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, including Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, came from the Golden State. If this comes as a surprise to you, keep reading! In this post, we’re going to take a look at the ten most famous country singers from California.
Related: Check out our post of the top country artists of all time here.
1. Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard 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.”
His rough beginnings inspired music classified as Bakersfield sound—outlaw music too country for Nashville. Haggard pioneered the genre alongside Buck Owens.
2. Buck Ownes
Buck Owens was born in Texas and raised in Arizona but moved to Bakersfield, California when he was 21. He began his career playing at Phoenix honky-tonks.
Upon moving to Bakersfield, 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. Rich joined him, and they formed The Buckaroos band along with the Bakersfield sound.
Owens’ trailblazing perseverance granted him access to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
3. Jean Shepard
Jean Shepard grew up in Visalia, California, just outside Bakersfield. Shepard 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,” quickly reaching the number one Billboard spot.
A majority of Shepard’s singles 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
Yoakam got his start performing at rock clubs in LA. Shortly after, his song, “Guitars and Cadillacs,” appeared on an album showcasing new talent.
Reprise Records offered him a deal shortly after. 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
Lee Greenwood was born in South Gate, California but grew up in Sacramento. In 1960, Greenwood moved to Las Vegas to practice performing.
During a performance at the Nugget Casino, he caught the attention of Larry McFadden, Mel Tillis’ 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 amongst Greenwood’s countless awards.
6. Gary Allan
Gary Allan was born and raised in southeast Los Angeles in La Mirada. Music was a large part of his family’s life. By thirteen, Greenwood was singing alongside his dad at local honky-tonks.
After graduating high school, Allan continued singing in honky-tonks where he met the music producer Byron Hill. Impressed with Allan, 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, Allan has released 11 albums, with four songs reaching number one.
7. Lynn Anderson
Lynn Anderson was born in North Dakota but raised in Sacramento, California. She was the daughter of the notorious 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 granted her a Best Female Country Vocal Performance Grammy.
8. Jon Pardi
Jon Pardi is a modern country singer that reflects 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,” are certified four-time platinum, meaning they’ve been downloaded 4 million times.
9. Brett Young
Brett Young was born and raised in Orange County, California. Young was always interested in music but betting on a collegiate baseball career.
When an elbow injury ended things, he turned 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 seven number ones, including “In Case You Didn’t Know,” “Lady,” and “Mercy.”
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 number 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.