📸 P. MASTRO

dr blt: a candid conversation near the streets of bakersfield

“Bakersfield Sound’s Ambassador to Southern California” makes history with new trilogy release

San Diego country resident, Dr BLT, was born and raised on the prairies of western Canada, and lived in Bakersfield in 1988, 1992-95, and again, in 2002-2012 with his wife, Roxie.

While residing in Bakersfield, Dr BLT walked with, and sang with, Buck Owens, along with about 100 other Bakersfield residents, in a CMT filming that featured Buck’s biggest hit, “Streets of Bakersfield,” written by Dr BLT’s since-deceased friend, Homer Joy. 
Dr BLT has written and recorded many songs inspired by the Bakersfield Sound, including two LPs worth of originals.
From Buck Owens Blvd to Merle Haggard Drive (Volumes One and Two). 

yeah: Tell us about your new release, ‘The Day Trout’s Burned to the Ground’. What’s the inspiration behind it?

Dr BLT: My latest release is a story-telling single about an historic Bakersfield honky-tonk that burned to the ground on the morning of April 18, 2022. The nightclub opened in 1945, but became a ‘happening’ spot for rising stars of the Bakersfield Sound in the 1960s. The Bakersfield Sound was to country music in the 1960s as punk was to disco in the 1970s. It was a reaction to the overly-produced, contrived, formula-driven music that was coming out of Nashville at the time. The biggest stars of the Bakersfield Sound were Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. I met my wife in Bakersfield. Our only child (a daughter who is now 16 years of age) was born there, and Trout’s was my favorite place to hear country music that was rough, raw, energetic and straight-from-the-heart. I made many memories there. My family has since moved to San Diego, but during the approximately 13 years that I lived there, my music was greatly influenced by the Bakersfield Sound. It was there that Buck Owens heard a song I wrote about him, and compared me to Johnny Cash.

I had written prior songs about Trout’s. Those songs captured it Trout’s when it was alive. I also wanted to memorialize its ‘death’, and so I wrote and recorded this song. It is paired with two other songs that tell true stories about the country music coming from Bakersfield: “Still In the Game (The Ballad of Tommy Hays)” and “A Trouble Shooter Shot Me Down”. The first song is about one of the last remaining honky-tonk heroes of the Bakersfield Sound era, and the second is about a villain tied to the same country music scene. He cheated and swindled many a Bakersfield Sound country artist, but the trouble caught up to him. He is alive, and in prison, but shall remain nameless. I have put out several albums inspired by the Bakersfield Sound, but since leaving Bakersfield, I have taken it upon myself to carry on the tradition by assuming the role of the Bakersfield Sound Ambassador to Southern California. Of course the Bakersfield Sound is not my only influence, and country music is not my only genre, but the Bakersfield Sound is a major influence, and its a unique sound. I want to be a part of its lingering influence and its evolution.

can you talk us through your songwriting process?

My songwriting process typically begins with a song title that captures an experience, an event or a feeling.
On occasion, entire songs come to me in dreams. I wake up and immediately grab a recording device, and record the song in a very rough form. Once I have a song title, and a corresponding song concept, I grab my guitar, strum a few chords, and the song pretty much writes itself from there, the music and words together.

Since I write songs very quickly, I’ll eventually forget I even wrote them, if I don’t record them in some form. So I usually immediately create a quick, extremely rough vocal and guitar version of the song. Then post it on YouTube, where I can conveniently revisit it. That’s also where fans who prefer my roughest recordings, can check out my songs minutes after I write them.

I have probably written thousands of songs, so far, in my lifetime. Writing thousands of songs is like having thousands of children. You want to provide them all the best care, and send them off to the best schools, and give them the best possible start in life, but end up losing track of most of them.

who were your musical heroes growing up?

My first musical heroes were the Beatles. I was first exposed to them at the age of 4, when my grandma took my siblings and I shopping at the Hudson’s Bay Company, a department store in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I walked by the record department, and there were Beatles albums everywhere, and they were playing “She loves you, yeah yeah yeah!” It was infectious and I could not get it out of my head. Shortly thereafter, I received my first guitar, a Bugs Bunny guitar that had strings, but also had a crank that played a song, when you turned it. I played and sang with that toy guitar at the top of my lungs, feeling like I was channeling Paul McCartney.

As I grew up, I began to collect more and more musical heroes, including Bachman-turner Overdrive, Wynn Stewart (of the Bakersfield Sound), Johnny Cash, Gordon Lightfoot, Edward Bear, Terry Jacks, The Rolling Stones, ELO, Queen, Bee Gees, Commodores, Sweet, Elton John, Abba, Stevie Wonder, Cal Smith, Eddie Money, Olivia Newton-John, Boston, Hot Chocolate, and many others.

My influences are varied. I grew up listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40, and, as such was exposed to a variety of rock, country crossover, and pop of the 70s and 80s, and my music, and the way I use music in the therapy that I do as a psychologist was eventually featured on the show as well.

what’s the strangest gig you’ve ever played?

I wrote a song about my most unusual gig. It was held at Borders Book Store in Bakersfield, California. It was on a hot August night in the early 2000s. The song is called “My Last Gig.” It was strange because, there was something very magical that seemed to be taking place the night of that gig. Though few fans showed up, more and more folks that just came to check out the books, started to be drawn to the music. They were mesmerized by it, and did not hold back in expressing their appreciation. There were also a few other artists I invited as special guests and I was really into the music they were performing, and their music moved me to write the song. The song told the story about the gig as it unfolded, and ended with the idea that any gig could be our last. That applies to any musician, young or old. We just never know how long our journey will last or how it will end, so we have to appreciate every gig and every song, and every experience we have as musicians. It’s simply a pleasure, a privilege and a great honor and joy to be able to play music and to participate in the creative process.
Coming in a close second, as a favorite gig, was the first concert as the lead singer of a punk blues band called Uncle Bruce and the Nephews. It was held at Fresno Pacific University in 1981. We were treated like the Beatles, when they first came to America, the crowd went absolutely wild.

What have you been listening to recently?

Much to my chagrin, to a large extent, I’ve become “that guy stuck in a particular decade,” when it comes to music. The 70s was, and is, my favorite decade, followed by the 60s, and then the 80s. My favorite acts of those bygone days are Gordon Lightfoot, Johnny Cash, the Bee Gees, Abba, and Elton John.

Beyond that, I would say that I enjoy Beck, Maneskin, Harry Styles, Panic at the Disco, Black Keys, Foo Fighters and Green Day. I also love Cake, partly because of the Johnny Cash influence, but mostly because they gave me a cameo in their MTV-music-awards-nominated hit music video, for Short Skirt/Long Jacket.

alright, now after the release of your latest single, what can fans expect from you down the road?

Well, sadly, another hot spot from the Bakersfield Sound era also just burned down, almost exactly one month after Trout’s. It’s called Chet’s Club.

I told that story in a new song called All that’s Left of Chet’s (Her Burnin’ Memories)”

I had no memories of that place, so I had to borrow from the memories of others, and from my imagination. It’s important to pass on their memories to keep those memories alive. It’s a fact-meets-fiction story-telling song. I’m not sure when that one will be released. But I plan to soon throw my fans for a loop, by releasing an EDM dance groove called “Nothin’ but Dancin’”, which will feature my wife, Roxie FT on vocals. Then my daughter, who goes by Hyperqctive, will cover a rock song of mine called “High Society”.

Those two will come out in June, as singles, as will a new song called “Out in Oildale”, a new country song, in the Bakersfield Sound tradition, about Merle Haggard’s home town, just on the outskirts of Bakersfield, and the home of the now-burned-to-the-ground, Trout’s.

In the meantime, I recently rolled out a new Facebook LIVE show called Dr BLT’s Bakersfield Sound Garden Party, a performance of covers of old songs from the Bakersfield Sound era, and songs of mine inspired by that era. It will come from Steph’s Donut Hole, in Alpine, California, every Saturday and Sunday morning from about 8-10 am PST. So stay “tuned”.