boys,” about the Four Seasons, which is set for release on June 20 (with a Los Angeles Film Festival screening the day before), and Universal is getting ready for “Get On Up,” a James Brown biopic due in theaters on Aug. 1.
After a bit of a hiatus, when music biography had seemed to disappear from screens, the movies are clearly getting musical again.