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▸ February 18, 2016

By Carl Kozlowski, Pasadena Weekly News —

Nashville may get most of the credit for being the hub of America’s country music scene, but Bakersfield is the city that transformed the genre into the backbeat-driven art form that rules the airwaves today. And while stars like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard garnered the greatest fame for their work in that world, it was another, oft-overlooked man named Billy Mize who actually drove the scene to creative greatness.

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Thankfully, Mize was fortunate to have Joe Saunders as his grandson. A longtime documentarian for NFL Films, Saunders shifted his focus over the past five years to honoring his grandfather’s life by creating the documentary “Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound,” which will be shown for at 7 p.m. tonight, Feb. 18, in the Community Room of the South Pasadena Public Library. 

The evening will be a treat for fans of country and Americana roots music. In addition to the screening and a live Q&A with Saunders about the movie and Mize, South Pasadena’s “Wine & Song” troubadour Brad Colerick and Jake Kelly of the Podunk Poets will open the show with a set of live music. 

“I was working at NFL Films doing documentaries on football players and fans, and my mom was helping Billy move from Bakersfield to another town when she found his career archives,” explains Saunders. “He was on television a lot, so there were tons of video archives and she asked me to organize and digitize it all.”

That set off a journey of discovery about his grandfather and the impact he had on the art of country music. Saunders had never before been very close to Mize, since he lived in Philadelphia and Mize had never left California. As he discovered his grandfather’s ties to “the kings of country music,” he decided to go beyond the short film he was planning to make for the family itself and make the project a testament for the broader world of music fans. 

“Billy’s still alive, almost 87, and his health is poor,” says Saunders. “He’s seen the film a couple times. A lot of the film talks about the tragedies of his life, of which he’s had quite a few. He would have been a household name like some of his peers without those turns in his life. He liked it a lot, but it’s sad for him to watch.”

Mize was born in Arkansas City, Kansas, and moved to the San Joaquin Valley as a boy, spending his childhood there before moving to Bakersfield with the steel guitar he received as a present on his 18th birthday. The valley had been a hotbed for country music, due to the thousands of “Okies” and other relocated Southerners who had moved there during the Great Depression in search of agricultural work. 

“All these migrants traveled there in search of jobs, bringing with them Texas Swing, while the deeper South brought folksy sounds, Chicago brought jazz influences, and it all melted together in Bakersfield,” says Saunders. “We had a lot of other influences: black music, and mountain man style, so Bakersfield had more of a rock feel to it which Nashville tried to stay away from. The Grand Ole Opry didn’t have drums for years. That was how Bakersfield stood out: country music you could dance to.”

Once in Bakersfield, Mize formed his own band, playing local gigs and also working as a disc jockey. In 1953, Bill Woods, Herb Henson and he put together a local TV show called “The Cousin Herb Trading Post Show,” and it grew quickly in popularity thanks to the fact its host station, KERO-TV, had a signal that carried all the way to Los Angeles. 

Featuring then-rising local acts like Haggard and Owens, in addition to national stars such as Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, “Cousin Herb” proved hot enough to launch Mize as a television star. By 1957, he was appearing on seven different shows each week in the LA area, and he eventually was named the Academy of Country Music’s TV Personality of the Year award three years in a row between 1965 and 1967. 

Yet, true national stardom proved elusive for Mize. According to Saunders, that unfortunate fact was tied to a highly important and personal decision he had to make at an early age. 

“When he was 19, he was already married and he was asked to tour with one of the biggest Texas swing bands in the country,” says Saunders. “While on tour, his wife — my grandmother — miscarried their first child. He was on tour and couldn’t get back until a couple months later.

“He vowed never to leave his wife and family again, which hurt him becoming a star because Haggard and Owens toured a lot to promote their album on radio stations around the nation,” Saunders continues. “He didn’t want to do that, which was the main reason he didn’t catch on. He took jobs in TV to keep him closer to home, so his reach was only as far as the local television would allow.”

Mize suffered a stroke during the mid-1990s, but has recovered enough to play his beloved steel guitar. With the documentary now able to be screened on Hulu Plus, iTunes and Amazon, in addition to being available for purchase on DVD from billymizemovie.com, Saunders can take pride knowing he has helped bring his grandfather’s legacy to life. 

“This part of California history is so unknown, it was a pleasure to be able to tell that story within the framework of my grandfather’s life,” says Saunders. “My grandfather was one of the kindest and warmest men I’ve ever met in my life. As much as this is about California history, it’s also about this wonderful man.” 

“Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound” will play, along with a live music concert by Brad Colerick and Jake Kelly at 7 p.m. tonight, Feb. 18, at the Community Room of the South Pasadena Public Library, 1115 El Centro St., South Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 403-7340. 

Link to Article

▸ February 17, 2016

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By Jonny Whiteside, LA Times —

Singer Billy Mize may not have achieved national fame, but as a spearhead on the mid-20th-century California country scene he was a formidable artistic force. His fans included Merle Haggard, Elvis Presley and Dean Martin, and no less an authority than country music legend Ray Price called Mize “my favorite country singer.”

Although sidelined years ago by a debilitating stroke, Mize, now 87, remains a beloved figure among Southern California country music aficionados. As captured in the compelling documentary “Billy Mize & the Bakersfield Sound,” which screens Thursday at the South Pasadena Library’s community room, Mize’s story is one of impressive creativity and harrowing personal tragedy. Directed by Joe Saunders, the singers’ grandson, it’s a powerful mix of documentary storytelling and deeply affecting, naked human emotion.

Perhaps best known as composer of the much covered honky-tonk classic “Who Will Buy the Wine,” released in 1955 by Decca Records, and as host of several long-running television shows in Bakersfield and on Los Angeles’ KTLA, Mize was a gifted, persuasive singer from the Tommy Duncan-Jimmy Wakely western crooner school, a talented multi-instrumentalist and a lyricist of great skill. Although an established regional star, Mize’s admirable fealty to family kept him off the road and largely out of the national spotlight, a fact that provided Saunders with more than a few challenges during the film’s production.

“Because so few people remember who Billy was, it was almost impossible to raise any money for it, so it was an extremely low budget project,” Saunders said. “But once I had some of it shot and edited and people could see what I had, that made it easier. The Academy of Country Music [which Mize co-founded] stepped in and helped out with song licensing and clearances, which was very helpful.”

Mize’s decision to pursue his career locally also ensured a very active role in the fast-evolving Bakersfield Sound, a hard-driving California hybrid that reached its commercial peak with the mid-1960s chart dominance of Bakersfield hit-makers Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. But Mize was there at its post-war dawn and with his boundless skill, affable charm and movie-star good looks became the city’s first real country music star.

Saunders’ unearthed an astonishing trove of historic, never before seen footage of early Bakersfield, including rare performances on KERO’s famed “Cousin Herb Henson Trading Post” show. “Billy is a bit of a pack rat. There’s a room in his house full of boxes of stuff, photo albums, scrapbooks, old tapes, acetates, all kinds of media that are really not used anymore,” Saunders said. “And I discovered all sorts of things — the ‘Cousin Herb’ footage I found on an unmarked VHS tape that Billy had.”

Researchers from Hollywood to Nashville have scoured archives and attics looking for this type of material for decades and essentially gave it up as a lost cause. While Saunders made a significant contribution with the Trading Post material alone, he also discovered of a legitimate Holy Grail of Bakersfield country — Haggard’s television debut.

“There was this old, rusted 16-milimeter film can and I pried it open. The film was developed, I looked at it, saw Billy’s face and knew that I had to have that digitized,” Saunders said. “It was a black-and-white episode of ‘The Billy Mize Show’ that happened to be the first television appearance Merle Haggard and the Strangers ever did. The film was actually already done at that point, it was scheduled to be shown at a festival in Cleveland but I knew I had to use it. So I called the organizers saying ‘Hold on! I just made this incredible discovery.'”

Haggard himself, as an interview subject, provides a lot of context and color throughout the film. “Haggard really feels like he owes a lot to Billy and he was really helpful to me,” Saunders said. “And Merle is a very nice guy who really likes Billy, so he and the people in his organization were great about helping me get in contact with other musicians, things like that.”

The Bakersfield music community was an affectionate, tight-knit tribe, all of whom adored Mize. From the 1950s right through to the 1980s, if Mize dropped in at a nightclub to see a friend perform, everything stopped and everyone there wanted to visit with him. If he got up to sing, no one ordered a drink, no one said a word. They listened. It went beyond respect and friendship, because everyone in town knew what Mize had been through.

“The big challenge of the film was to strike a balance between Billy’s personal life story and the story of the Bakersfield Sound,” Saunders said. “Of course they directly parallel each other, but you could do an entire move on each one of those stories.”

The personal side, depicted with copious vintage home-movie footage and Mize’s own touching commentary, is deeply moving and, recounting the sudden deaths of two of his children, chillingly tragic. While his music provided Mize some relief, if not redemption, that was snatched away by a massive 1989 stroke. Although doctors said he’d never be able to use his right hand or speak again, the singer, following years of rigorous therapy, saw dramatic improvement.

“Billy will be 87 in April, but he’s not a healthy 87, he’s bedridden a lot of the time,” Saunders said. “I certainly wish the film had cast a wider net. It did very well on the festival circuit, and we picked up some awards. Hulu Plus is distributing it now, it’s on iTunes, all of those digital outlets, but they don’t do any promotion, so really it’s left to someone stumbling across it, within a sea of titles.”

“It’s like having a kid, you raise it and send it out into the world, hope for the best and see what happens.”

What: “Billy Mize & the Bakersfield Sound” screening with live music and Q&A with director Joe Saunders

Where: South Pasadena Library’s community room, 1115 El Centro St, South Pasadena

When: Thursday, Feb. 18, 7 p.m.

Cost: free

More info: (626) 403-7335; billymizemovie.com


JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of “Ramblin’ Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox” and “Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story.”

Copyright © 2016, Glendale News-Press
▸ August 4, 2015

We are thrilled to receive the audience award for BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE from Woods Hole Film Festival in Cape Cod. Click here for a complete list of the winners or HERE for the Indiewire article about the winners. We are very appreciative that Woods Hole gave us an opportunity to screen our documentary for their community. Thanks!

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▸ July 29, 2015

On July 30th at 5pm, Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound will screen in Cape Cod at the Woods Hole Film Festival. For tickets and more information check out their website:

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Woods Hole Film Festival


▸ July 28, 2015

If you reside in Bakersfield you probably remember Pete Jones Music. A store that was open for over 50 years and once gave Buck Owens guitar strings on credit. Pete Jones Music supplied all the Bakersfield musicians (stars and up-and-comers) with amps, instruments and repairs. We recently got our hand on a speech Pete Jones (of Pete Jones Music) gave on September 9th, 1984 celebrating Billy Mize Day. We’ve written out the speech in full below. It’s a wonderful and well written reminder of why we honor the Bakersfield musicians and why remembering the Bakersfield Sound’s significance is so important.

FullSizeRender_1 Hi – Welcome to Billy Mize Day!

It’s a great thrill for my wife, Martha, and I to be here and be a part of this fabulous show honoring one of the West’s great super stars, and most of all one of our dearest friends – Billy Mize. I have been asked to talk to you a little bit about country music in Bakersfield and most of all, Billy Mize.

Bakersfield, nestled at the foot of the lofty high Sierras and the majestic Tehachapi Range, is the giant agriculture and oil center of the San Joaquin Valley. It is drenched in the history of mountain men, indians, Spanish dons, cattle barons, sheepmen, oil tycoons, cowboys and field hands. This area, rich in history of the pioneer migrant farm workers from Texas and Oklahoma, is the western capital of country music.

Its country music is like a fine vintage wine – pure, rich and real. The music tell sthe story of the land and the people like they really are, pure and simple – sometimes with joy, sometimes with sorrow.

Country music – the people who write it; sing it; play it; live it! The history of this music and its creative people is an important chapter of the saga of the south San Joaquin. We must preserve what has happened before and what is happening now, and give recognition to our country music family, or the heritage of these strong freedom loving americans and their music will gently blow away across the great mountains and disappear.

The south San Joaquin has made a tremendous contribution to the world of country music. From the song writer to the instrumentalist, to the radio shows of the early days, to the present network television shows and the super stars themselves, Bakersfield has been the predominant giant of the West. This niche in our history must be preserved for our rich country heritage. It must definitely mot be just a hallowed sanctuary for the super stars alone. We must preserve the story of country music from its very raw beginning to the lofty heights of the super star.

The Saturday night dance hall, the radio remote opening, the every night lounge player, the struggling recording and television star, the hungry writer, the promoter, and finally the super star are passing chapters of country music, or our area, and must be preserved forever.

Right now – right here – this very minute – Betty Pugh is taking another giant step forward to help recognize and preserve this rich country and western heritage.

Today, Betty’s always great country music awards show is honoring one of the West’s all time favorite country-western entertainers – Billy Mize. Yes, that’s why my wife and I are so proud to be here today. This is Billy Mize Day, and we are honored to take part in this celebration.FullSizeRender

Billy came to Bakersfield in 1948.

1. First job – Bill Woods – Orange Blossom Playboys – 1949

2. Join Tommy Duncan’s Western Allstars – 1950

3. Worked at Blackboard Cafe after leaving Tommy. Bob Wills offer him a job at that time, and he had to turn him down due to family commitments.

4. In 1952, He joined KBIS as disc jockey and was a Jockey for several years there and at KAFY

5. IN 1953, joined Cousin Herb and Uncle Wilber to start the Trading Post Show.

6. In 1954, had his own show with Cliff Croford on channel 29 for 1-1/2 years. This was the first television show Merle Haggard ever worked on.

7. In 1954, singed with Decca Records – had two recordings, “Who Will Buy the Wine” and “It Could Happen”

8. In 1955, signed to work weekends at Corriganville in Chatsworth while working at the Lucky Spot 6 nights a week, the Trading Post 5 days a week and a 6am radio show 5 days a week on KAFY.

9. In 1957, joined Town Hall Party on Saturday nights in LA

10. When Town Hall Party went off the air in 1960, he joined the Cal Worthington Show, doing 7 shows a week for Cal.

11. In 1962, took over the Trading Post Show and continued doing 7 shows a week for Cal (12 television shows per week in all…LIVE! Boy, talk about an IRON MAN.

12. In 1963, singed to host “Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch” show on channel 5 in LA. What a show that was! The Trading Post Show went off the air shortly afterward.

Billy Glen13. Continued on Melody Ranch until it went of the air in 1970, during which time he won several awards for Best TV Personality from the Academy of Country Music.

14. In 1965, signed with Columbia Records and recorded with them until 1969 when he joined United Artists.

15. The year 1969 was the beginning of 3 tragic years for Billy and Martha. They lost one son in 1969 and on son in 1971. He dropped from public view and only did a few records with Mega and some personal appearances. His home base, since 1958, has been the Foothill Club in Long Beach, all through the 70s and into the 80s

16. In 1983, made a double album title, “Billy Mize Salute to Swing” a tribute to Tommy Duncan on GM Records.

17. Future plans: He has great and exciting things coming up. He’s been cast in a movie with Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson on the life of Bob Wills, Tommy Duncan and Milton Brown. Billy is set to play Tommy, Hagg – Bob and Willy – Milton Brown. He’s also working on an album tribute to Gene Autry and a duet with Debbie Reynolds.

Now, let me tell you about the Billy Mize I know. In the business, among the professionals, he’s known as the Pro’s Pro. To be recognized by your peers in this manner is truly the highest compliment a performer can receive.

He is the most unselfish entertainer I know. He is not a dual personality. Good on stage and something else off stage. He is a super guy on and off the stage and he is the most liked and respected country star that I know.

He has donated, as a performer, hundreds of hours and raised thousands of dollars for charity and the handicapped.

FullSizeRenderFor 10 consecutive years, he as been the star of the Kern County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse benefit dance for handicapped kids. This venture alone has raised thousands of dollars for the handicapped right here in Kern County. His career has spanned the days of western music, the singing cowboys and western swing right to the present country music scene.

Billy Mize – Super American – Super Star.

So – Ladies and gentlemen – It is my distinct honor and privilege to introduce to you – the west’s crown prince of country – western music – BILLY MIZE!



▸ July 23, 2015

This is an old film reel from a Bakersfield parade in the early 50s. There is a 1954 Pontiac featured in the video, so we’re guess its 1954. Also featured is the Bakersfield Sound in their early 20s. Can you name all the performers in the video?

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▸ July 14, 2015

BM pub 40s 4Anticipating Waylon and Willie’s outlaw country by a decade-plus, the “Bakersfield sound” sprouted in of California in the 1950s as a raw twangy riposte to the slick, syrupy sounds being ladled out of Nashville. Before Buck Owens and Merle Haggard made the Bakersfield sound famous (and the Grateful Dead, the Byrds, and other country- and roots-influenced ’60s bands rocked it up), its seeds were carried west out of the Dust Bowl by Depression-era migrants, planted in Central Valley honky tonks, and nurtured by The Cousin Herb Henson Trading Post TV Show, which hit local airwaves in 1953 and featured a rich-voiced singer, guitarist, and songwriter named Billy Mize.

From his TV perch Mize helped launch the sound out of Bakersfield, and he remained a recording artist and West Coast radio and television personality into the 1980s. But his influence exceeded his fame, and his life was scarred by tragedy: two sons died young, and a stroke at age 59 robbed Mize of his ability to speak and sing. His life, his singular impact on country music, and his painstaking effort to regain his voice are chronicled in Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound, a music documentary that more than most deserves to be called a labor of love: director William J. Saunders is Mize’s grandson. After a lengthy festival run the film came out on DVD and VOD last month (and it screens this weekend at the Macon Film Festival in Georgia). This is an edited version of an interview with Saunders by Chicago-based freelance writer, filmmaker, and friend of MFW Steve Karras; click here to listen an uncut audio version, done for the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival.

Steve Karras: What you had done prior to making this documentary?

William J. Saunders: I used to work at NFL Films, that was kind of my first job out of undergraduate. I was a producer there, making football documentaries, off-the-field stuff – stories on fans, stuff like that. I’d always wanted to go into fiction, and to do that I ended up going to graduate school at Columbia University. I started this documentary while I was there, as something that I knew needed to be done and [that] I wanted to do, before these gentlemen were too old to be able to interview. Some of them were passing away at the time.

Where did you grow up?

I split time between San Diego and Kansas City. I went to high school in Kansas City, so I say I’m from there. I was never really a fan of country music, and Billy didn’t have his ability to speak most of when I was growing up, so I didn’t really know a whole lot about him or his musical influence, or the Bakersfield sound in general. It was all discovery for me.

You go into a project like this and you don’t anticipate what it’s going to do to you on an emotional level. At what point during the production were you having epiphanies? Did that start from the beginning?

It was the whole thing. It seemed to evolve really slowly, but it seemed like every step I took I uncovered something more interesting than the last. I guess that’s really good if your making a film [laughs]. I didn’t know much, you know? As I was growing up, there wasn’t the access of the internet. There wasn’t a lot of information readily available on this subject, and there hasn’t been a lot written on it. There’s been one TV documentary, for PBS, I think, which came out ’95 or something. I really had to look to find that one. So every time I learned a little bit more about Billy’s life, a little bit more about the Bakersfield sound, it kept getting more and more exciting.

Did you notice doors opening up a little quicker because of his reputation preceding him?

Yeah. You know, obviously I had heard that Billy, my grandfather, had some ties to Merle Haggard. I didn’t realize how deep that went. I found out when I just put in the request to interview him and it happened right away. Merle was more than gracious in helping out. And talking to people like Willie Nelson and Ray Price about my grandfather and them just praising him – it was really incredible. I thought a lot about the fact that I was his grandson interviewing these guys and maybe they’re just sugarcoating stuff because I’m his relative. I tried to make sure that didn’t happen by prefacing things with, “I need to know the full story of Billy Mize, please tell me the truth as you know it and stick to that. I want to know all about the guy.” But people just continued to tell me these fantastic things about him – how great a person he was, how charismatic, how wonderful a musician he was. There’s really not a lot of bad stuff to say about Billy Mize.

What can you tell me about the difference between the Nashville country sound and the billysingsretouch1Bakersfield sound? It’s almost like a different American experience.

Everyone has, and I’m sure you do too, a different understanding of what that is. Everybody I asked had a different answer. My conclusion is that it’s just a label that was put on these individual musicians that shook the cage a little bit in country music – Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Billy Mize, and those guys who came out of that scene. They were all playing different types of music. You would say Billy Mize is part of the Bakersfield sound, and literally he was, but he wasn’t playing that Buck Owens-style music. He sang very smooth, more like the Nashville country that was more popular in his time. People say there’s a literal meaning of the Bakersfield sound, they know it when they hear it. I really just think it’s a label that’s been put on those individuals that rebelled against the Nashville sound.

William J. Saunders

There were a lot of great verite moments in your film about your grandfather. I was thinking about Albert Maysles’s style. Were you a fan of that direct cinema approach?

I am. It’s obviously all subjective, and I do have my opinions, but I do think documentaries are at their best when they are documenting. I’m not a big fan – I mean, I’ll watch a documentary that’s all about re-creations, people talking about the past or something, those are interesting and those have a place. But I’m more interested in documentaries that are unfolding as we watch them. I couldn’t do that in a lot of places with this documentary, obviously. It was really important to me to get all of that archive footage, and a lot of it is being shown for the first time in this documentary – some of the Cousin Herb stuff and The Billy Mize Show, some of his other TV. [But] I was very aware of those verite moments and wanted, as much as I could to put all of those in.

attends the premiere of "Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound" during the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival -at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on June 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

William J Saunders at the premiere of “Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound” during the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival.

Beyond his general accessibility because of you being related, did it take him a while to warm up to you making this film?

Not at all. He was on board right away. I think he was a little flattered that I wanted to make this piece on him. I don’t think he realized how long I would be working on it [laughs], or the extent to which I would go to research it. And there’s a lot of his personal life that comes out in this documentary, and I don’t think he understood that that was going to be just as important as far as the story was concerned as the rest of it. When we started talking about the more sensitive issues, tragedies that happened in his life, he pulled back sometimes and doesn’t talk about a lot of it. But he was always very willing. He’d always say, “Whatever you need.”

Are you a country music fan now?

I’m a fan of that music. One of the guys I interviewed for the documentary, Scott Bomar, just produced an album called The Other Side Of Bakersfield, a collection of Bakersfield B-sides, and and it is great. You can really kind of see what the barroom was like with this kind of music – real raw, just a few musicians pumping out some dance music. I’m a huge fan of that stuff.

By Steve Karras


▸ July 9, 2015

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We are thrilled to announce Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound will be playing at the Macon Film Festival on July 17th and July 19th. If you’re in Georgia and want to check out this award winning documentary film, click this link:


▸ June 17, 2015

Here is a great article on the Bakersfield Sound.


8573614484_5238f316d0_oAaron Gilbreath | Longreads | June 2015 | 18 minutes (4,437 words)

I came here looking for something

I couldn’t find anywhere else.

Hey, I’m not tryin’ to be nobody

I just want a chance to be myself.

 ─Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens, “Streets of Bakersfield”


On North Chester Avenue in Oildale, California, an 83-year-old honky-tonk named Trout’s stands down the block from a saloon with an aged western facade, and across the street from a liquor store that sells booze and Mexican candy. 

click link to read more: http://blog.longreads.com/2015/06/11/come-hear-my-song/

▸ June 17, 2015

BM_steel pose 50s iiBilly Mize and the Bakersfield Sound has received the Grand Jury Prize Best Documentary from the Barcelona Film Festival! We are thrilled to take Billy’s story and the Bakersfield Sound music to a new country and expand the fan base of both. Thank you Barcelona FF for embracing our film. 


▸ 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

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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 ▸

▸ September 11, 2014


BY JENNIFER SELF Californian lifestyles editor jself@bakersfield.com

The film had its world premiere in Los Angeles, but “Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound” finally comes home on Sept. 18, to a venue that doesn’t get more Bakersfield Sound-ified: Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace.

“Now it’s finally going to be played for the people who helped make it,” said filmmaker Joe Saunders, the grandson of Mize, a country music performer and television personality who, decades ago, joined Owens, Merle Haggard and their contemporaries in creating a raw and thoroughly original hybrid of rockabilly and honky-tonk that made the city famous.

“I met my grandfather as an adult — not literally — but I’ve learned so much more about him as an adult and have a deeper understanding and respect for him,” said Saunders, 35, a Los Angeles filmmaker.

The festivities kick off at 6 p.m. with, naturally, a little Bakersfield Sound music, courtesy of Tommy Hays and other local trailblazers of the 1950s and ’60s. The screening follows, at around 7 or 7:30.

Saunders hopes his grandfather will be able to attend, but a recent fall broke a vertebra in Mize’s back “and he’s kind of been immobile.” The filmmaker’s mother and aunt — Mize’s daughters — are expected, and Saunders has invited several Bakersfield Sound players, like Red Simpson and Bobby Durham. Read More ▸

▸ August 15, 2014


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. Read More ▸

▸ July 25, 2014

Bureau of Arts and Culture - whiteLOS ANGELES BUREAU OF ARTS AND CULTURE – SUMMER 2014 ISSUE

Billy MIZE & The Bakersfield Sound

History is sometimes told by outsiders, sometimes by insiders and sometimes by someone simply very interested in the facts, in this case: it’s a little of each. Billy MIZE and The Bakersfield Sound is a New Documentary that tells the story of California’s forgotten history. We have got a lot of those around this Golden State. So very much has happened out here in The West. William J. Saunders steps up to tell the story of his Grandfather, songwriter and musician, Mr. Billy Mize. A local legend of sorts for anyone living in the middle of California in the 1950’s & 1960’s. Billy Mize was a big part of what is now commonly called, ‘The Bakersfield Sound’. An offshoot of Country Western Music with its own Rock – a – Billy bar room blend of hard driving guitar, rough edged rhythm and wide audience appeal that to this today is influential to musicians such as Dave Alvin, who appears in this film to help tell the story. So too does Merle Haggard and a host of people who were there or highly influenced by the music that was created during that time. A hard driving, hard working community of people whom many migrated to California during The Great Depression ala John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and settled into middle California seeking employment in Agriculture. Read More ▸

▸ June 16, 2014

Hollywood Reporter

A filmmaker profiles his grandfather, one of country music’s leading lights of the ’50s and ’60s, and the influential Central California honky-tonk scene that he helped to build.

He lent his guitar to Buck Owens when the newcomer was auditioning for a club. Merle Haggard’s first TV appearance was on his show. Waylon JenningsBarbara Mandrell and Dean Martin, among many others, covered his songs. And no less a trendsetter than Elvis copied his sartorial style. Though he’s no household name, Billy Mize is a key figure in country music, and an affectionate documentary portrait shows that he had it all — smooth-as-silk voice, songwriting talent and good looks. But as Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound details, a series of exceedingly challenging personal setbacks put his career on a lower-altitude trajectory than anyone would have predicted. Read More ▸

▸ May 26, 2014

When California Sang Country

Documentary Recalls Billy Mize, and When Los Angeles Rivaled Nashville

By  MAY 25, 2014

Billy Mize, center, with other Bakersfield musicians during a live radio broadcast in the 1940’s. CreditCourtesy of Billy Mize

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.
Read More ▸

▸ May 13, 2014


Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound

Screening Schedule


Sat, Jun 14th 4:50pm
Regal Cinemas 10

Mon, Jun 16th 9:30pm
Regal Cinemas 12

For more information please phone 1-866-345-6337 or email boxoffice@filmindependent.org.
Downtown LA LIVE – CLICK HERE for directions Read More ▸

▸ June 6, 2013

Director William J Saunders talks about the making of the documentary on “First Look with Scott Cox.”

Read the full Bakersfield Californian article here.