BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Few people are likely to associate these names with Bakersfield music history: Ike and Tina Tuner, James Brown, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Billy Preston. But they are also part of this story, about the so-called Chitlin Circuit.
The music and lively action in the side-by-side clubs and along what was then Lakeview Avenue may be hard to imagine considering how things are now. Fifty years ago, Lakeview was one of the busiest stretches of street in the former Mayflower-Sunset District in southeast Bakersfield.
The energy was akin to the original Chitlin Circuit, an informal entertainment pipeline that brought black actors, comedians, and musicians to venues in the country’s eastern, southern, and upper Midwest from the turn of the century to the segregated days of the 1970s.
A later version of the racetrack also took them through California – and Bakersfield. They called them blues reviews.
While the whites honked at clubs like the Blackboard and the Clover Club, the blacks tore it up on Lakeview Avenue – now known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard – in music venues like Cotton Club, Delwood Club, and Mom’s Place – from East California Avenue to East Brundage to south on Cottonwood to Planz Road – and finally in mixed dance halls like Rainbow Garden, the later known as Harmony Garden, merges onto Union Avenue. Today it’s the Kern County Basque Club.
Janie Randle was a regular at the clubs along Lakeview from 1962, along with her husband James Randle. Some clubs could be dangerous – shootings are not uncommon, especially in places like the Delwood. But she had a great time.
“The Delwood Club was a club you go into and they didn’t ask you for a license for alcohol or anything back then,” she said. “You sold beer. You brought your own liquor. “
The Cotton Club across the street and one block down, owned by Jay and Emily Collins, was so much a favorite that the Randles eventually bought it.
Now the building is a guitar store and an auto parts store. At least these buildings are still standing. Many, like the Delwood, are not.
While Merle Haggard and Red Simpson were entertaining Okies a few miles away, a whole constellation of stars came through Bakersfield.
Little Richard. Fat dominoes. BB King. Albert King. Bobby Blue Bland. Etta James. The plates. Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Little Milton. Wilson Pickett. Ike Turner – whose wife liked to come through Bakersfield because she had an extended family here. Yes, that would be Tina Turner. Some of the groups that played here were local, like the Paradons, whose singer Charles Weldon later became a Broadway actor and worked with the likes of Denzel Washington and Cicely Tyson.
Weldon, like so many other blacks who came to Bakersfield in the 1940s, escaped poverty and deeply ingrained discrimination of the South – Arkansas – for many. They settled in the so-called Mayflower-Sunset District and worked as farm laborers, digging potatoes and picking cotton. Difficult as it was, most found it better than the place they had left.
Such was the case of Bobo, Miss., Born bluesman Robert “Bilbo” Walker, who came to Bakersfield to pick cotton and earned dual citizenship – the San Joaquin Valley and the Mississippi Blues Trail – for the rest of his life. maintained.
Like the Okies who worked in the oil fields to the north, the Blacks of the Mayflower District looked for live music for their weekend entertainment – rock, jazz, soul, and especially blues.
Danny Johnson, himself a performer, remembers many great shows on Lakeview.
“I like that performance that Bobby” Blue “Bland did when he came here,” said Johnson. “He’s done a hell of a lot down here, he and BB King. I think they did a double duo down here in a club and everyone, it was just full, man, you couldn’t get up there.
“I’ve spoken a lot with Albert King. Albert King was a damn … I love Albert King. I love him, but Little Milton … was a bad boy – hoo! I think Little Milton came to the (Harmony) garden. … Little Milton was bad. He made ‘blind man’. Man, I love blind people. That was cold blues right there. You probably heard it:
“Standing on a corner,” Johnson sang, “screaming out the blues.” He said I don’t want a dollar and won’t give me a dime – until you bring my little girl back. ‘
“Boy, when this band hit it, boom, ‘I can’t let them go. ‘Boy, you went crazy down there when Little Milton did’ Blind Man ‘. “
Johnson had another favorite.
“Wilson Pickett is the fool down here, that guy,” he said. “He played so cool. I have to say Wilson Pickett was a bad act down here too. You know that he loved performing in front of his people. He loved it, man. This boy could scream as loud as he was, like James Brown. “
Don Allen, whose bands opened up to many major regional and national acts, said Lakeview Sound reached other areas of the city and audiences of all colors by the 1970s.
“They migrated from the Lakeview area to other clubs like the Bakersfield Inn, the Star, the Casa Royale (Maison) Jaussaud, and other places like this – the Hacienda, Black Angus – so that’s where they started migrating in other areas of Bakersfield.
“And I think we had a ticket – we had a ticket – I want to say it was (Maison) Jaussaud that night, not on Lakeview, but (Maison) Jaussaud, was the Ray Charles Review and then Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson. So that was in the early, early ’70s. “
However, as with the town’s country music honky tonks, Lakeview ran out of time. It happens. Years go by, taste in music changes, neighborhoods develop. But history has to be remembered.
If you know the history of Bakersfield, you will know the legend of Blackboard, Clover Club and Lucky Spot. It turned out there was a lot more to it than just Okie music.