BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A beloved veteran musician of the Bakersfield Sound era has died. The bodies of Larry Petree and his wife Betty were discovered on a desert dirt road east of California City Sunday afternoon.
Larry Petree played pedal steel guitar, the stringed, laptop instrument that gave certain songs, especially country music songs that lonesome, mournful tone, like that of a heartbreaking.
Hearts have been breaking across Bakersfield over the past day or so as word spreads about his tragic passing.
The bodies of Petree, 88, and his wife of more than 60 years, Betty, were discovered Sunday at about 2 p.m. on a deserted dirt road in the middle of the Mojave desert east of California City.
Larry’s body was in the driver’s seat of a car and Betty was outside, leaning against a rear tire. They had apparently run out of gas.
Where they were headed and by what intended route no one can say at this time. The sheriff’s department does not suspect a criminal act so homicide detectives were not called to the scene.
Larry Petree had just performed with a local band, the Soda Crackers, about three weeks ago at the Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame. But Petree, always meticulously punctual, had shown some signs of disorientation.
Kim Hays, a friend of the Petrees, had to go find him and lead him to the show.
Did confusion lead Larry and Betty Petree to this remote location in the desert? We may never know. What we do know is that they’ll be missed.
“He always had a smile on his face. He was just a sweetheart of a guy and he was always there to help other people. I just can’t believe they’re gone and in such a bizarre fashion,” Kim Hays said.
Larry Petree, born in Oklahoma in 1933, moved to Bakersfield in 1942 at the age of 9. He worked for years with Tommy Hays and the Western Swingsters, passing on offers to play for well-known artists but, except for an occasional gig, chose to keep his day job with the fire department for 30 years and stay home with Betty.
Tommy Hays said he and Petree could communicate with a nod on stage.
“He was a man in his own field. He was pretty determined. And he was so good,” Tommy Hays said.
Zane Adamo of the Soda Crackers might be just 29 years old but the fiddle-playing band leader has an appreciation for the Western Swing, the Bakersfield Sound and local stalwarts like Larry Petree.
“His smile is something I’ll never forget. When he smiled he had these big cheeks. And there’s no way you couldn’t smile when you saw Larry smiling. And just the nicest guy ever. And he had such good wisdom, and I remember talking to him and just listening to every word he said,” Adamo said.
Kim Hays says she has been in contact with the coroner’s office, which is attempting to contact the Petrees’ next of kin and has not yet confirmed their death. The Petrees reportedly do not have children or close relatives living in the area.
And so the Bakersfield Sound loses another important figure – Larry Petree, pedal steel guitar.