KUZZ GETS UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH GILL

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BY JENNIFER SELF Californian lifestyles editor jself@bakersfield.com

Setting aside an hour of radio time to play a new album that pays respects to the man who founded the station seems like the most obvious decision in the history of no-brainers.

Not so, said the disc jockey who scored an interview with Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, who will release the musical equivalent of a bear hug — titled “Bakersfield,” no less – on Tuesday.

Related Info

KUZZ interview with Vince Gill and Paul Franklin

When: 8 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday

Where: KUZZ (55 AM and 107.9 FM)

“This is a very special feature we’re working on. It doesn’t happen very often,” said Toni-Marie, KUZZ DJ and music director, who prefers to use only her first name, as she does on the air.

“I can’t tell you the last time we did something like this.”

But then it’s not every day that an artist of Gill’s caliber uses his prodigious talents to pay homage to other giants of the country genre, in this case Merle Haggard and the late Buck Owens, who bought KUZZ in 1966 and whose heirs still run the station.

“I thought Vince nailed every damn song,” said program director and disc jockey Tom Jordan. “It’s radio friendly from the first to the last cut, so I said, ‘Why don’t we play all the cuts?’ At the promotion meeting they said, ‘Are you crazy?’ I said Toni would interview Vince and they said, ‘Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.’”

Jordan’s faith was rewarded a couple of weeks ago when Gill and Franklin spent over an hour on the phone with Toni-Marie, reflecting on each of the 10 cuts on “Bakersfield” and their shared worship of Haggard and Owens.

“Vince talked about how with the Buck Owens songs, that he had to sing a little higher and had to have his tighter britches on,” Toni-Marie said of the free-wheeling interview.

“Vince can’t sing as low as Merle, so he had to sing in a different key than what Merle sang.”

The standout cut for the disc jockey was Gill’s tender version of “Together Again,” though she gives the entire album “a 37 on a scale of one to 10.”

“I listened to it a couple of times and it’s a phenomenal, amazing record. You don’t even have to be looking at the cut list to tell you which song is from which artist and even though they didn’t do songs note for note, it still has the ‘This is a Buck Owens song, this is a Merle Haggard song’ — just from the tone.”

Hailing from Tipton up the valley — “where there are more cows than people” she joked — Toni-Marie became acquainted with the Bakersfield Sound by listening to KUZZ, where she has worked for seven years.

“I grew up listening to (long-time disc jockey) Casey McBride. She hates when I say that, but I did. She was one of the reasons I went into radio.”

Among the others was the influence of her grandfather, who was a fan of “Hee Haw,” Owens’ legendary, albeit cornpone, music and variety show.

“It’s a comfort when I hear a Buck Owens or Merle Haggard song. Anyone who’s into music will know what I mean by that.”

Gill and Franklin certainly can relate. During the hourlong program — which will spin the new album in its entirety — the old friends get pretty loose.

“Vince is a cut-up. If music doesn’t work out for him, he could be a standup comic. Both of them are just natural, easygoing talkers. Here I am talking with legendary musicians and it’s almost like talking to my best friend having a cup of coffee.

“I was so nervous, I got here so early, I was stressing out so hard and after an hour and 15 minutes passes, I’m like, ‘Hey, y’all gotta go.’ Paul was due in the studio with Kellie Pickler.”

As for whether cuts from “Bakersfield” will make it into the regular KUZZ rotation, that’s up to listeners, said the disc jockey, who gets a little more leeway to deviate from the station’s contemporary-country playlist during her 7-to-midnight show.

“I don’t see why you wouldn’t play it. It’s Bakersfield. We still play Buck, Merle, Johnny Cash, Waylon. If we didn’t, our listeners would probably have a coronary.”

But will the demographic fueling the genre’s current obsession with youth be open to the record?

“We get as many requests from young kids for older music as I do from the older listeners. When the younger people listen to the album, if they’re not familiar with the Bakersfield Sound, Vince said he hopes that at least one song will spark their interest and that they dig deeper.”


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