Bill Woods, Creator of “Bakersfield Sound,” Dies At 75

Bill Woods, the man credited with creating the hard-driving “Bakersfield Sound” later made famous by Buck Owens, died Sunday (April 30) in Bakersfield of a stroke. He was 75.

Billy Lee Woods was born May 12, 1924, in Denison, Texas. He moved with his family to Visalia, Calif., just before the start of World War II. According to his obituary in the Bakersfield Californian, Woods worked in the shipyards in Richmond, Calif., during the war and began playing music with his fellow workers during lunch breaks. A guitarist, he toured with Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys and then with Tommy Duncan.

Woods settled in Bakersfield in 1950 and formed the Orange Blossom Playboys. For the next 14 years, his group was the house band for the Blackboard night club. In his capacity as bandleader, he hired young guitarist Buck Owens, encouraging him to sing as well. Later, he brought Merle Haggard into the band. Singer Red Simpson was another Woods’ protégé.

Besides leading his band, Woods also did live radio shows and worked as a disc jockey in Bakersfield. During the late ’40s and early ’50s, Woods recorded for a number of small record labels but never made the national charts. A part-time stock car racer, Woods was twice injured severely during the 1960s. While he never recovered fully, he was able to tour for a while as Haggard’s piano player.

During Woods’ last years, he was confined to a wheelchair as the result of hip-replacement surgery, the Bakersfield Californian reports. He is survived by his wife, Angela, and nine children. He will be buried Saturday in Bakersfield. Details of the final service are still pending.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to