Most people expect country singers to hail from where life is most similar to a country song—Tennessee, Georgia, Texas. While these southern states produce a fair number of stars, some of the genre’s most notorious artists are from the places you’d least expect, such as California.
Big names, like Merle Haggard and Jean Shepard, was born in the Golden State, while others, like Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam, grew up or had their career start there.
If this comes as a surprise to you, keep reading! In this post, we’re going to take a look at the 10 of the most famous country singers from California.
Related: Check out our post of the top country artists of all time here.
1. Merle Haggard
We’ll begin this list with country legend Merle Haggard. He was born at the tail-end of the Great Depression in Oildale, California, just north of Bakersfield. At nine years old, Haggard lost his father, spiraling him into a fit of lawlessness.
During Haggard’s stint of criminality, he dabbled in music, occasionally performing at nightclubs. But it wasn’t until Johnny Cash performed at the San Quentin Prison during Haggard’s incarceration that he committed to pursuing music.
Upon his release, Haggard sang in clubs and quickly gained the attention of Tally Records and eventually Capitol Records, where he released multiple Gold and Platinum albums, including Okie from Muskogee.
Haggard’s rough beginnings inspired music classified as Bakersfield sound—outlaw music too country for Nashville, and he pioneered the genre alongside our next singer, Buck Owens.
2. Buck Owens
Born in Texas, Buck Owens was raised in Arizona but moved to Bakersfield, California, when he was 21. Upon moving, Owens secured work playing backup for Capitol Record artists and performing at the notorious Blackboard honky-tonk.
Eventually, Owens left Bakersfield for Tacoma, where he first heard Don Rich perform and immediately suggested they collaborate. The duo received much attention, prompting Capitol Records to sign Owens.
He returned to Bakersfield with Rich shortly following him, and they soon formed the Buckaroos band and developed what’s called the Bakersfield sound. Together with the band, Owens became popular during the late ’60s, early ’70s, and released seven charting albums.
Owens’s trailblazing perseverance granted him access to two halls of fame: the Nashville Songwriters and Country Music.
3. Jean Shepard
Honky-tonk singer Jean Shepard grew up in Visalia, California, just outside Bakersfield. She was one of the first women to make a career out of country music.
In high school, she organized a female country group called the Melody Ranch Girls. Like Haggard and Owens, Shepard maintained a honky-tonk Bakersfield edge. It stood out to Capitol Records, who signed her in 1952.
Soon after, Shepard released “A Dear John Letter,” which quickly reached the #1 Billboard spot as well as #4 on the pop chart. This was quickly followed by another successful single “Forgive Me John.”
A majority of Shepard’s songs charted after this breakthrough. Later in her career, she became an Opry artist and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
4. Dwight Yoakam
Actor, direct, and singer-songwriter Dwight Yoakam did not grow up in California, but he moved to Los Angeles at 21, where he lives today. He brought a honky-tonk sound along with him, making him the perfect fit for Bakersfield.
Yoakam got his start performing at rock clubs in LA. Shortly after, his song “Guitars, Cadillacs” appeared on an album showcasing new talent. Reprise Records, liking what they heard, offered him a deal.
It wasn’t before Yoakam went on to sell 25 million records, seven of which went Platinum. However, “Streets of Bakersfield,” a collaboration with Owens, is Yoakam’s most beloved hit, as it brought the pioneer of Bakersfield sound out of retirement.
5. Lee Greenwood
Next we have patriotic singer Lee Greenwood, who was born in South Gate, California, but grew up in Sacramento. In 1960, Greenwood moved to Las Vegas to practice performing, where he caught the attention of Larry McFadden, Mel Tillis’s bassist.
McFadden helped Greenwood land a record deal with MCA, where he released multiple Billboard hits, including “It Turns Me Inside Out” and “Going Going Gone.” “God Bless the U.S.A” is Greenwood’s best-known hit and the only song to chart top five on three separate occasions.
The American country singer’s vocals are just as impressive as his lyrics. A Best Country Vocal Performance Grammy is among Greenwood’s many awards.
6. Gary Allan
Born and raised in southeast Los Angeles, music was a large part of Gary Allan family’s life. By thirteen, Greenwood was singing alongside his dad at local honky-tonks.
After graduating high school, Allan continued singing in clubs where he met the music producer Byron Hill. Impressed with Allan’s skills, Hill kept in touch and eventually helped him land his first deal with Decca Records.
Allan’s first album included the hit single “Her Man,” which quickly charted top 10. Since then, he has released 11 albums, with four songs reaching #1.
7. Lynn Anderson
Though born in North Dakota, our next singer, Lynn Anderson, was raised in Sacramento, California. She was the daughter of the notable songwriter Liz Anderson and was destined for stardom.
Anderson accompanied her mother on a trip to Nashville, where they casually sang together. Her voice interested a producer from Chart Records, where she later signed.
Anderson’s mother wrote her first hit, “Ride, ride, ride,” but she quickly made her own name when she released the international hit “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden.” The song landed the singer a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
8. Jon Pardi
The sound of Jon Pardi is one of modern country fused with the honky-tonk sound of Haggard and Owens. Pardi was born and raised near Sacramento, in Dixon, California, and enjoyed music from a very young age.
He played in a country band throughout high school and college. In 2008, Pardi chased his music career all the way to Nashville. After a year and a half, Capitol Records signed him.
Since then, Pardi has released five albums, four number one singles, and nine platinum singles. His singles “Head Over Boots” and “Dirt On My Boots” have been downloaded 4 million times, becoming certified four-time Platinum.
9. Brett Young
Hailing from Orange County, California, Brett Young was always interested in music. However, he went on to pursue a collegiate baseball career. When an elbow injury ended things, he turned back to music.
Young started performing pop-country in Los Angeles listening rooms. As he gained traction, he moved to Nashville, where the Big Machine Label Group signed him.
Young draws inspiration from love, his marriage, and his family. The artist’s sentiment has secured him 7 number ones, including “In Case You Didn’t Know,” “Lady,” and “Mercy.”
Camaron Marvel Ochs, better known as Cam, was born in Huntington Beach, California, and raised in Lafayette, near the Bay Area. She got her start as a songwriter for pop artists like Miley Cyrus.
Before pursuing songwriting, Cam studied psychology at UC Davis, studied abroad, and researched in Stanford’s labs, where she learned that she loved music more than anything.
In 2010, she released her first album, followed by a few singles and an extended play. However, Cam’s song “Burning House” thrust her into the spotlight. The song reached Billboard‘s #2 two spot and secured a triple-Platinum certification.
Cam is notorious for her boldness. She stands up for what is right in the industry and inspires other female country singers to do the same.
Summing Up Our List Of California Country Singers
Some of the bravest country singers come from California. Trailblazers like Haggard, Owens, and Shepard paved the way for today’s pioneers, such as Pardi and Cam.
From outlaw music to pop country, California country artists continue to shape the genre just as significantly as artists that come from states like Tennessee and Texas.
Have we left out a singer that should be on this list? Let us know and we’ll add them!