California alt-rock stalwarts Cracker explore both the punk and country sides to their sound on the double LP Berkeley to Bakersfield. One of the highlights of the project — that is quickly becoming a live favorite, judging by a recent performance at City Winery in Nashville — is “California Country Boy,” sung by guitarist Johnny Hickman. The group put together a “video essay” for the song, which Rolling Stone Country is premiering above.
A twangy shit-kicker of a tune, “California Country Boy” makes the case that, yes indeed, the rural country lifestyle exists in the land of models and movie stars. “Ain’t no palm trees where I come from, no big waves crashing on the shore,” Hickman sings over a barroom shuffle, dispelling any notion that the Golden State is solely the idyllic version presented in popular culture.
Singer David Lowery, who cofounded Cracker with Hickman in 1991, suggests their part of California is more hillbilly than Beverly Hills. “Both areas of California that I live, which was Southern California, out by the Inland Empire, and Santa Cruz, had this longstanding country music connection. At my high school that I went to, one of the social cliques was the cowboy,” Lowery tell Rolling Stone Country. “You had the preppy kids, the stoners, and the tobacco-chewing, cowboy boot-wearing rancher cowboys.”
“California Country Boy” also salutes the rich farming lifestyle of the state, calling out areas like the Salinas Valley for its “farms as far as the eye can see.”
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“The town I grew up in, Redlands, was very famous for its orchards. It was an agricultural region,” Lowery says, linking the industry to the country music that resonated throughout the area. “We had a famous honky-tonk in San Bernardino, and then of course you have the low desert of the Coachella Valley. They had rodeos there and now the Stagecoach Festival there. So the part of California I lived in might as well have been in Nevada or west Oklahoma.”
Local radio, Lowery adds, helped disseminate a wide mix of country music, particularly the subservice KFAT, which ceased broadcasting in the Eighties but whose legacy has been carried on by KPIG, near Santa Cruz. “It was the hippie side of country music,” he says. “It was one of the first of what we now call Americana stations.”
Cracker return to the road in support of Berkeley to Bakersfield on February 13th with an appearance in Salt Lake City.