OWENS PASSES AWAY
03-25-2006 KUZZ Radio owner and Country Music Hall of Fame musician Alvis E. "Buck" Owens died early Saturday morning at his Bakersfield, CA home. His family says Buck died in his sleep and the cause of death is not yet known. Buck was born on August 12, 1929 in Sherman, Texas. The son of a sharecropper, Buck traveled with his family to the Phoenix, Arizona area in 1937 as they searched for a better life. Eventually, they traveled to California's San Joaquin Valley, doing farm work. At a young age Buck vowed that when he grew up, he would not be poor. He found a way out of his family's poverty through his musical talent.
That talent blossomed after Buck moved to Bakersfield in 1951. Within months he was a member of the hottest honky-tonk band in town, Bill Woods & The Orange Blossom Playboys, who held forth at the legendary Blackboard night club. He began playing a Fender Telecaster guitar, which provided a unique new sound in country music. Soon he was playing for recording sessions at Capitol Records. His first session as a leader came in 1957, but the session produced no hits
Shortly thereafter, Buck began his other career, as a broadcaster. He moved to the Tacoma, Washington suburb of Puyallup and bought part-interest in a radio station, where he worked as a DJ and ad salesman as well as playing gigs in the area. He also had a live TV show in Tacoma.
Buck's first Top 10 record, "Under Your Spell Again," was released in 1959. In 1960, he sold his interests in Washington state and returned to Bakersfield, which was his home until he died. From 1962 to 1968 Buck released a series of #1 records that established him as one of the greatest country entertainers of all time. akersfield has strong historical ties to Country music. Located at the Southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley, agriculture is the city’s second biggest industry. Much of the population is made up of American refugees from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma and the dry plains of Texas who settled here during and after the Great Depression. The cavernous dance hall, the Rainbow Gardens, was located just south of Bakersfield and was a regular stopping point for touring Country and Western groups like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. It was in small Bakersfield honky tonks that homegrown future stars like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens honed their craft. In 1958, radio station KIKK went on the air playing Country and Western music for Bakersfield. In 1960 the call letters were changed to KUZZ. Local Country and Western television star Herb Henson was the station manager. In fact, he effected the call letter change to reflect his own stage moniker, "Cousin" Herb Henson. At that time KUZZ was at 800 on the AM dial as a ‘daytimer,’ a station which was prohibited by the FCC from broadcasting after sundown.
Buck Owens purchased KUZZ from its owners in 1966 at the 800 AM position and a year later purchased the 107.9 frequency, bringing it to Bakersfield from San Clemente. Owens immediately put the FM station on the air as alternative rock station KBBY-FM, programming mainly ‘underground’ rock and roll while Owens continued to play Country and Western music on KUZZ. Station newsletters from the late 60s show that KUZZ broadcast regularly scheduled Farm Reports and an hourly Gospel Moment with everything closing down at sunset.
Following the 1969 demise of Owens’ KBBY-FM, Buck quickly switched the call letters to KZIN-FM, showing its ties to KUZZ-AM and changing the programming to Country and Western. KZIN was a 24-hour signal, which differed from its sister station only slightly by playing more album product and often giving newer artists stronger airplay than KUZZ. The idea of a 24-hour Country AM station was still uppermost in Owens’ mind and, in 1977, plans were finalized to purchase the 970 AM position then occupied by rival Country station KBIS. At the same time, KUZZ’s 800 AM daytime frequency was sold to the Four Square Gospel Church headquartered in Los Angeles. Their plans were to broadcast a Christian format out of Bakersfield.
In January 1977, KUZZ and KZIN-FM officially split on-air at midnight with the song "New Kid In Town" by the Eagles (a rather neat way of signaling that KZIN was now KKXX-FM, an album oriented Rock station). KUZZ was now 24-hours, full-time Country music, which was what company president Buck Owens had wanted all along...or was it?
By the early 1980s, technology had progressed to the point where AM stereo was a reality rather than a dream. Owens began to take a long serious look at possibilities in the Bakersfield market. By 1984 he had increased KUZZ’s transmitting power to 5,000 watts and purchased another station ’s lower dial position from which to broadcast. The station was KAFY (formerly the number one rock station during the 1960s) which, by the early 80’s, was now Country with the very attractive dial position of 550 AM.
Simply stated, the two stations would merely exchange positions on the dial. Not so simply, it was an unprecedented move in broadcasting. The FCC could cite many cases whereby one station had purchased another’s dial position, but none that had ever exchanged frequencies. In Bakersfield a concerted promotional effort by KUZZ eased the historic exchange, and the KUZZ listening audience moved down the dial to 550 AM along with the station. In the minds of station personnel, this was an important transition because KUZZ had, since 1978, been occupying the number one spot according to the Arbitron Survey ratings. Rarely out of the top three stations in the market, KUZZ usually alternated with sister station KKXX in the top position.
The Bakersfield radio market truly belonged to Buck: two top stations, two extremely popular and winning formats but another major change was on the horizon. AM stereo wasn’t working. The public wasn’t purchasing AM stereo units and, with competitors threatening to bring the Country format to the FM band, Owens answered the challenge in 1988 by replacing KKXX with KUZZ. By simulcasting Owens got the clean FM sound the Country audience demanded and the enormous coverage afforded by the AM d
Grayson County, Texas sits along the Red River, which separates Texas from Oklahoma. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in Denison, just south of the river. Sherman, the County Seat, lies south of Denison. Dallas is 50 miles further south.
Alvis Edgar Owens Sr., a native of Texas, and his wife, Arkansas native Maicie Azel Owens, tilled the land at their farm outside Sherman. The Owenses were sharecroppers, trying to make a living to support their children. Mary, the first, was born in 1927. On August 12, 1929, Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr. was born. Two other children would follow, Melvin in 1931, and Dorothy in 1934.
At times Alvis Sr. worked at a dairy farm in Garland, Texas, near Dallas. That life, his eldest son remembers, was difficult. “You get up about 2-3 o’clock in the morning and get through about 7 or 8 and 12 hours later you start all over. That’s the worst kind of work a person can do. You have to do these two shifts to get one day.”
“Buck” was a mule on the Owens farm. When Alvis Jr. was three or four years old, he walked into the house and announced that his name was also Buck. That was fine with the family; the boy was Buck from then on. Music was an integral part of the Owens family. Maicie Owens played the piano and exposed her children to gospel music through visits to a number of churches before joining a Southern Baptist Church. The eldest Owens children worked in the fields as soon as they were old enough. America’s Great Depression wreaked havoc on most parts of the nation. In rural Texas and Oklahoma, impoverished to begin with, the effects were even more devastating. In response to the Depression and crippling dust storms that destroyed countless farms, thousands of Texans and Oklahomans, faced with starvation, uprooted and moved west. That event inspired John Steinbeck’s classic American novel The Grapes of Wrath.
Young Buck Owens saw no romance in the sharecropper’s life. “We were sharecroppers…we were a little bit of everything. We farmed and tried to make something. The landowner furnished seed and the land we furnished the labor. And you got a share of it, usually a 50-50 basis on the profit, and sometimes there wasn’t a lot of profit. In the ‘30’s, it wasn’t the desired thing. And along comes The Grapes of Wrath syndrome and blows everybody out.”
In November of 1937, when Buck was eight, the Owenses decided that their future also lay to the west. Alvis Owens built a trailer to hold the family’s belongings. He, his wife, and children, Buck’s Uncle Vernon and Aunt Lucille, their infant son Jimmy and Maicie Owens’ mother, Mary Myrtle – a total of ten people – piled into a 1933 Ford sedan and headed west. They only stopped to cook and sleep along the way.
The trailer hitch broke in Phoenix. Since they had relatives in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, the family settled there, doing farm work as they had in Texas. They worked at Arizona dairy and fruit farms and occasionally traveled to the rich farming regions of California’s San Joaquin valley, harvesting vegetables around Tracy and peaches near Modesto, carrots in Porterville, cotton and potatoes in Bakersfield. Alvis Owens occasionally drove trucks and dug ditches, too.
This hardscrabble life left a lasting impression on young Buck Owens. The financial insecurity, discomfort, and suffering kindled a fire of determination within him. He had no idea yet how to achieve his goals. But he knew without question what he didn’t want.
“That was where my dream began to take hold, of not havin’ to pick cotton and potatoes, and not havin' to be uncomfortable, too hot or too cold. That in itself had driven me to try to find some better way of life. I remember as a kid being cold a lot, and hungry sometimes. We’d go to bed with just cornbread and milk, and I remember wearing shoes with holes in the bottom. I remember having twine for shoestrings: You take old black shinola polish and try to make ‘em look black, and that only makes ‘em look worse. I remember the hand-me-down clothes.”
“But most distinctly, I remember always saying to myself that when I get big, I’m not going to go to bed hungry, I’m not going to wear hand-me-down clothes. I’m not going to have homemade haircuts done by my mother; she cut our hair until we were about 12 or 13 years old. Just the fright of having to live a life through that…although even then, I was cognizant that half the people I went to school with were just exactly like me.”
The family’s work needs meant that Buck changed schools often. However, at least part of his dream of a better life took shape in school. He hated writing book reports or school papers, but found he could satisfy many of those requirements by singing or performing in small plays. He involved himself in such activities whenever possible. “I think even then,” he says, “I was looking to be somebody.”
Buck Owens turned 13. Having completed the eighth grade, he looked for work during his summer vacation and had no trouble finding it. So many men were in uniform during World War II that labor shortages plagued the nation; since Buck was six feet tall, he could do a man’s work for a man’s pay. He saved his money, but a couple of months after he began ninth grade that fall, his savings were gone. He decided to quit school, go back to work and earn some more money. Though he persuaded his mother to let him quit school by promising to return to school, he never went back. He was a Western Union messenger boy, washed and polished cars, and loaded and unloaded fruit.
Music became an even greater part of his life in Mesa. Alvis Owens played harmonica and two of Buck’s uncles played guitar. He heard bluegrass and string band music beamed into the U.S. on the megawatt radio “X” stations just across the Mexican Border, stations that boomed in on the family’s battery radio. Buck’s younger sister, Dorothy Owens, also recalls her brother listening to the music of Bob Wills, T. Texas Tyler, Moon Mullican, and Ted Daffan. That Christmas, Buck received a mandolin as a present from his parents. His dad later gave him a Regal guitar.
According to Dorothy, Buck taught himself to play. “Music was always his interest,” she says. “Mother showed him a couple of chords on the guitar and he taught himself the rest. When he was 16 or 17 years old, he would have these musicians come to the house and play. He played with them, but he watched them. He was like a sponge. He absorbed from everybody, whether it was records, radio or whatever. “
Around 1945, 16-year-old Buck teamed up with 19-year-old guitarist Theryl Ray Britten. “Buck and Britt” landed a 15-minute show (for which they weren’t paid) over KTYL Radio in Mesa. Since the KTYL studio had a 30-foot-long glass window facing its parking lot, they often had a drive-in studio audience for their shows. They also played at any local honky-tonk whose bartenders let them pass the hat (in their case a soup bowl.) Eventually they took up residence at a Phoenix honky-tonk known as the Romo Buffet and added a trumpeter named Kelly, who was stationed at a nearby Air Force base. They got 10% of the take, which was usually around $100 regardless of the size of the crowd, and split $10 three ways.
Buck also branched out as a musician. When Buck got an electric steel guitar, Alvis Owens adapted an old radio into an amplifier so his son could teach himself to play it. His early guitar idols included Jimmy Wyble, the country jazz guitarist of Bob Wills’ 1944-1945 Texas Playboys. Later, he became a fan of Merle Travis’ playing.
Alvis and Maicie Owens had major misgivings about their son’s vocation, particularly since he was underage. “My mother and dad objected strenuously to me playing in the honky-tonks and they never thought I’d amount to anything,” says Buck. “They never realized – and I didn’t either, at the time – what a wonderful opportunity was presented to me to be able to make a living and pay my bills while I’m learning my trade. But those were their feelings about playing music where people were drinkin’.”
Buck saw it as on-the-job training. “I remember thinkin’ that I could probably make about $5 if I’d go out and pick cotton all day. And I could make $5 dollars bein’ in this honky-tonk – the guy will give me $5 a night, and I’ll be in here where it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summertime. That was my way of lookin’ at it.”
After a time, Buck met Mac MacAtee, a Mesa gas station owner who played country records for an hour each afternoon over a PA system; the music was broadcast simultaneously over local radio. MacAtee organized a live band, Mac’s Skillet Lickers, to perform at the station. Buck played steel guitar and eventually met Bonnie Campbell, an aspiring singer who became part of the Skillet Lickers. At the time they were married, on January 13, 1948, she was four months pregnant with their first son. Alan Edgar Owens, better known as “Buddy,” was born on May 22, 1948. Michael Lynn Owens, their second son, was born on March 8, 1950.
Buck was not yet supporting his family solely by playing music. He also drove trucks for a while. In the clubs, he became friendly with a fellow trucker and aspiring singer named Marty Robinson, who sang Eddy Arnold songs in area honky-tonks as Marty Robbins. When Buck played at Phoenix’s Astor Hotel, Marty, also a steel guitarist, sat in while Buck sang Hank Williams songs.
By May 1951, Buck and Bonnie decided they’d gone as far as they could in Phoenix, and moved to Bakersfield, California, a city 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Its oil industry and farmlands, much like Texas and Oklahoma made it a haven for Dust Bowl refugees in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. Buck’s parents moved there later in 1951. Bakersfield also boasted a robust country music scene. Bob Wills worked there extensively during his years in California, and both The Maddox Brothers & Rose and singer Ferlin Husky (known also as Terry Preston) called it home.
After Buck arrived, he joined a band led by steel guitarist Dusty Rhodes. Within four months or so he joined Bill Woods & The Orange Blossom Playboys, the house band at the Blackboard, Bakersfield’s top country music nightclub. From September 1951 to May 1958, the Blackboard was Buck’s home base. Like most western bands, the Playboys, billed as “Central California’s Top Dance Band,” played country, rhythm and blues, polkas, pop music, and even rhumbas. Buck assumed he was hired as lead guitarist and was surprised to discover that Woods also wanted him to sing. With no monitor speakers to hear his voice over the amplifiers, Buck quickly learned to project his voice. “You would get right up in that microphone and sing as loud as you could, hopin’ you would be able to hear enough comin’ back.”
Dorothy Owens recalls that Buck, who had separated from Bonnie and moved home with his parents, was still trying to diversify musically. He taught himself to play saxophone, and she remembers his remarkable musical ear. “Mother and I used to play a little game with Buck,” she says. “He would be in another room and mother or I would hit one note on the piano and he would tell us what it was. Now that’s an ear.”
The new music led to a change of guitar. He replaced his electrified Gibson L-7 archtop with a solidbody Fender Telecaster, a revolutionary new guitar that Fullerton, California steel guitar-maker Leo Fender had originally introduced as the Broadcaster in 1950. Its sound, achieved by anchoring the strings in the body like those of a steel guitar, was trebly and biting. Buck paid $35 for that used Tele, originally owned by prominent local country singer Lewis Talley. The Telecaster would play a major role in Buck’s musical future.
The rise of another Bakersfield artist also created an opportunity for Buck. Local favorite Ferlin Husky, a Capitol recording artist, helped Bakersfield singer Leonard Sipe, better known as Tommy Collins, obtain a Capitol contract in 1953. Ferlin played guitar on Collins’ first session, but before the second session, Husky got his big break when “A Dear John Letter,” his duet with Jean Shepard, went to #1 nationally. Tommy needed a lead guitarist; Buck was playing at the Blackboard when Ferlin phoned and asked Buck to play the session.
On September 8, 1953, they were in Capitol’s Melrose Avenue Studios... in Los Angeles, recording the novelty "You Better Not Do That." Buck’s intro featured the raunchy twisted-note style that became his trademark. It was Collins’ first hit, peaking at #2 nationwide. Ken Nelson, Capitol’s head of country A&R, heard something special in the guitar picking. "Buck had tremendous rhythm and he had this little style that set Tommy off, in the introductions usually."
Buck and Bonnie Owens divorced in 1953 but remained friends (as they do to this day), sharing custody of son Buddy and Michael. Buck continued at the Blackboard with Bill Woods – and people began to take notice. Buck’s performances at the club inspired Town Hall Party guitarist Joe Maphis, who often played in Bakersfield, to write the honky-tonk ballad "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)."
In 1954 Jack McFadden, who became Buck’s manager in 1963, was at the Blackboard with Tommy Collins discussing the singer’s first national tour when he took notice of Buck. He still savors the memory: "The place was just jam-packed full on a Sunday afternoon. Me and Tommy sat down and we watched, everybody in the band was doin’ their thing, and here comes Buck, to sing. And I watched and watched the way people reacted to what he was doing. Tommy wanted to hire Buck to take him on his tour as his guitar player. Buck Owens had that something. He was gonna be a star." Buck traveled with Collins to the Grand Ole Opry in 1954 when Collins performed "You Better Not Do That," but otherwise worked only briefly as Collins’ guitarist before returning to the Blackboard. The club had given him a leave of absence to work with Tommy.
Meanwhile, Ken Nelson began using Buck on other sessions at Capitol. At some times, he did little more than fetch coffee, strum a ukelele or pound on a pillow in the studio if Nelson needed that from him. Session work nicely supplemented his income from the Blackboard. For one date he could make as much as $110, a week’s earnings at the club. From 1954 to 1958, Nelson used him on recordings by Stan Freberg, Del Reeves, Gene Vincent, Tommy Sands, Wanda Jackson, Sonny James, Faron Young, and many lesser-known artists. Buck’s admiration for Elvis Presley and Little Richard made him a formidable rockabilly guitarist.
He also did session work at the LuTal Recording Studio in Bakersfield (owned by Lewis Talley). He played and sang harmony on singer-songwriter Terry Fell’s 1954 recording of "Truck Driving Man," a trucker standard that was the flipside of Fell’s hit "Don’t Drop It," released on RCA’s "X" label.
Impressed by Buck’s composing and singing, Fell tried unsuccessfully to get him signed to "X," but managed to interest Pico Rivera, California baker Claude Caviness in Buck – Caviness owned the tiny Pep label. Buck’s first Pep session, done in 1956 in L.A., yielded "Down On The Corner Of Love" and three other numbers. The records were well-received locally, though Pep’s lack of distribution hindered wider success. The songs themselves did better. Red Sovine, James O’Gwynn, and Bobby Bare all eventually covered "Down On The Corner Of Love."
At Lu-Tal in Bakersfield he cut four more songs for Pep: "Sweethearts In Heaven," "There Goes My Love" (covered by George Morgan, Pam Tillis, Highway 101, and The Wild Bunch) and, owing to his love of rockabilly, "Hot Dog" and "Rhythm And Booze." As much as Buck loved rock music, he feared a rockabilly single might harm his country music aspirations and he had it released under the pseudonym "Corky Jones." In 1957 the bluegrass duo of Don Reno and Red Smiley recorded "Sweethearts In Heaven" for Dot Records.
By 1956, Buck had remarried, and his third son, Johnny Dale Owens, was born May 9, 1956. Around the same time Buck met Michigan native, Harlan Howard, an aspiring songwriter who had moved to the West Coast, where he’d met his wife, singer Jan Howard, just beginning her country music career. When singer Wynn Stewart came to visit the Blackboard for the Sunday jam session, Harlan accompanies Wynn. The friendship between Buck and Harlan grew quickly. On weekends, Harlan often stayed at Buck’s tiny house in Bakersfield.
"I lived in a little old two-bedroom shack, and had these buck beds the two boys slept in," says Buck. "And on one of the corners, they got to playin’ and broke off one of the legs, and I just put – the only thing I had – a big ol’ concrete brick under the corner and he slept in that bed every time he came to stay all night with me. He’s never let me forget that. In later years, he’s said he’d come stay all night with me sometime if I still had that stone block."
Buck and Harlan started writing songs together, Buck putting Harlan’s lyrics to music. They also founded Blue Book Music to publish their songs. No one realized that Blue Book would play a major role in Buck Owens’ career.
In 1957 Town Hall Party performers Johnny Bond and Joe Maphis, both Columbia recording artists, played regularly in Bakersfield and saw Buck’s potential. They sent a demo of Buck’s recordings to their producer, legendary Columbia A&R man Don Law, who agreed that Buck belonged on Columbia. Law wired the two performers to "hold on to Buck Owens for me" until he could travel to California to sign him.
Terry Fell and Claude Caviness were trying to interest Ken Nelson in recording Buck, but despite his admiration for Buck’s guitar playing, Caviness felt Buck lacked a vocal style. Today, Buck says, "Ken seems to remember that I bugged him and bugged him and that finally he signed me out of self-defense. I guess in a way that could be true, if you reconcile the fact that I never spoke to him about recording, other people did." ---One day, however, would change everything.
Early in 1957 Buck was visited by the Farmer Boys, Bobby Adamson and Woody Wayne Murray, Capitol recording artists who worked in central and northern California. They were to record in L.A. on February 21, 1957 and asked Buck for some songs. He gave them four he’d written or co-written. He also was scheduled to play on the session. Buck found out – too late – that Ken Nelson had previously sent the duo four songs for the session. When Nelson found they had chosen Buck’s songs over his, he was furious – with Buck.
"Ken came out of the studio in the hallway and he was very angry," Buck says. "His exact words were, ‘I don’t appreciate people sluggin’ my artists with songs!’ I didn’t want to lose that gig with Ken Nelson, so I said, ‘Ken, they came to my house. I didn’t know I was doin’ anything wrong. They said they wanted these songs.’ And I don’t think he ever heard me, he was so angry."
The storm passed. After the session began, Nelson suddenly complimented Buck on the quality of the songs. With the session half over, he broached the subject of Buck recording for Capitol. When Buck told him of the pending Columbia contract, Nelson apparently realized that others saw potential in his guitarist that he’d overlooked. When the session ended, Nelson handed Buck a Capitol contract; he signed it on the spot. Through the spring and summer, Buck continued at the Blackboard and in the studios. His first solo session for Capitol took place August 30, 1957, and though the songs were his, the results were another matter. "They were recorded with little doo-wahs…kinda pop-country with this big choral group, and I thought, ‘eeeee, God!’ But that’s what they were lookin’ for. They wanted to make the biggest hillbilly in Bakersfield something’ he wasn’t." He needn’t have worried. Both singles fizzled. In January 1958, encouraged by Dusty Rhodes, his original Bakersfield benefactor, Buck moved to Puyallup, Washington, a Tacoma suburb. It turned out to be another educational experience. He took over a third interest in 250-watt radio station KAYE, 1450 on the dial. "If you had a really good radio," he says today, "you could pick it up in the station parking lot." More importantly, he had a chance to learn the radio business from the ground up. He worked as a disc jockey, sold ads for the station, and performed in the area.
Buck’s stillborn Capitol recording career left him philosophical, and he wrote Ken Nelson a letter offering to forget the contract. "He turned my letter over and wrote on the back, ‘I still want to record you and I still like what you do.’" On a visit home to Bakersfield, Owens made a side trip to Capitol and asked Ken Nelson if he could record his next session with fiddle and steel. On October 9, 1958, he cut four original songs, including the ballad "Second Fiddle," in the "shuffle" style popularized by Ray Price in songs like "Crazy Arms." By the spring of 1959, it had reached #24 on the Billboard charts.
Despite this positive sign, Buck remained in Washington, where by 1959 he was hosting his own live TV show over KTNT in Tacoma. Among the local talent featured was a local house-wife-turned singer named Loretta Lynn. Dusty Rhodes introduced him to a teenaged fiddler from Tumwater, Washington by the name of Donald Eugene Ulrich. Better known as Don Rich, he would become Buck’s musical alter-ego and a major component of his best recordings.
The success of "Second Fiddle" led to another session, this one yielding "Under Your Spell Again" his first Top 10 record, in the fall of 1959. In June of 1960, with "Under Your Spell" a success, Buck divested himself of his holdings in Washington and returned to Bakersfield. It would remain his permanent base of operations
In Bakersfield, Buck continued developing both his music and his outside business interests, taking over the old Fresno Barn dancehall, Bob Wills’ mid-‘40s stomping ground. He played there himself and booked other acts as well. Bored with college, Don Rich decided in December 1960 that he wanted a musical career, and moved to Bakersfield. After living with Buck for a time, he went home, married his hometown girlfriend Marlene and brought her south. Buck was also left with Harlan Howard’s share of Blue Book Music. Harlan, who moved to Nashville with Jan, preferred to concentrate on writing, and glad to let his friend have the company.
In fall 1960, "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got A Heartache)," an Owens-Howard composition, peaked at #2 on both the Billboard and Cashbox charts. In January 1961, Capitol released Buck Owens, his first LP, which contained "Second Fiddle," "Excuse Me" and "Above And Beyond." The back cover heralded Buck winning Billboard Magazine’s "Most Promising Country and Western Singer of the Year" award for 1960, selected by a poll of country disc jockeys. The cover featured an impressionistic painting of a pensive Buck wearing a red shirt, sitting on a grassy hill, and looking much like James Dean in the movie Rebel Without A Cause.
At that time, "Foolin’ Around" spent eight weeks at #2 on the Billboard charts, and one week at #1 on the Cashbox charts; it was Buck’s first #1 record anywhere. The pace picked up. He remained in the forefront that year with the big hit "Under The Influence Of Love."
For nearly two years, Buck and Don traveled in an old Ford to jobs around the country, backed by the house bands in whatever honky-tonk they were booked into. Eventually they replaced their acoustic guitars with Fender Telecasters so the house bands could follow and learn their music. This also made Buck stand out. At the time, few other country singers, among them Floyd Tillman, Joe Maphis, Hank Thompson, and Merle Travis, accompanied themselves with amplified instruments. Eventually, Don took over the lead guitar, having mastered Buck’s style.
Two more Top 10 records followed in 1962: "Kickin’ Our Hearts Around" and "You’re For Me." Until this time, most of Buck’s songs had been "shuffle numbers" the Texas style, down to the vocal harmonies on the chorus. "You’re For Me" unveiled a new Buck Owens sound. The conventional shuffle beat had been swept aside for a sound that would give Buck’s music a new dimension.
Buck’s close relationship with Ken Nelson played a major role in his successful recording career. The two had worked together since 1953, and understood each other. Buck appreciated Nelson’s flair for finding talented artists and giving them creative freedom while maintaining high standards. Today he speaks of Nelson, now in his eighties and retired in California, with pride and no small amount of awe.
"He kept us in tune, he kept me singing, he helped me grow immensely. He was a huge influence on doin’ the right thing, bein’ at the right place, he wanted that from me. He was a very silent influence on me, as far as growing, being a good citizen and learning how to live. Ken Nelson is a very great man."
Ironically, Nelson’s preference for an older style of production had much to do with Buck’s modern sound. Like earlier A&R men, such as Columbia’s Art Satherley and Decca’s Paul Cohen, Nelson expected his artists to have their music packaged and ready to record. In Nashville in the ‘60s, many singers with their own backup bands were forced to record with their own musicians to maintain their musical individuality.
As a session went on, he sat behind the console in the control room of whichever Capitol studio he was using, seemingly preoccupied with doodling on a notepad. All the while he listened, and jumped on a bad note or a fluffed lyric like a dog on a bone. If he felt a suggestion was required, he made it. Otherwise, he left the artists to create and helped them achieve their goals, which gave Buck the freedom to create his own sound and adjust it as he wished.
"Ken signed people that knew what they wanted in the studio," Buck explains. "The Wynn Stewarts, Hank Thompsons, Merles, Bucks, Ferlin Husky, all those people knew what they wanted and most of the time they’d bring in the musicians and the songs. He understood that, especially about Merle and I and Wynn Stewart. In his nice, easy-goin’, doodlin’ style, he always was listening and always was workin’ and always tryin’ to stay out of our way except to be of assistance…the best damn producer Merle Haggard and I could ever have."
Ken Nelson explained his philosophy in 1992: "My theory always has been, if you have to tell artists what to do, if you have to show them how to sing, they’re not really artists. I always hired an artist for what he could do. A lot of artists, you have to help them pick songs and so forth, but you don’t them how to sing. Buck was always well-prepared when he came in the studio. He had his own band, and they always rehearsed before they got to the date. Buck always had the ability to pick the right material for himself, and he was very easy to get along with, never had any problems. As far as creating the sound, that was just a matter of the engineers and the studio."
By the spring of 1963, Buck was teetering on the verge of success he’d pursued day and night for nearly a decade. He hired more musicians, including a drummer, a pedal steel player, and a bass player. The Ford gave way to a Chevrolet camper. The group had no name until one of Buck’s early bass players, a talented Bakersfield musician named Merle Haggard, dubbed them "The Buckaroos."
In the spring of 1963 came the record that established him as a lasting presence: "Act Naturally," which remained at #1 for four weeks. Though he’d worked with Nashville agents like Eddie Crandall and Bob Neal, he needed a manager who understood him. That manager came along, by luck, when Buck got a call from Las Vegas-based booking agent Jack McFadden.
Buck met McFadden by chance in 1963. He was booked for a couple of dates in Oregon and Washington, and asked Jack to book enough dates to turn it into a 10-day tour. Jack, a gifted salesman, returned with 16 dates booked for more money than Buck had asked for. Buck was impressed. Within a few months, Jack became his manager – the only manager Buck has ever had. Until Buck quit the road in 1980, McFadden managed no other artists.
"I knew Buck was my type of artist," McFadden remembers, "because he was as hungry as I was. We made our deal on a handshake, with the motto ‘Whatever it takes.’" Buck also savors the association: "It’s been a wonderful relationship and it’s worked. Jack is a very fine, warm human being, and I’m crazy about him."
With "Act Naturally," McFadden remembers that Buck pushed himself even harder. "He drove thousands and thousands of miles in the camper. He never missed a date. He’d play clubs, starting at 9 at night till 1 in the morning, and never leave the stage. That is a manager’s dream, to have a person that will give that much of themselves. Never due to his own fault was he ever late. I went on almost every date with him. He did everything I ever, ever asked him to do and more. We put in the contract a 60-minute show, and hell, he’d do two hours."
In mid ’63, with "Act Naturally" off the charts Buck recorded the follow up. "Love’s Gonna Live Here," another "freight train" number, spent 8 weeks at #1 according to Billboard. The next single, "My Heart Skips A Beat," was #1 for seven weeks in ’64, and also hit the top of the Billboard charts. The single’s B-side, "Together Again," came up just below it at #2. Then one week the positions reversed, a remarkable, nearly unheard of achievement. The distinctive sound of Buck’s records had caught the public’s fancy.
You’re For Me," "Act Naturally," and "Love’s Gonna Live Here" heralded Buck’s new sound – a churning, upbeat 2/4 rhythm that made every Buck Owens record instantly identifiable. Don Rich compared it to a "runaway locomotive"; Buck refers to it as the "freight train" sound. From 1962 to 1968, he would use this sound, rooted in the dance beat of Bob Wills, on all his ballads. Buck explains it this way: "I always had a lot of driving-type music in my bones. I always loved music that had lots of beat. I always wanted to sound like a locomotive comin’ right through the front room. The guitar licks all came from Don and me.
"It was the most exciting period of my life. I found a sound that people really liked…I found this basic concept and all I did was change the lyrics and the melody a little bit. My songs, if you listen to them, they’re quite a lot alike, like Chuck Berry. Chuck found a sound and just kept changin’ the lyrics. Once in awhile I’d throw in a left-field song. But basically, if you listen to ‘I Don’t Care’ and ‘My Heart Skips A Beat’ and ‘Tiger By The Tail,’ I just left it the same and changed the song and the chord progression a little bit and sold it to them over and over again." To some, this may sound cynical and calculating. But Buck was hardly the first in country music to do it. Jimmy Rodgers’ classic "Blue Yodels" used the same basic structure in the 1920s and the 1930s. Many of Ernest Tubb’s and even Hank Williams’ hits used similar musical structures. The difference was that amid the cosmopolitan country of Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves, Buck’s records sounded fresh, streamlined, and modern. In the studio, Buck and the Band were rehearsed and ready, and he insisted on getting an acceptable version in just a few takes, the better to preserve a sense of spontaneity.
The records’ unusually bright sound was also by design. Having worked in AM radio, Buck knew its sound properties. He and Ken Nelson mixed his recordings using small speakers to get optimal projection on AM radios and car radios. Those efforts resulted in the clear, distinctive sound on Buck Owens records.
"I cut records for AM radio, and I was always conscious that AM used to have a great big old bottom on it. So I took most of the bass out of the records and put on more high-end – that made ‘em sound cleaner than the others. Ken Nelson agreed. I got a letter one time from a guy in Ohio that had some kind of a radio show, and he said, ‘You know, the records that you guys do there are so crystal-clear. Some people say you’ve got a little black box that you run the tape through.’"
Buck adds that the simplicity of his music and lyrics was also part of the plan. "I tried to play songs that all the bar bands could play. I remembered havin’ been in a bar band and never bein’ able to get any musicians to rehearse. There was no way my sound could change very much, using the same musicians, engineers, studios, and echo, and the same singer. I don’t know how it could have changed very much, and in retrospect, I think it was the right thing for me to do. It was exciting onstage to perform those ‘freight train’ songs.’" The public agreed, for the #1 songs, most in the "freight train" style, piled up. In 1964 came "I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me)." In 1965, "I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail," "Before You Go," "Only You (Can Break My Heart)," and the instrumental "Buckaroo." In 1966, the more laid back "Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line," "Think Of Me," and "Open Up Your Heart." In 1967, "Sam’s Place" and "Your Tender Loving Care."
Blue Book Music by them was a major country song publisher due to the songs of Buck and Merle Haggard, a major star in his own right. Buck also formed Buck Owens Enterprises, managed by his younger sister Dorothy. In 1965 Buck and McFadden founded OMAC Artists Corporation, a booking agency. In March 1966, Buck put his radio experience to work when he bought KUZZ-AM in Bakersfield. He also started a new station there, KBBY-FM. KBBY later became KKXX-FM, which was #1 rock ‘n’ roll station in Bakersfield for 10 years. KUZZ was - and remains – the #1 country station. Buck soon extended his radio holdings. In 1967 he bought KTUF-AM and in 1968 KNIX-FM, both in Phoenix. Eventually most operations were consolidated under the umbrella of Buck Owens Productions.
By 1966, Buck, Merle, Tommy Collins, and Wynn Stewart, each on Capitol but each with his own style, collectively defined what was then referred to as the "Bakersfield Sound": a sharp, Telecaster-driven honky-tonk sound. As hardcore singers like Ray Price were heading in the countrypolitan direction, the no-frills, unadorned drive of the Bakersfield Sound, lacking any gimmickry, remained a reassuring beacon for hard country fans.
Alvis and Maicie Owens’ one-time concerns about their son’s love for playing honky-tonks were long gone. "The last 16 years of my daddy’s life, he got to work for me, and that made him his own boss and he like that," Buck says. "And my mother told me on several different occasions that she was livin’ her dream vicariously through me. She once said that I was getting’ to do all the things that she would have wanted to have done."
Unlike many country stars, Buck and Don Rick were enthusiastic fans of The Beatles’ early music, even before the group covered "Act Naturally." The pair had every Beatles album, and onstage did a good-natured imitation of the Liverpool quartet. Buck’s professed Beatlemania bothered some fans: "People would say ‘You shouldn’t be sayin’ that. You should be talkin’ about country music.’ And I said, ‘Why not? It’s the truth! Why can’t I say I’m a Beatles fan?’ I used to get criticized for that." Ken Nelson recalls that The Beatles admired Buck as well: "We used to have to send Buck’s albums to The Beatles when they came out."
Buck’s stage shows were loose and pleasant, always on time, always leaving a satisfied audience. In 1965, Dorothy Owens remembers Buck spending 302 days on the road. The mode of touring changed as a bus replaced the old Chevy Camper in March 1966, and by late 1967 they were traveling by air. Yet unlike other artists, Buck and company kept the road’s hard times in perspective, avoiding the lure of booze or pills.
"We had a GREAT TIME! We like what we were doin’ and we did it with a great amount of flair. We did it with a propensity towards ‘Ready or not, here we come!’ The road had the lonely times, but I kept myself busy. I never missed an opportunity to go to a radio station or a TV station when I was in town, if I had an extra hour or so. I knew how important that was. We played chess, we played cards. One time in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, we got some boxing gloves, big ‘ol 16 ouncers, so we couldn’t hurt each other and we boxed for a while.
"There were not (because I never would have had ‘em) any drinkers other than socially. Weren’t any druggies in the band. Anybody who’s been on the road any length of time had taken No-Doz or a diet pill to stay awake, but I think that even that was very much at a minimum. I could almost say it practically didn’t exist. I showed up clean, ready to go with the band."
That need for cleanliness was the sole source of mischief in the band. "We drove up to the Holiday Inn, we didn’t have to make reservations, it was always cheap, always clean, always a good place to stay. We used to get one room and we’d park the vehicle outside, everybody would all take showers and we’d steal towels because we knew we wasn’t gonna have enough towels for all five of us to shower."
Though Buckaroo members varied during Buck’s years on the road, Don Rich was constant. The pair, with their twin Fender Telecasters, had a near-telepathic empathy onstage and in the studio. They enjoyed each other and, a quarter-century later, Buck still marvels at it.
"Don and I made a sort of synergy where one and one don’t make two. The two of us together made three. He was half a generation younger than I was. He had a freshness and he loved to pick the guitar, hated the fiddle. I’d say ‘Don, get that fiddle!’ He’d say ‘Aw, no, Chief, not the fiddle.’ I’d say ‘Yeah, Don, get that fiddle.’ He’d say ‘Ohh, Chief.’ I’d say ‘Don, I’ll make ya tell jokes.’ That’s the only thing that could get him to get the fiddle."
Don’s good nature helped Buck keep his head on the road. "Sometimes I’d get upset with things, I’d say ‘Goddamn that so and so,’ and Don’d say, ‘Awww, Chief, hell, he don’t know.’ I’d be mad at the bass player, maybe he was late or I couldn’t find him. And Don’d say, ‘Let me look for him. Don’t be upset.’ That was his way of talkin’ to me."
On March 1, 1965, Capitol Records released I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail, Buck’s ninth LP. It featured the title track, "Cryin’ Time," the cowboy favorite "Streets of Laredo," Bob Wills "A Maiden’s Prayer," and a rocking version of Chuck Berry’s rock’n’roll classic "Memphis." Ironically, the March 1965 issue of the Nashville-based fan magazine Music City News carried a paid ad from Buck. In his "Pledge to Country Music," he stated,
I Shall Sing No Song That Is Not A Country Song. I Shall Make No Record That Is Not A Country Record. I Refuse To Be Known As Anything But A Country Singer. I am Proud To Be Associated With Country Music. Country Music And Country Music Fans Made Me What I Am Today. And I Shall Not Forget It.
Some fans felt he broke this pledge by recording "Memphis," and, later, The Coasters’ "Charlie Brown" and his hit version of Chuck Berry’s "Johnny B. Goode." However, in his own mind, Buck had made a subtle musical distinction most fans didn’t notice, particularly regarding the Chuck Berry songs.
"I see ‘Memphis’ as bein’ rockabilly," he says. "I didn’t say I wasn’t gonna do rockabilly. I just said I ain’t gonna sing no song that ain’t a country song. I won’t be know as anything but a country singer. I meant that, I still mean that. Listen to the lyrics. If they’re not country lyrics...the melody...if that ain’t a country melody...The only thing was, a black man was singin’ it, a black man who I was a big fan of. So, my famous saying for my little pledge - I didn’t date it. I really meant it at the time. I don’t mean for it to be taken lightly."
That fall, Jack McFadden received an offer for Buck and the Buckaroos to perform at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Despite being at the top of his profession, Buck feared not enough people in New York were country music fans, and turned it down. For once, his normally accurate instincts failed him. Grand Ole Opry groups had done well at Carnegie Hall since 1947. Flatt and Scruggs recorded one of their best-known albums there in 1962.
After Capitol offered to record the show and release it as a live LP, Buck agreed. The show, scheduled for March 25, 1966 was sold out the week before. Dressed in their rhinestone-studded Nudie outfits, Buck and the band put on a performance that the singer marvels at more than 25 years later. "It amazes me today and I think ‘God Dang! Nobody forgot anything, nobody ever made a slip, nobody made one error I could find.’ Carnegie Hall was definitely a big thing for me."
Buck’s first national TV appearances came in 1963 and 1964, with several guest spots on both ABC’s Jimmy Dean Show and NBC’s Kraft Music Hall. He first ventured into his own nationwide TV series in 1966. His friends Bud and Don Mathes, owners of Mathes Brothers Furniture in Oklahoma City, asked him to host a half-hour TV show. The show, to run 52 weeks a year, would be sponsored locally by Mathes. Buck saw an opportunity to expand his horizons by having the shows nationally syndicated, and at its peak, Buck Owens’ Ranch ran in 100 markets. Top artists taped a dozen or more performances at WKY in Oklahoma City, which were patched into the shows by Buck and his son Mike, who doubled as the show’s announcer. Among the regulars were eldest son Buddy, who performed as "Buddy Alan," and Oregon-bred vocalist Susan Raye, who began working with Buck’s shows in 1964.
1966 and 1967 were banner years for #1 Buck Owens records as tallied by Billboard. Most were in the "freight train" style and they continued in a steady stream. Late in 1967, his "thank you" to the fans "It Takes People Like You (To Make People Like Me)" reached #2.
He began experimenting musically in 1968 pulling away from the "freight train" sound. "How Long Will My Baby Be Gone" was conventional enough; the ballad "Sweet Rosie Jones" was a bit more dramatic. "I’ve Got You On My Mind Again," which made it to #5, was a greater departure, its R&B feel unlike anything he’d previously recorded. However, his success continued. On Saturday March 30, 1968, Buck and The Buckaroos played for Lyndon Johnson and an enthusiastic audience at the White House. They were among the first to know that the next night Johnson would announce his decision not to seek re-election. An LP of the performance appeared in1972.
Buck’s fan club was massive. The Buck Owens "All American" Fan Club published a regular magazine, and the merchandising even extended to a Buck Owens Guitar Method book, a guitar instruction record by Buck, and a Buck Owens guitar chord book. He even had an offer that year from some Canadian TV producers to star in a pilot of a country music TV variety/comedy program.
No longer performing on other promoters’ package shows, Buck headlined his own from 1966 to 1970, and it was a formidable one at that. Featured were Susan Raye and 1950s country star Freddie Hart, along with Tommy Collins, Sheb Wooley, and Rose and Cal Maddox of the Maddox Brothers & Rose (Buck had recorded two hit duets with Rose in 1961). It was easy and profitable for all concerned. "You have a complete package," explains Buck, "and you don’t have to book anyone else with the show. The other singers got the money from me, so they always got their money."
While OMAC simply booked Collins and Maddox, Buck also plunged head-first into efforts to develop new young talents. Freddie Hart, Susan Raye, Tony Booth, Buddy Alan, and many of the other artists Buck worked with were managed by Performance Management, founded by Buck and Jack McFadden. In March 1969, Buck opened Buck Owens Studios in an old movie theater in downtown Bakersfield. It featured 16-track recording equipment and a then-new Moog synthesizer. The media began referring to Bakersfield as "Buckersfield," a term Buck himself never used.
Buck's stature with Capitol permitted him extraordinary clout. A deal between Capitol and Buck Owens Productions allowed Buck to record himself, Tony Booth, Freddie Hart, Buddy Alan, The Buckaroos, Susan Raye, and others in his Bakersfield studios. Capitol merely packaged and released the recordings. No country singer at that time had a similar deal. Among the other aspiring singers Buck discovered were longhaired twin brothers Jim and John Hager, who were also signed to Capitol.
Few country entertainers played San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium, the premier rock concert hall in America in the late ‘60s. Buck played there October 11 and 12, 1968. Many country singers, hostile to the music and youth of the time, would have refused such an engagement. Buck would not. Conversely, his music, along with that of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard (despite his anti-hippie hit "Okie From Muskogee") were admired by young people and rock musicians. Ironically, in 1969 Buck’s desire to experiment beyond the "freight train" sound grew with numbers like the waltz-tempo "Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass," which boasted rock-style fuzztone guitar, and "Tall Dark Stranger." Both reached #1.
Rolling Stone, the San Francisco-based rock music publication that had run a story on Merle Haggard a year earlier, ran a lengthy piece on California country music in their June 28, 1969 issue. Written by John Grissim Jr., it profiled everyone from Glen Campbell and Ken Nelson to John Hartford and Judy Lynn. Buck, however, was the main focus. Though the story was plagued by factual errors, Grissim explored Owens' popularity and extensive business holdings in detail, and later expanded the article into a full-length book: Country Music: White Man’s Blues, covering the country scene nationwide.
Eventually, aside from Buddy Alan, Susan Raye, the Haggers, and a few others, Buck abandoned his efforts to develop new talent. Without naming names, he explains that many lacked the all- powerful drive to succeed - the drive of, say, a Buck Owens. Buck explains his views thusly: "Lady Limelight is a jealous lady. She wants all of your attention. You don’t have any time to think of anything else but Lady Limelight, because pretty soon that light will be shinning on somebody else. So you better do it while you can. I wanted it for these people a hell of a lot worse than they wanted it."
Canadian TV producers Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth had conceived Hee Haw, named for its cartoon donkey mascot, as a country music version of NBC’s popular Laugh-In that would mix quick-cut, cornball humor with country music. Buck taped the pilot in 1968 and CBS picked it up as a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, canceled due to its controversial anti-war humor during the Vietnam years. CBS picked up a 13 -show option, and at Buck’s recommendation the producers hired singer Roy Clark as co-host. The show premiered Sunday, June 15, 1969.
Hee Haw was so successful during the summer that CBS slotted it into the fall schedule. The Buckaroos served as the house band, and Buck was suddenly getting national exposure on a weekly basis. With him came the top talents in his stable: Buddy Alan, Susan Raye, and the Haggers.
In 1966 Buck and The Buckaroos had their instruments painted red, white and blue, an extension of Buck’s innate patriotism. When these instruments were seen on Hee Haw, guitar manufacturers began making offers to him to market a guitar in those colors. Though Buck used a red, white and blue acoustic guitar built for him by Semie Moseley of Mosrite Guitars, his business sense told him an expensive model of that type wouldn’t sell to the public.
He finally licensed Chicago Musical Instruments (makers of the prestigious Gibson guitars) to market a $99 acoustic model, and received a $2.50 royalty on each sold. He knew that Sears would market them but had no idea they would sell as well as they did --until the first royalty check came. "The very first statement, they sent me $15,000," he laughs. "I said, ‘Oh, you mean THAT Sears!"
During this time, Buck was also filming what may be the first country music videos ever done. He did four tied to his hit singles "Tall Dark Stranger," Sweet Rosie Jones," "Big in Vegas" and "I Wouldn’t Live in New York City (If They Gave Me The Whole Dang Town)." Filmed in 35 millimeter, they were rarely seen, since there were no outlets for playing videos then and cable TV networks didn’t yet exist.
With Buck Owens now a national TV star, Capitol flooded the market with nine LPs between December 1969 and February 1971. Three were reissues of earlier albums, along with a new gospel album, a live album, three new Buck studio albums, and a Christmas LP. One promotion man complained to the label that they were releasing more Buck product than he could ever promote.
In 1971, Buck signed his final four-year contract with Capitol. Following lengthy negotiations, the label gave him something few artists ever received: Ownership of all his Capitol recordings at the end of the contract. He would give the label five years to sell off his albums before he would take ownership in 1980. Such business acumen was routine for Buck and still a rarity at the time among country singers. As Dorothy Owens says, "Buck’s a very bright person. He thinks all the time and he thinks ahead. Buck’s a good businessperson, always thinking to the future and ‘What if?’ He’s always saying that. He invested his money and he didn’t waste it. He didn’t spend it on high living. He’s very comfortable with a moderate way of life."
Buck continued to diversify musically. He followed his 1971 hit recording of Simon and Garfunkel’s "Bridge over Troubled Water" with an LP featuring two more Simon and Garfunkel songs and numbers by folk-rockers Donovan and Bob Dylan. It disturbed Ken Nelson. "The last two years of recording," said Nelson, "Buck tried to get too hep and that is the one thing that I didn’t approve of, and I told him that, too. He was trying to bring his music up to date, to what he thought was ‘the thing.’ but if you’re not yourself, it’s no good."
Thinking back, Buck recalls these musical departures quite differently: "I got to realizing that I wanted to record, I wanted to experiment. And doing those same old songs the same old way--I said, ‘I think it’s time for me to have some fun.’ And so we got into those things and we had quite a bit fun with them too."
CBS dropped Hee Haw in 1971 as the network ended a decade of rural oriented programming, but in syndication the show was more successful that it had ever been with CBS. Buck shifted musical directions again in 1971, adding five string banjoist Ronnie Jackson to the Buckaroos and recording two hit bluegrass numbers: The Osborne Brothers’ "Ruby (Are You Mad)" and "Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms." However, in 1972, with the more conventional ballad "Made In Japan," Buck Owens had his final #1 solo recording.
Through 1972 and 1973 he toured, taped Hee Haw twice a year and worked in his studio. His recording career was in decline, his hits being novelties like "Big Game Hunter" and "On the Cover Of The Music City News." Hee Haw’s success in syndication led to the demise of Buck Owens’ Ranch in 1973. In certain markets, TV stations programmed Buck's Show against Hee Haw, whose producers arranged with Buck to end his show. He still owns all 400 Ranch Shows.
It had been a fantastic run -- a decade of unprecedented success. Then one summer morning, Buck Owens suffered a sudden, tragic blow from which it took him years to recover.
At 6:30 on the morning of July 17, 1974, Buck’s home phone rang. It was his son Michael, who managed KUZZ. He informed him that Don Rich had been killed earlier that evening when his motorcycle struck a highway divider. "He said , ‘Dad, I have to tell you something.’ And then he told me about Don. It’s something that I always wanted to forget and never to remember...and I had to call his wife and tell her --she was in Morro Bay."
Several of Buck’s musicians had bought motorcycles, and when other friends of theirs died in motorcycle mishaps, Buck repeatedly preached against them. Don promised Buck he’d ride his only on dirt trails. That night he was working late at Buck’s studio, planning to travel to Morro Bay to meet his wife and kids for some deep-sea fishing. He was heading from Bakersfield to Morro Bay on his bike when the accident occurred.
Buck was shattered. The alter-ego, the musical son who had blossomed under his wing, whom he depended on both in the studio and onstage, was suddenly gone. A huge void remained in Buck’s life and music and in his soul.
"After Don’s death, I don’t think I ever quite recovered. I had such a long period of shock and such a long period of being depressed and confused and hurt that I couldn’t talk about Don much for at least four, five, six years."
"Don was incredibly important as a human being. He was as much a part of the music as I was. He seemed able to read my mind. And a lotta times I would try to fool him on the stage: we had our little thing goin’. He was uncanny about catchin’ me so he could sing with me. There was never anything like that happened to me before or since. That’s the way I’ll always remember him. I finally got at peace with that."
Buck continued with Hee Haw after Don’s death, since he only had to tape in Nashville in June and October of each year. And in 1974, Buck was about to depart Capitol after 18 years. His records hadn’t been selling, so there was little or no thought of another Capitol contract.
In 1975 Andy Wickham of Warner Bros. Records, a long time Buck Owens fan, signed him to Warners. "I was very comfortable with Andy. He let me do what I wanted to but it just wasn’t there. I couldn’t do it by myself. I missed Don so much every place I’d go." With Norro Wilson producing, Buck recorded in Nashville for the first time, leaving the control to others and concentrating on generic pop-country music. The fire was gone and his fans knew it. Neither his Warner singles nor albums were up to his old standards proven by their low chart positions.
Today he’s philosophical about his lack of success at Warners. "It wasn’t Norro’s or AndyWickham’s fault, it was my fault. I didn’t want it bad enough to go out and do the job. Because from the day of Don’s death, I went through the paces...things were over at that time for me. It never did pick up."
A decade before, Buck Owens had been the top country singer in the nation. Now, with his record sales dragging, Hee Haw was his major outlet. And people began to forget the dynamic honky-tonk singer Buck Owens had been. They saw him as an over all-clad comic holding a red, white and blue guitar, standing in a fake cornfield singing "Phfft! You Were Gone" with guest after guest. Then in his late forties, his artistic frustration was growing.
On June 21, 1979, Buck married Jennifer Smith, whom he met in 1967 at the Cotillion Ballroom in Wichita, Kansas, where Buck was playing. She was a college student but they dated from then on. Also in 1979, he had his biggest hit with Warners: "Play Together Again Again," a tribute number that became a duet with long-time Buck admirer Emmylou Harris and reached #11 in Billboard.
As the ‘70s ended Buck realized that the unbearable emotional pain had to stop. It was time to let go and get on with living. "I was in a zombie -like mode and I went through the motions up until January 1, 1980. And I knew I couldn’t go through that anymore, so I called the guys together. I told ‘em , "I’m gonna still play some dates, but I’m not gonna do anything near like I did it before. I can’t do that and I don’t want to do it." Several members of the band continued with him in other roles. He and Warners mutually agreed to end his contract. For the first time in 23 years, Buck Owens was no longer recording.
He reordered his priorities over the next few years. "I spent a lot of that time from age 50 to 60 doin’ things that I wanted to do. I’m in an absolute frenzy towards doing as many things as I can that I want to do today. The rest can wait till tomorrow, next week, if I’m around we’ll take a look. That’s my attitude: to remove any and all stress off myself."
Buck also had time to reflect on his career. Don’s loss had been devastating, yet in the end, he realized what truly diminished his appeal as a recording artist was the very thing that made him a household word: Hee Haw.
Anybody that’s been on television - Perry Como, Jimmy Dean, Andy Williams, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens- when you become a household name, when they can see you once a week, it reduces and diminishes your value. You’re no longer special. I think quintessentially, television is the bare bones of the removal of all mystique. Don’t forget, in 1969 I was still havin’ #1 records. As I went along it degenerated into more comedy and a lot less singin’, or doin’ those silly little cast songs.
"I enjoyed the Hee Haw people, but from 1980 on I didn’t enjoy it and thought about leavin’, and thought, hell, it’s an easy job and pays wonderful. I kinda just prostituted myself for their money. My music, which I loved, had suffered badly and I knew what it was from: too much ‘Phifft! You Were Gone.’ I thought: ‘One more year, I’ll do one more year..."
Buck left Hee Haw in 1986. It continued, with Roy Clark hosting. "I was always very grateful to ‘em and am grateful to 'em now. I went back a couple of years ago and did their 20th anniversary show. But the longer I stayed on Hee Haw, the worse things got for me musically."
There was no reason to expect any more music from Buck Owens. The same year he cut back his activities, 1980, saw the hit film Urban Cowboy making country music trendy. In Nashville, producers hustled to create easy-listening records smothered in strings to attract pop-record buyers. It seemed that the simpler days of Nudie suits and freight train songs were gone forever.
Like other California artists, Buck had many friends in Nashville but never considered moving there even at his peak. He loathed its politics and Music Row’s tendency to minimize the contributions of West Coast artists.
"The beef I had with Nashville was they thought they spoke for all country performers and that just wasn’t true. It seemed they never wanted to give the West Coast musicians the credit we deserved. A lot of things that came out of the West Coast - not necessarily by me, but by country people here - Nashville took and applied. I was at odds with them right from the beginning; Merle came along and he was at odds with them. They wanted to control what we did on the West Coast, I felt."
"I’m from the Bob Wills and the Little Richard school of music. Bob Wills did what the hell he thought, Little Richard did what he thought, and those were my big influences. I didn’t like the music in Nashville: soft, easy, sweet recordings, and then they pour a gallon of maple syrup over it...so contrived. I disliked the fact that musicians who had their own bands could not record with their bands. Nashville producers wouldn’t let ‘em."
" I’m not going to beg and compromise what I believe in just because somebody in Nashville don’t approve. Screw that. I am who I am, I am what I am, I do what I do and I ain’t never gonna do it any different. I don’t care who likes it and who don’t."
Still, Buck was not a disinterested observer. "I never expected to record again. I knew I had done everything I ever wanted to do. I was satisfied. But...all the time I’m watching the country music horizon. And I’m sayin’ 'Lord, is there anybody gonna come?'"
A backlash against Nashville’s pop-country excesses was brewing even while the Urban Cowboy fad was peaking. Early-’80s hits by young, solidly traditional singers like Ricky Skaggs, John Anderson, and George Strait were the vanguard. On September 17, 1985, a front page New York Times story discussed the panic on Nashville’s Music Row as country record sales plummeted. The story pointed out the public’s weariness with sound-alike pop-country records and the over-emphasis on recording songs designed primarily to please radio programmers.
A slew of younger performers followed Anderson, Strait, and Skaggs. Some were the young people who grew up in the ‘60s with The Beatles and Rolling Stones, who also saw integrity and soul in the music of George Jones, Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams Sr., Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard. By the mid-’80s some of these young people – Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Ricky Van Shelton, and others – began to wipe away the maple syrup in Nashville.
Kentucky-born, Ohio-bred Yoakam had been rejected as "too country" when he went to Nashville in search of a recording contract. He gained his following in Los Angeles among young fans who loved rockabilly, hard country and New Wave Rock. Yoakam got a recording contract with Reprise and in the spring of 1986 had his first hit with a driving, stops-out revival of Johnny Horton’s 1956 hit "Honky-Tonk Man."
Buck heard Dwight singing "Honky-Tonk Man." Then KUZZ program Director Evan Bridwell told him that a Buck revival seemed to be brewing. "People would be sending me interviews from newspapers where they interviewed Dwight; I kept seein’ these things and he would say, ‘All you guys forgot about Buck Owens. Do you know who Buck Owens is?" Then all of a sudden he releases a song called ‘Little Ways,’ sounded exactly like me. It started takin’ off here."
Yoakam and other New Traditional performers gave Buck Owens a hope that though his career had wound down, his music was in caring hands. After Buck met Dwight and they performed at the fair in 1987, the two stayed in touch and sang Buck’s 1972 recording of "Streets Of Bakersfield" together on a 1988 CBS-TV special
Buck toured with Dwight that summer and for the first time in years, audiences saw Buck Owens not as the former star of Hee Haw, but in his true role as a master hard-country and honky-tonk singer. "I played dates with Dwight in Memphis and Atlanta, and Dwight would say, ‘Well you kinda gettin’ the bug, think you’re gonna record now?’ And I’d say, ‘No, Dwight, I told I’ve already done it." Buck pushed Dwight to record "Streets Of Bakersfield" and Dwight asked Buck to join him. That fall it hit #1, a place Buck hadn’t seen since 1972.
As "Streets Of Bakersfield" peaked, Buck received a letter from Capitol Records’ Nashville head Jim Foglesong, asking him to consider Capitol if he decided to record again. Ken Nelson had retired long ago. Buck signed with them and late in 1988 released a new album, Hot Dog, featuring a remake of the rockabilly number he’d first done 32 years ago, as well as "Under Your Spell Again" (sung with Dwight) and "A-11," which he’d first recorded in 1964. The single version of "Hot Dog" only made it to #46 on the charts. Nonetheless, Buck began doing interviews and performing with a reconstituted Buckaroos.
In March 1989, Buck was invited to the "Bammy" Awards, sponsored by BAM (Bay Area Music), a San Francisco-based rock magazine. At the presentation, his appeal to rockers of two generations reared its head again. He was photographed with fans that included Neil Young, Van Halen lead singer Sammy Hager, Chris Isaak, and John Fogerty(who’d mentioned Buck in the 1970 Creedence Clearwater Revival hit "Lookin’ Out My Back Door"). Buck was both pleased and moved.
"Seein’ Neil Young, Sammy Hager, John Fogerty...he liked me well enough he put my name in one of his songs. And I had no idea how they felt at that time. I wasn’t thinkin’ about that and I’m glad I wasn’t. I was just thinkin’ about doin’ what I liked to do. To know that the music has had some effect on the Rodney Crowells and the Dwights and the Marty Stuarts and Vince Gills and some of those young pickers, I’m very proud of that, although it was unplanned. It was just something that happened."
The producers of the Bammy Awards show had suggested that Buck and Ringo Star sing a duet version of "Act Naturally" at the show. Though Ringo didn’t appear at the festivities, Buck came up with a better idea: to recorded the song with Ringo. They did so in London that year at the Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles’ hits were recorded. It was a Grammy-nominated single and an album of the same name followed that year. Buck and Ringo also did an "Act Naturally" video. Though the album revealed his continued vitality, it didn’t meet sales expectations.
At age 62, Buck’s view of Nashville had changed...a bit. "Today, if I had to do it over again, I think what I would do it a little differently. I think what I would do, I would just be cool and take advantage of what Nashville had to offer instead of tryin’ to swim upstream all the time. All the control comes from Nashville, though my deal was on the West Coast.
But any speculation about future membership in the Country Music Hall Of Fame brings his old out-spokenness to the forefront, both for himself and for Ken Nelson, who Buck wants to see in the Hall Of Fame with producers Uncle Art Satherley, Paul Cohen, Chet Atkins, and Owen Bradley.
"If you want me in the Hall of Fame put me in because of some contributions that I have made to country music." Make no mistakes: Buck would be proud to be a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame- so long as it’s not solely a reward for glad-handing and back slapping (editors note: Buck was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996, after this interview was written).
Buck still owns his radio stations in Bakersfield, and also has two weekly publications he publishes and prints. "I’m not doin’ a lot of the daily management, except in an executive role. My nephew Mel is general manager of the company. So it works out real well for me; I come in and spend a couple hours here in the office, then I’m outta here. I don’t hang around.
Now into his seventh decade, having realized the dream of a poor boy from the Dust Bowl, he looks back on it all, and his place in history, with the same uncompromising energy and simplicity that have marked his life.
"I think I’m gonna be remembered the same way that people remember me today. There’s gonna be those that liked me and those that didn’t like me. I’d like just to be remembered as a guy that came along and did his music, did his best and showed up on time, clean and ready to do the job, wrote a few songs, and had a hell of a time."
Record no. Title Release Date
105 Down On The Corner Of Love/It Don't Show On Me 1956 106 The House Down The Block/Right After The Dance 1956 107 Hot Dog/Rhythm And Booze (as Corky Jones) 1956 108 I'd Rather Have You/My Old Fashioned Heart (with Pauline Parker) 1956 109 Sweethearts In Heaven/There Goes My Love 1956
44223 Country Girl (Leavin' Dirty Tracks)/? 1950s
F3824 Come Back/I Know What It Means Oct. 21, 1957 F3957 Sweet Thing/I Only Know That I Love You Apr. 7, 1958 F4090 I'll Take A Chance On Loving You/Walk The Floor Nov. 10, 1958 F4172 Second Fiddle/My Everlasting Love Mar. 23, 1959 F4245 Under Your Spell Again/Tired Of Livin' July 13, 1959 4337 Above And Beyond/Till These Dreams Come True Feb. 1, 1960 4412 Excuse Me (I Think I've Got A Heartache) /I've Got A Right To Know Aug. 1, 1960 4496 Foolin' Around/High As The Mountains Jan. 2, 1961 4550 Loose Talk/Mental Cruelty (w/ Rose Maddox) Apr. 10, 1961 4602 Under The Influence Of Love/Bad Bad Dream July 24, 1961 4679 Nobody's Fool But Yours/Mirror Mirror On The Wall Jan. 2, 1962 4765 Save The Last Dance For Me/King Of Fools May 21, 1962 4826 Kickin' Our Hearts Around/I Can't Stop (My Lovin' You) Aug. 20, 1962 4872 You're For Me/House Down The Block Nov. 5, 1962 4937 Act Naturally/Over And Over Again Mar. 11, 1963 4992 We're The Talk Of The Town/Sweethearts In Heaven (w/ Rose Maddox) June 24, 1963 5025 Love's Gonna Live Here/Getting Used To Losing You Aug. 19, 1963 5136 My Heart Skips A Beat/Together Again Feb. 24, 1964 5240 I Don't Care/Don't Let Her Know Aug. 3, 1964 5336 I've Got A Tiger By The Tail/Cryin' Time Dec. 28, 1964 5410 Before You Go/(I Want) No One But You April 19, 1965 5465 Only You (Can Break My Heart)/Gonna Have Love July 5, 1965 5517 Buckaroo/If You Want Love Oct. 11, 1965 5537 Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy/All I Want For Christmas Dear Is You Nov. 8, 1965 5566 Waitin' In Your Welfare Line/In The Palm Of Your Hand Jan. 3, 1966 5647 Think Of Me/Heart Of Glass May 2, 1966 5705 Open Up Your Heart/No More Me And You Aug. 15, 1966 5811 Where Does The Good Times Go/The Way That I Love You Dec. 26, 1966 5865 Sam's Place/Don't Ever Tell Me Goodbye Mar. 13, 1967 5942 Your Tender Loving Care/What A Liar I Am June 26, 1967 2001 It Takes People Like You (To Make People Like Me)/You Left Her Lonely Too Long Sept. 25,1967 2080 How Long Will My Baby Be Gone/Everybody Needs Somebody Jan. 8, 1968 2142 Sweet Rosie Jones/Happy Times Are Here Again Apr. 1, 1968 2237 Let The World Keep On A Turnin'/I'll Love You Forever And Ever (w/ Buddy Alan) July 8, 1968 2300 I've Got You On My Mind Again/That's All Right With Me (If It's All Right With You) Sept. 30, 1968 2328 Christmas Shopping/One Of Everything You Got Nov. 4, 1968 2330 Things I Saw Happening At The Fountain When I Was Visiting Rome Or Amore/Turkish Holiday Nov. 4, 1968 2377 Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass/There's Gotta Be Some Changes Made Jan. 13, 1969 2485 Johnny B. Goode/Maybe If I Close My Eyes (It'll Go Away) May 5, 1969 2570 Tall Dark Stranger/Sing That Kind Of Song July 21, 1969 2646 Big In Vegas/White Satin Bed Oct. 20, 1969 2731 We're Gonna Get Together/Everybody Needs Somebody (w/ Susan Raye) Feb 2, 1970 2791 Togetherness/Fallin' For You (w/ Susan Raye) Apr. 6, 1970 2783 The Kansas City Song/I'd Love To Be Your Man May 18, 1970 2871 The Great White Horse/Your Tender Loving Care (w/ Susan Raye) July 27, 1970 2947 I Wouldn't Live In New York City (If They Gave Me The Whole Dang Town)/No Milk And Honey In Baltimore Oct. 5, 1970 3023 Bridge Over Troubled Water/(I'm Goin') Home Jan. 11, 1971 3096 Ruby (Are You Mad)/Heartbreak Mountain Apr. 12, 1971 3164 Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms/Corn Likker Aug. 16, 1971 3215 Too Old To Cut The Mustard/Wham Bam (w/ Buddy Alan) Nov. 8, 1971 3225 Santa's Gonna Come In A Stage Coach/One Of Everything You Got (w/ Susan Raye) Nov. 22, 1971 3262 I'll Still Be Waiting For You/Full Time Daddy Jan. 17, 1972 3314 Made In Japan/Black Texas Dirt Apr. 3, 1972 3368 Looking Back To See/Cryin' Time (w/ Susan Raye) June 19, 1972 3429 You Ain't Gonna Have Ol' Buck To Kick Around No More/I Love You So Much It Hurts Aug. 28, 1972 3504 In The Palm Of Your Hand/Get Out Of Town Before Sundown Dec. 4, 1972 3563 Ain't It Amazing Gracie/The Good Ol' Days (Are Here Again) Mar. 5, 1973 3601 The Gold Ol' Days (Are Here Again)/When You Get To Heaven (I'll Be There) (w/ Susan Raye) May 21, 1973 3688 Arms Full Of Empty/Songwriter's Lament July 30, 1973 3769 Big Game Hunter/That Loving Feeling Nov. 5, 1973 3841 On The Cover Of The Music City News/Stony Mountain West Virginia Feb. 25, 1974 3907 (It's A) Monsters' Holiday/Great Expectations June 24, 1974 3976 Great Expectations/Let The Fun Begin Nov. 4, 1974 4043 Weekend Daddy/41st Street Lonely Hearts Club Mar. 10, 1975 4100 Sweethearts In Heaven/Love Is Strange (w/ Susan Raye) June 16, 1975 4138 Battle Of New Orleans/Run Him To The Roundhouse Nellie Sept. 8, 1975 4181 Country Singer's Prayer/Meanwhile Back At The Ranch Nov. 10, 1975
8223 Hollywood Waltz/Rain On Your Parade May 26, 1976 8255 California Okie/Child Support Aug. 18, 1976 8316 World Famous Holiday Inn/He Don't Deserve You Anymore Jan. 19, 1977 8395 It's Been A Long, Long Time/Rain On Your Parade May 1977 8433 Our Old Mansion/How Come My Dog Don't Bark Aug. 3, 1977 8486 Texas Tornado/Let The Good Times Roll Oct. 19, 1977 8614 Nights Are Forever Without You/When I Need You July 5, 1978 8701 Do You Wanna Make Love/Season Of My Heart Nov. 8, 1978 8830 Play Together Again Again (w/ Emmylou Harris)/He Don't Deserve You Anymore Apr. 18, 1979 49046 Hangin' In And Hangin' On/Sweet Molly Brown's Aug. 15, 1979 49118 Let Jesse Rob The Train/Victim Of Life's Circumstances Nov. 4, 1979 49200 Love Is A Warm Cowboy/I Don't Want To Live In San Francisco Mar. 5, 1980 49278 Moonlight And Magnolia/Nickels And Dimes June 18, 1980 49651 Without You/Love Don't Make The Bars Mar. 15, 1981 Reprise 27964 Streets Of Bakersfield (w/ Dwight Yoakam) June 17, 1988
Capitol - Curb/Capitol
44248 Hot Dog/Second Fiddle Sept. 28, 1988 44295 A-11/Sweethearts In Heaven Jan. 4, 1989 44356 Put Another Quarter In The Jukebox/Don't Let Her Know Mar. 22, 1989 44409 Act Naturally (w/ Ringo Star)/The Key's In The Mailbox June 21, 1989 44465 Gonna Have Love/Out There Chasing Rainbows (cassette single) Sept. 13, 1989 4454 Tijuana Lady/Brooklyn Bridge (cassette single) 79396 Kickin' In (promo-only CD single) Oct. 22, 1990 79896 Forever Yours (promo-only CD single) July 22, 1991
EAP-1-1550 Foolin' Around May 8, 1961 R-5446 Four By Buck Owens June 14, 1965
8017 Buck Owens 1961
DT1489 Buck Owens (later released as "Under Your Spell Again) Jan. 30, 1961 ST1482 Buck Owens Sings Harlan Howard Aug. 28, 1961 ST1777 You're For Me Oct. 1, 1962 ST1879 On The Bandstand Apr. 29, 1963 ST1989 Buck Owens Sings Tommy Collins Nov. 11, 1963 ST2009 Country Music Hootenanny (various artists live from Bakersfield - includes one track by Buck Owens) Nov. 18, 1963 ST2105 The Best Of Buck Owens June 1, 1964 ST2135 Together Again/My Heart Skips A Beat July 20, 1964 ST2186 I Don't Care Nov. 2, 1964 ST2283 I've Got A Tiger By The Tail Mar. 1, 1965 ST2353 Before You Go/No One But You July 26, 1965 ST2367 The Instrumental Hits Of Buck Owens And His Buckaroos July 26, 1965 ST2396 Christmas With Buck Owens Oct. 4, 1965 ST2443 Roll Out The Red Carpet Feb. 7, 1966 ST2497 Dust On Mother's Bible May2, 1966 ST2556 Carnegie Hall Concert July 25, 1966 ST2640 Open Up Your Heart Dec. 27, 1966 ST2715 Buck Owens And His Buckaroos In Japan May 1, 1967 ST2760 Your Tender Loving Care Aug. 7, 1967 ST2841 It Takes People Like You To Make People Like Me Jan. 2, 1968 ST2897 The Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 2 Apr. 1, 1968 ST2962 Sweet Rosie Jones July 1, 1968 ST2977 Christmas Shopping Oct. 7, 1968 ST2994 Buck Owens The Guitar Player Oct. 7, 1968 ST131 I've Got You On My Mind Again Dec. 30, 1968 SKA0145 Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 3 Jan. 13, 1969 ST232 Buck Owens In London June 2, 1969 ST212 Tall Dark Stranger Sept. 29, 1969 ST413 The Buck Owens Show: Big In Vegas Dec. 29, 1969 ST439 Your Mother's Prayer Mar. 2, 1970 ST448 We're Gonna Get Together (w/ Susan Raye) Apr. 6, 1970 ST476 The Kansas City Song July 6, 1970 ST558 Great White Horse (w/ Susan Raye) Sept. 8, 1970 ST628 I Wouldn't Live In New York City Nov. 2, 1970 ST685 Bridge Over Troubled Water Feb. 15, 1971 ST785 Buck Owens Ruby June 21, 1971 ST830 The Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 4 Oct. 4, 1971 ST837 Merry Christmas From Buck Owens And Susan Raye (w/ Susan Raye) Sept. 20, 1971 ST874 Too Old To Cut The Mustard (w/ Buddy Alan) Jan. 1972 SMAS11039 Buck Owens Live At The Nugget Apr. 24, 1972 ST11084 The Best Of Buck Owens And Susan Raye (w/ Susan Raye) July 1972 ST11105 Live At The White House Sept. 5, 1972 ST11136 In The Palm Of Your Hand Jan. 8, 1973 ST11180 Ain't It Amazing, Gracie May 14, 1973 ST11204 Good Old Days (Are Here Again) (w/ Susan Raye) July 1973 ST11222 Arms Full Of Empty Sept. 10, 1973 ST11273 Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 5 Feb. 1974 ST11332 (It's A) Monsters' Holiday Sept. 1974 ST11390 41st Street Lonely Hearts' Club/Weekend Daddy May 5, 1975 ST11471 Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 6 Jan. 12, 1976
Capitol Foreign Releases
7E 062-80578 Buck Owens "Live In Scandinavia 1970 ECP 93135 B Buck Owens Show In Japan 1974 ST23261 Buck Owens Live In New Zealand 1974 ST23372 Buck Owens Show "Live At The Sydney Opera House 1974 Warner Brothers BS2952 Buck 'Em June 36, 1976 BS3087 Our Old Mansion Sept. 30, 1977
Country Music Foundation
CMF-012-L Live At Carnegie Hall (reissue of Capitol ST2556 with extra tracks) Dec. 1988
CI-9132 Hot Dog! Nov. 16, 1988 CI-92893 Act Naturally Oct. 4, 1989
Country Music Foundation
CMF-012-D Live At Carnegie Hall (reissue of Capitol ST2556 with extra tracks) Dec. 1988
CDP 7 91132 2 Hot Dog! Nov. 16, 1988 CDP 7 92893 2 Act Naturally Oct. 4, 1989 D2-77342 All-Time Greatest Hits Volume 1 Aug. 13m, 1990 D2-77349 Christmas With Buck Owens (reissue of Capitol ST2396) Aug. 27, 1990 C4-95340 Kickin' In Jan. 7, 1991
Inside Out /Toshiba-EMI (Japan Only)
TOCP-6651 Under Your Spell Again (reissue of Capitol T1489) Apr. 19, 1991 TOCP-6652 Buck Owens Sings Howard Harlan (reissue of Capitol ST1482) Apr. 19, 1991 TOCP-6653 You're For Me (reissue of Capitol ST1777) Apr. 19, 1991 TOCP-6654 On The Bandstand (reissue of Capitol ST1879) Apr. 19, 1991 TOCP-6655 Buck Owens Sing Tommy Collins (reissue of Capitol ST1989) Apr. 19, 1991 TOCP-6656 Together Again/My Heart Skips A Beat (reissue of Capitol ST2135) May 10, 1991 TOCP-6657 I Don't Care (reissue of Capitol ST2186) May 10, 1991 TOCP-6658 I've Got A Tiger By The Tail (reissue of Capitol ST2283) May 10, 1991 TOCP-6659 Before You Go/No One But You (reissue of Capitol ST2353) May 10, 1991 TOCP-6660 Dust On Mother's Bible (reissue of Capitol ST2497) May 10, 1991
Harlan Howard wrote many of Buck Owens' biggest hits and best songs, including "I've Got A Tiger By the Tail," "Above and Beyond," "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got A Heartache)," and "Under the Influence of Love," so it's only natural that Buck recorded an entire album of Howard's material. And it's also not surprising that it's a stunner, too. Owens sang Howard better than nearly anybody and Buck Owens Sings Harlan Howard is full of wonderful songs and performances. Only "Foolin' Around" is regularly featured on Buck's hit compilations, which means there's a wealth of lesser-known gems —- including "Heartaches By the Number," "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down," "Keys in the Mailbox" and "Let's Agree to Disagree" — that form the core of this record, one of Owens' most enjoyable LPs of the '60s.
BUCK OWENS SINGS HARLAN HOWARD (Capitol ST-1482) August 28/1961 Produced by Ken Nelson
Recorded: Dec 3/1960, Capitol Records Studio, Hollywood
Featuring Owens' early development of the Bakersfield sound (the classic Buckaroos lineup had yet to be assembled and Don Rich is only listed as the fiddle player on "Excuse Me [I Think I've Got a Heartache]"), this opening salvo sports his early hits "Above and Beyond," "Under Your Spell Again" and "Second Fiddle." This 14-track reissue also sports two extra bonus tracks in addition to the original album, "High as the Mountain" (a 1961 single) and the first recorded version of "Nobody's Fool But Yours," originally issued on a Capitol country compilation. Transfers are astonishingly crisp and clear, showing producer Ken Nelson's touch to good advantage. The sound that became the legend starts right here.
BUCK OWENS (Capitol T-1489) January 30/1961 Produced by Ken Nelson & Virginia Richmond
Recorded: 1958-1959, Capitol Records Studio, Hollywood
BUCK OWENS YOU'RE FOR ME (Capitol ST-1777) October 1/1962 Produced by Ken Nelson & Virginia Richmond Recorded 05-09/1961
One of Buck's rootsier '60s Capitol albums, including only one hit ("Kickin' Our Hearts"), and giving plenty of instrumental and vocal space to the rest of the band. It's not as heavy on original material as some of his other Capitol LPs, including numbers by Wanda Jackson, Willie Nelson, Leadbelly, and John D. Loudermilk, as well as an arrangment of "Orange Blossom Special." The CD reissue adds two cuts from a 1963 Top 20 duet single he recorded with Rose Maddox.
BUCK OWENS ON THE BANDSTAND (Capitol ST-1879) April 29/1963 Produced by Ken Nelson
Buck Owens - vocal/guitar Don Rich - fiddle/guitar/vocal Jay McDonalds - steel Kenny Pierce - el.bass/vocal Ken Presley - drums Recorded: May-Sept/1961, Capitol Records Studio, Hollywood
Tommy Collins' legacy was greater than his success on the charts, which, despite a few Top Ten singles in the mid-'50s, was never sustained. However, he was a king in California, and he exerted considerable influence on Bakersfield country and its two figureheads, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, who frequently cited his importance and recorded his songs. Owens, in fact, was a guitarist in Collins' band, which gave him one of his first big breaks, and he decided to return the favor by recording an album of 12 Collins songs in 1963. Like any tribute by an artist who knows his subject intimately, the song selection is highly individualized, but in the case of a cult act like Collins, this works to his favor, since it captures all sides of his character. Owens doesn't rely only on the silly songs that brought Collins some success, but he does cut "It Tickles," a goofy, annoying song about a moustache. But Owens knows what makes Collins an unheralded great: how he could be silly but also have plaintive weepers like "High on a Hilltop" and rocking juke-joint ravers like "If You Ain't Lovin' (You Ain't Livin')," popularized by Faron Young. Owens plays up these two sides, slightly favoring the uptempo side, which comes as little surprise to those familiar with the high-octane, high-twang country of his early Capitol records. Owens didn't have hits with this record, but it did go to number one, and it does stand as one of his most consistently satisfying long-players, thanks to the pen of Tommy Collins and the wonderful performances of Buck Owens & His Buckaroos.
BUCK OWENS SINGS TOMMY COLLINS (Capitol ST-1989) November 11/1963 Produced by Ken Nelson
THE BEST OF BUCK OWENS (Capitol ST-2105) June 1/1964 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS TOGETHER AGAIN / MY HEART SKIPS A BEAT Capitol ST-2135 July 20/1964 Produced by Ken Nelson Buck Owens - vocal/guitar Don Rich - guitar/fiddle/vocals Tom Brumley, Jay McDonalds - steel Doyle Holly, Bob Morris - bass Willie Cantu, Ken Presley - drums Recorded: Jan-June/1964, Capitol Studios, Hollywood
Buck Owens' career was in high enough gear by this point for I Don't Care to be his third album for the year. The reason was simple: the hit status of the title track, which held the number one position on the country charts for six weeks. Like his previous albums, this one features solo performances from Owens (this batch featuring "Don't Let Her Know," "You're Welcome Anytime," "Playboy," "This Ol' Heart," and a duet with Rose Maddox, "Loose Talk") mixed with solo turns by the rest of the band. In addition to Don Rich's takes on Roger Miller's "Dang Me" and "Louisiana Man," this also features two vocals from bassist Doyle Holly ("Abilene" and a version of "Understand Your Man" that's positively growly), "Bud's Bounce," a showcase for steel guitar man Tom Brumley, and a surprise guitar solo from Owens on "Buck's Polka." [The two bonus tracks feature instrumental versions of "Don't Let Her Know" and the title track, both under the direction of Rich from the 1966 Buck Owens' Songbook album.]
BUCK OWENS I DON'T CARE (Capitol ST-2186) November 2/1964 Produced by Ken Nelson
Buck Owens had his share of country hits prior to the release of I've Got a Tiger by the Tail and the hit single that spawned it. But "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail" was Owens' national breakthrough, featuring everything right about his Bakersfield honky tonk sound sweated down to a 2:12 single that proved to be a irresistible piece of crossover magic to non-country fans without diluting his basic sound one iota. This 14-track CD reissue brings together the original Capitol tracks from that album (which also included the hit "Cryin' Time," later to be a crossover hit of its own when recorded by Ray Charles), along with two bonus tracks. These are live versions recorded in Bakersfield at the Civic Auditorium in October 1963 of "This Ol' Heart" and "Act Naturally," taken from the Capitol anthology album Country Music Hootenanny. The sound of Don Rich is all over this album, with his signature biting Telecaster guitar style, plus his vocalizing on "Wham Bam" (which features Owens on lead guitar) and a feature with Buck on a duet of Chuck Berry's "Memphis." Bass player Doyle Holly handles the vocal chores on "Streets of Laredo," while Don Rich's fiddle work is highlighted on the instrumental "A Maiden's Prayer." But ultimately it's Owens' show with tracks like "Trouble and Me," "We're Gonna Let the Good Times Roll," "If You Fall Out of Love With Me," "The Band Keeps Playin' On," and the ballad "Let the Sad Times Roll On" being classic examples of Owens' Bakersfield honky tonk sound at the height of its freight-train rumbling powers.
BUCK OWENS I'VE GOT A TIGER BY THE TAIL (Capitol ST-2283) March 10/1965 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS BEFORE YOU GO / NO ONE BUT YOU (Capitol ST-2353) July 26/1965 Produced by Ken Nelson
When originally issued in July of 1965, no one either noticed or cared that in reality The Instrumental Hits was actually a compilation of tracks already available on early Buck Owens & His Buckaroos albums (except for the band's signature song "Buckaroo," which is unique to this package). Regardless of the ratio of new to recycled material, this collection amply highlights the remarkable talents of Owens and his Buckaroos. Note: This title should not be confused with The Buck Owens Songbook, another all-instrumental album comparable to a karaoke (read: sans lead vocals) "greatest hits" package. The retrospective nature of this disc allows listeners to experience the evolution of the potent instrumentalists who accompanied Owens circa 1961-1966. Although it would take several years before a stable touring and recording lineup would be forged, the strong influence and collaborative efforts of Don Rich were there right from the beginning. Whether it's with a fiddle under his chin on songs such as "Bile 'Em Cabbage Down" and "Faded Love" or duelling guitars on "Buckaroo," Rich is undoubtedly the soul of the band, if Owens is the heart. Owens — who is most notable as a lead vocalist — is highlighted on this release as one heck of an underrated instrumentalist. The restless grace in his picking thrusts "Country Polka," "Raz-Ma-Taz Polka," and "Buck's Polka" into orbit via the trademark full-toned electric C&W feel that would ultimately create the Bakersfield sound. The Sundazed Music CD reissue contains two additional bonus tracks: "Act Naturally" and "Tiger By the Tail," Buck Owens & His Buckaroos' biggest crossover hits. These are taken from the previously mentioned The Buck Owens Songbook collection of music and are minus one thing — the vocals. This compilation should not be missed.
BUCK OWENS INSTRUMENTAL HITS (Capitol ST-2367) '65 July 26/1965 Produced by Ken Nelson
Buck Owens - guitar Doyle Holly - bass Don Rich - guitar/fiddle Tom Brumbley - steel Willie Cantu - drums Jolly Sanders - fiddle Bob Morris - el.bass
CHRISTMAS WITH BUCK OWENS (Capitol ST-2396) October 4/1965 Produced by Ken Nelson
While Roll Out the Red Carpet continued the tradition of solid long-players for Buck Owens & His Buckaroos, it ironically was their first album not to have a single in the charts. The stability of the lineup as well as a few Buckaroo instrumentals and vocal duets — featuring lead Buckaroo and longtime Owens collaborator Don Rich — contribute to the power of this oft-overlooked effort. The increasingly subtle yet significant impact of rock & roll can be heard throughout Roll Out the Red Carpet. The cross-referencing of the British Invasion with the equally guitar-heavy Bakersfield sound is more than evident. Beatles classics such as "What Goes On," as well as the vocal arrangements to "And Your Bird Can Sing," have audible roots in compositions such as Rich's "I'm Layin' It on the Line" or "There Never Was a Fool." The unique vocal blend that Owens and Rich share could have easily been the prototype for the Lennon and Starr duet on the former Fab Four favorite. The Buckaroos' instrumentals are particularly potent this go-round as well. On "Cajun Fiddle," Owens marries the light electric guitar sound of Bakersfield with a swampy bayou fiddle from Rich. The same airy groove would be incorporated into performance favorites such as "Fishin' on the Mississippi." "Tom Cattin'," the other instrumental on Roll Out the Red Carpet, is a more traditional hoedown featuring an ethereal sounding pedal steel guitar rhythm track — presumably overdubbed by Buckaroo steel string man Tom Brumley. Instrumental versions of "Only You (Can Break My Heart)" and "My Heart Skips a Beat" are added as bonus tracks on the Sundazed Records CD reissues. Both tracks were originally issued on the karaoke-style Buck Owens' Songbook long-player.
BUCK OWENS ROLL OUT THE RED CARPET (Capitol ST-2443) February 7/1966 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS DUST ON MOTHER'S BIBLE (Capitol ST-2497) May 2/1966 Produced by Ken Nelson Recorded: Nov/1965
Buck Owens & the Buckaroos' 1966 concert at Carnegie Hall was a landmark not only for the band, but for country music: It signaled that country had firmly integrated itself not only into America's popular music mainstream, but also urban centers like New York. Owens and the Buckaroos had to deliver a stellar performance, and they did — the group sounded like dynamite, tearing through a selection of their classic hits with vigor. Several decades removed from the performance itself, what really comes through is how musical and gifted the Buckaroos were, particularly Don Rich. For dedicated fans, it's a necessary addition to their collection.
BUCK OWENS CARNEGIE HALL CONCERT (Capitol ST-2556) July 26/1966 Produced by Ken Nelson
Buck Owens - vocals/guitar Don Rich - guitar/vocals Tom Brumley - steel Doyle Holly - bass/vocals Willie Cantu - drums Recorded live March 25/1966, Carnegie Hall, NY City
Open Up Your Heart arrived in 1966, in the midst of Buck Owens' remarkable streak of success — success that would propel him to the stage of Carnegie Hall in March of that year. This album followed a few months later, and while it is still firmly within his trademark Bakersfield sound, there are slight moves away from his twangy, purer material and toward material that was just a little sillier and a little poppier. Not that anybody could accuse Buck Owens & His Buckaroos of abandoning country music, or even making an overture toward the kind of country-pop coming out of Nashville, but the presentation of the music is a little streamlined and not quite as down-home as it used to be. To begin with, Owens handles all of the lead and harmony vocals on the album, with no instrumentals for Don Rich, even. Then, the songs are getting a little sillier, whether it's the characters who populate the chorus on "Sam's Place" or the corny jokes on "Waitin' in Your Welfare Line." Finally, the production is a little more open and bright, sounding like something coming out of an AM radio instead of a dark honky tonk. These are all subtle changes, and they don't change the fundamental sound of Owens' music, even if they change the feel. As such, Open Up Your Heart doesn't resonate quite as strongly as earlier efforts from Owens, nor does it warrant as many repeat plays, but it is still crafted and played well enough to make it a satisfying listen.
BUCK OWENS OPEN UP YOUR HEART (Capitol ST-2640) December 27/1966 Produced by Ken Nelson Recorded: August 1965 - April 1966
BUCK OWENS IN JAPAN (Capitol ST-2715) May 1/1967 Produced by Ken Nelson
Buck Owens - vocal/guitar Don Rich - guitar/fiddle/vocal Tom Brumley - steel Wayne Wilson - bass/vocal Willie Cantu – drums
The consistent quality of Buck Owen's '60s albums is impressive considering the half-heartedness that typified many albums of the period. Your Tender Loving Care is a CD reissue of a 1967 album that was assembled from recordings made at various sessions from 1965-1966. Despite the impression that it is a collection of leftovers, the singularity of Owens' stylistic vision prevents the album from seeming like a hodgepodge. No surprises await the faithful, but this is solid material. The disc includes two bonus tracks, single versions of the title song and "Sam's Place" (both of which were number-one hits). The album tracks are nearly all Buck Owens originals, a few of which were co-written with Red Simpson or Don Rich.
BUCK OWENS YOUR TENDER LOVING CARE (Capitol ST-2760) August 7/1967 Produced by Ken Nelson
By this time, Owens had found his groove, crafting one fine single after another, making each new album almost seem like a greatest hits collection, even if every song wasn't actually a chart number. Highlights include "The Way That I Love You," "You Left Her Lonely Too Long," the title track and "Where Does the Good Times Go," both also offered as mono single release bonus tracks.
BUCK OWENS IT TAKES PEOPLE LIKE YOU (Capitol ST-2841) January 2/1968 Produced by Ken Nelson "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail," "Together Again," "My Heart Skips a Beat" — all these are classic Owens from his mid-'60s peak. It features The Fabulous Buckaroos, including Don Rich on lead guitar and harmonies and Tom Brumley on steel. It's a must for any serious country & western fan.
BEST OF BUCK OWENS VOL. 2 (Capitol ST-2897) April 1/1968 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS SWEET ROSIE JONES (Capitol ST-2962) July 1/1968 Produced by Ken Nelson
Owens' second Christmas album emanates from five session held between February and June of 1968. At this stage of the game, the Buckaroos were a well-oiled studio machine and even the tinkly keyboard stylings of Earle "Poole" Ball doesn't detract from the twang quotient, although this is arguably a more slickly produced album than its predecessor. The usual batch of uptempo, optimistic opuses paired off with holiday weepers ("All I Want for Christmas Is My Daddy" is spot on target) makes this a country Christmas album with a nice, original touch to it.
BUCK OWENS CHRISTMAS SHOPPING (Capitol ST-2977) October 7/1968 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS I'VE GOT YOU ON MY MIND AGAIN (Capitol ST-131) December 30/1968 Produced by Ken Nelson
THE BEST OF BUCK OWENS VOL. 3 (Capitol SKAO 145) '69 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS TALL DARK STRANGER (Capitol ST-212) September 29/1969 Produced by Ken Nelson
In 1969, at the height of anti-war fever in America and elsewhere around the world, Buck Owens & His Buckaroos went to the London Palladium as if there was nothing a little Bakersfield country music couldn't cure. And the London audience loved it; they ate it up like chocolate. The audience frenzy — actual, not added — of the first medley of "Act Naturally" and "Together Again" is unnerving. The cornball humor is everywhere and this sophisticated London audience falls for this terrible sh*t — but the music rocks in true Buck fashion. Check out the bad-ass Ventures-meets-Bakersfield boogie of "A Happening in London Town." Buck and crew whip through "Sweet Rosie Jones," Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home," and "Sam's Place" before the side ends. Side two has two medleys, one of Buck's hits, "Love's Gonna Live Here," "Cryin' Time," "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail," and "Open up Your Heart." It's raw and wild and louder than sh*t. There's a short medley of Louisiana Cajun tunes before Buck goes from the sacred ("Dust on Mother's Bible") to the wonderfully profane ("Johnny B. Goode") to close the show. Buck playing Chuck Berry — now there's some deep paradox that proves that music is the universal language, and the significance of it was not lost on the London audience.
BUCK OWENS IN LONDON (Capitol ST-232) June 2/1969 Produced by Ken Nelson
Recorded live at London Palladium
Buck Owens - vocal/guitar Don Rich - guitar/fiddle/vocal J.D. Mayness - steel Doyle Holly - bass Jerry Wiggins - drums
THE BUCK OWENS SHOW BIG IN VEGAS (Capitol ST-413) December 29/1969 Produced by Ken Nelson
Recorded live at Bonanza Hotel, Last Vegas, Nevada Introductions by Chris Lane
BUCK OWENS YOUR MOTHER'S PRAYER (Capitol ST-439) March 2/1970 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS & SUSAN RAYE WE'RE GONNA GET TOGETHER (Capitol ST-448) April 6/1970 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS THE KANSAS CITY SONG (Capitol ST-476) July 6/1970 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS & SUSAN RAYE THE GREAT WHITE HORSE (Capitol ST-558) September 8/1970 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (Capitol ST-685) February 15/1971 Produced by Buck Owens
Recorded: Dec/1970, Buck Owens Studio, Bakersfield
BUCK OWENS RUBY (Capitol ST-795) January 21/1971 Produced by Buck Owens
Don Rich - guitar/fiddle/harmony voices Ron Jackson - banjo Jerry Wiggins - drums/percussion Doyle Singer - bass/harmony voices Jim Shaw - piano/organ Recorded: Feb-Apr/1971, Buck Owens Studio, Bakersfield
THE BEST OF BUCK OWENS VOL. 4 (Capitol ST-830) October 4/1971 Produced by Ken Nelson & Buck Owens
BUCK OWENS & BUDDY ALAN TOO OLD TO CUT THE MUSTARD (Capitol ST-874) January/1972 Produced by Buck Owens
Recorded: 1971, Buck Owens Studio, Bakersfield
Though a few of the ten tracks on In the Palm of Your Hand appeared on previous albums and have been included on subsequent releases, the majority of them appear here for the first and only time in Buck Owens' recorded catalog. Songs such as the classic Bakersfield sound of "Arms Full of Empty" and the excellent ballad "Something's Wrong" are too strong to be overlooked to the extent that they have been. "There Goes My Love" is one of the most insanely catchy songs to ever appear on an Owens album, as well. His last number one hit as a solo artist, "Made in Japan," is also included, making this one of his more overlooked albums. Sadly, the entire album squeaks in at just under 26 minutes, though there are definitely more than enough reasons to check it out.
BUCK OWENS IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND (Capitol ST-11136) January 8/1973 Produced by Buck Owens
BUCK OWENS AIN'T IT AMAZING GRACIE (Capitol ST-11180) May 14/1973 Produced by Ken Nelson
BUCK OWENS & SUSAN RAYE THE GOOD OLD DAYS (ARE HERE AGAIN) (Capitol ST-11204) July/1973 Produced by Bob Morris
BUCK OWENS 41ST STREET LONELY HEART'S CLUB (Capitol ST-11390) May 6/1975 Produced by Buck Owens Recorded at Buck Owens Studio, Bakersfield
Most people won't remember his name alone. If you tell them he was Buck Owens' guitarist, the leader of the Buckaroos, some people might recall the handsome, talented guy who died too soon. But mention this name to a guitar player who's been around awhile, and you'll see a look of utter amazement. They'll remember the fast fingers and ''chicken pickin''' that made the Buckaroos so famous. Don Rich was born Donald Eugene Ulrich on August 15, 1941. He began playing violin at the age of three. As a teenager growing up in Tumwater, Washington, he picked up the guitar as well. During those years he caught the ear of Buck Owens, then a DJ and musician in Tacoma. After Don graduated from high school, he planned to become a music teacher. He quit college after a year or so to join Buck's band, named the Buckaroos by Merle Haggard. Don and Buck were an amazing combination. Buck has been quoted as saying that their two voices joined to make more than the sum of their parts. It takes only a short listen to their music to see what Buck means by this. There was something magical about the way their voices blended together. From the 1950's through today, many Buckaroos came and went, but Buck only had ONE "right arm" and that was Don Rich. Together they went from playing one night stands to the top of the charts. In the late 1960's, the Buckaroos won "Band of the Year" awards several times. Through TV shows like "The Buck Owens Ranch" and "Hee Haw," the Buckaroos' audience grew. There were several Buckaroos albums without Buck. Don's talent was not limited to the guitar and his singing voice. He was an excellent fiddle player as well. He cut an album in 1972 (unfortunately this is not available on CD) called "That Fiddlin' Man."
Country Music in the Pacific Northwest Country music has a remarkably long history in the state of Washington -- but just as with the genres of jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, some of the earliest players actually brought their music to the Pacific Northwest from elsewhere. America’s geographic frontier of the “Wild West” attracted newcomers who brought their cultural traditions along with them, and the opportunities for homesteaders, miners, cattlemen, loggers -- and musicians -- abounded. Although other locales in America -- like Tennessee and Texas -- are more closely associated with the hillbilly yodeling and “twangin’” tunes of country music, history reveals that there has also been a thriving-if-underappreciated scene based here for many decades. Home Sweet Home When the “string bands” who played early forms of country music first emerged in the Northwest, they were regarded as “territory” bands that typically performed at rural barn dances and grange hall hoe-downs all across the region. The most notable of these local old-timey groups was Laam’s Happy Hayseeds who were originally based out of the rural town of John Day, Oregon. Formed by three brothers -- Logan Laam (leader and guitar), Ivan Laam (fiddle), and Fred Laam (banjo) -- the group began performing in the 1920s, traveled widely on the West Coast, and when they recorded a couple tunes (“Cottonwood Reel” and “Home Sweet Home”) on March 4th, 1930, that were released nationally by Victor Records, the group became one of the earliest string bands anywhere to be documented on record. Other bands that worked the territory over the following few decades included Wenatchee’s Dude Smith Family Band, Hoquiam’s Frank Ole’Shay and his Blue Mountain Boys, Centralia’s Ma Parker and her Western Swing Band, Chehalis’s Clyde Baker and The Boys, Olympia’s “Oakie” Armstrong and his Chamberlain Carboys and the Tex Mitchell Band, Tacoma’s Pop Avera and his Wildwood Boys and Smokie Noland and the Cactus Cutups, and Portland’s “Long Tom” Kizziah and his West Coast Ramblers and “Cowboy” Heck Harper and his Circle 8 Hoe-Down Gang. Additional early groups from Washington were: Lee Workman and the Circle Ranch Hands, Billy Oudeen and His Harmony Ranch Boys, Roger Crandall and his Barndance Boys, Shorty Holloway and His Prairie Riders, Ben Gabbard and the Ranch Hands, Bill Plummer’s Country Gentleman, the Elder Brothers, the Cascade Hillbillies, Ann Jones and her Western Sweethearts, the Western Melody Boys, the Cascade Mt. Boys, and the Western Rangers. Hitting the Honky-Tonks With job opportunities often booming locally, a surprising number of major country music talents came to the Northwest to find work -- and in doing so they sometimes left their musical mark here. Among the more notable visitors was the now-legendary Hank Williams (Sr.) who came out from Montgomery, Alabama in 1942 to train as a war-time welder at the Kaiser Shipyard, but reportedly spent most of his time "hitting the honky-tonks.” In 1943 a former carnival entertainer from Missouri named Buck Ritchey arrived in Seattle, hired on as a DJ at Seattle’s KVI radio, and went on to be the most locally influential country music taste-maker around. KVI was the leading broadcaster of country music at the time and programmed such weekly shows as the Sagebrush Serenade, the Chuckwagon Jamboree, and the Ranchhouse Roundup. That same year KVI formed their own band, the K6 Wranglers, in order to promote the station at “jamborees” in ballrooms and grange halls around the state and Ritchey’s notoriety grew as he hosted those shows and occasionally sang a song or two. In 1945, a soldier stationed at Fort Lewis dropped by a KVI Jamboree at the Century Ballroom in Fife and wowed the audience by singing a little song that he’d just written while feeling a bit homesick. The singer was Jack Guthrie – brother of America’s folk poet laureate, Woody Guthrie – and his tune was the soon-to-be classic, “Oklahoma Hills.” Guthrie joined the K6 Wranglers and a recording they’d made of the song was aired on KVI repeatedly before he signed with Capitol Records and a new version shot to No. 1 on the national country best-seller charts. Cowboys and Wranglers In 1946 Dallas Turner -- a Walla Walla kid raised in Yakima -- was chosen from among a dozen talented cowboy singers competing on a Portland radio station and given his own regular feature spot. Over the next few years, “Oregon’s Favorite Yodeling Cowboy” became known as “The Roving Ranger” and ended up recording at least 300 songs during his long career. Around that same time “Cherokee Jack” Henley – whose Rhythm Ridin’ Wranglers performed regularly on Tacoma’s KMO radio -- recorded a few songs like “A Smile From My Baby” and “Don’t Just Stand There” that were likely the first country songs ever issued by a local label, Evergreen Records. While touring this area, Ernest “The Texas Troubadour” Tubb heard "Don't Just Stand There" and took it back to Nashville where Carl Smith made it a big national hit. In about 1946 the K-6 Wranglers added a few new members including a talented couple, steel guitarist Paul Tutmarc and his wife, singer/guitarist Bonnie Tutmarc. He was one of the earliest pioneers of the electric steel guitar, and she -- under the stage name of “Bonnie Guitar” -- would go on to score many national hits (beginning in 1957 with “Dark Moon”), ultimately becoming the Northwest’s top homegrown country star. It was around 1948 that Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys began hosting a regular country music show on Bremerton’s KBRG -- a radio program that debuted their classic song, “Hot Rod Race,” which, when issued by the Pasadena, California-based Four Star record label, became a sizeable national hit. Honky-Tonk Radio, Honky-Tonk TV “Texas Jim” Lewis was a famous cowboy movie star who made a big impact on the local country scene. Lewis’s string band, the Lone Star Cowboys (which included his brother, Jack Rivers, on guitar), had been recording since 1937 and made their local debut at Seattle’s Orpheum Theatre in 1940. Falling in love with the area, Lewis settled here permanently in 1950. It was that year that KIRO took notice of his talents and offered him a live weekly radio show sponsored by Rainier Beer. The Rainier Ranch show became very popular and Lewis was instantly one of the movers and shakers on the Northwest scene. In November of that year KIRO-TV launched the region’s pioneering kiddie TV show -- Sheriff Tex’s Safety Junction -- where up until 1957 Lewis sang songs, demonstrated rope tricks, told hokey jokes, and hosted guests. At the same time, Jack Rivers went from being one of the finest guitarists working local honky-tonks to being a major label recording star, an in-demand Hollywood recording session pro, and the owner of his own local record companies: J. R. Ranch, MRM, and Rivers Records. Meanwhile, Arkie Shibley’s “Hot Rod Race” had inspired a Spokane-based band, Charlie Ryan and the Timberline Riders, who in the mid-1950s updated the song, renamed it “Hot Rod Lincoln,” and thus created a classic up-tempo “country bopper” that can be considered a direct precursor to that early form of rock ‘n’ roll known as rockabilly music -- and a song that eventually became a national Top-40 hit. No Place for Me Back in 1948 Pat Mason -- a former promoter with Nashville’s Grand Ol’ Opry road shows -- opened a big dancehall called Wagon Wheel Park outside of Camas, Washington, and began bringing in many of the top touring country stars. A few years later he took on a job as a radio DJ at Vancouver’s KVAN, and in 1956 another DJ joined him there after running out of luck in his home state of Texas. That frustrated new-hire was the striving singer/songwriter Willie Nelson, and besides performing at the Wagon Wheel, he also managed to cut his very first record (“No Place For Me” / “Logger Man”) in a Portland studio. Issued in February, 1957, the single sold a reported 3,500 copies, which raised Nelson’s hopes, and in 1958 he moved back to Fort Worth, Texas, and went on to great success as the composer of countless classic hits, including Patsy Cline’s immortal “Crazy.” Over time the Northwest’s country scene had become so vibrant that local labels like Rainier, Timber, Mountain Dew, Greenwood, Crossroads, Virgelle, Wasp, Ripcord, and Teepee Records were formed. Meanwhile, weekly dances were being held in rooms like Yakima’s Stockman’s Club, Renton’s Cottonwood Grove, Shelton’s Tropics Ballroom, Snohomish’s Kinney’s Barn, Olympia’s Evergreen Ballroom, Tacoma’s Midland Hall -- and Seattle’s Aqua Barn, Circle Tavern, Queen of Hearts, Silver Dollar Dance Hall, Coe’s Tavern, Last Frontier Tavern, the Golden Apple, and the Flame Tavern. Such robust employment opportunities began to attract even more national country stars -- including Rusty Draper, Rose Maddox, Jimmy Patton, and Bud Isaacs -- who relocated here in order to further their careers. In the 1950s a number of country music variety shows popped up on various local TV stations including KTVW’s Western Jamboree and KTNT’s Bill and Grover Show, which was hosted by Bill Wiley and Grover Jackson and provided exposure to many a budding country musician. Both co-hosts were accomplished musicians and Wiley was also the co-owner (along with another country guitarist, Big Bill Griffith, who later had his own Country Jamboree show on KTNT) of Tacoma’s country-oriented recording facility, Wiley Griffith Studio. Trail Blazin' Jamborees It was in 1958 that another down-on-his-luck musician came to the area in order to find steady work. That Bakersfield, California-based player named Buck Owens had come to take up an opportunity to work at a tiny Puyallup radio station, KAYE. After he arrived Owens soon scored his own KTNT show (The Bar-K Jamboree), formed a band (the Bar-K Gang), which included such local talents as Don Rich (fiddle), “Shot Gun” Red Hildreth (upright bass), Dusty Rhodes (steel guitar), and Nokie Edwards (a guitarist later with The Ventures), and recorded a number of records locally. One song that he wrote while based here, “Under Your Spell Again,” broke out as a big national hit and in 1960 he packed up and moved on. That same year another locally based singer made her TV debut on both the Bar-K Jamboree and the Bill and Grover Show. The teenaged Loretta Lynn had moved to Custer, Washington, from Kentucky in 1947 when her husband came here looking for work. For her 18th birthday he bought her a cheap Harmony guitar and after teaching herself to play, he took her down to the Delta Grange Hall dance where they listened to a band called the Westerners. The band auditioned Lynn, asked her to join them, and they soon became known as Loretta’s Trail Blazers. One night a local businessman heard her on Buck Owens’s radio show, was impressed enough to form a new company, Zero Records, and Lynn’s first 45, the classic “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl,” was released in March, 1960, rose to No. 14 on the national country charts by June, and successfully kick-started her career. From Country/Western to Country Rock In April 1962, Jack Roberts and the Evergreen Drifters -- who had been building up a following since 1954 by playing weekly dances at Heiser’s Shadow Lake Ballroom just outside of Renton -- began hosting KOMO-TV’s Evergreen Jubilee show. In time, Roberts became the region’s top country concert promoter and around 1964 the Evergreen Drifters switched home-bases over to the Spanish Castle Ballroom at Midway. The 1950s and 1960s saw a steady increase in the popularity of country/western music and other recording stars emerged locally including: Judy Lynn, Johnny O’Keefe, George Richey, Bobby Wayne, Gary Williams, and R. C. Bannon. The 1970s saw a resurgence of interest in this music with the rise of popular local country-rock bands including the Skyboys, Lance Romance, and the Cement City Cowboys. Even though the Northwest’s country scene never produced it own distinctive sound, the spirit of the music has lived on. Live country/western music can still be heard regularly in honky-tonks and taverns in cities and burgs throughout the region. Organizations like Seattle’s Western Swing Music Society, the Pioneers of Western Swing, and the Pacific Northwest Country Music Hall of Fame have formed. The recent alternative country -- or “alt.country” -- movement’s main periodical, No Depression, was founded locally, and in recent years numerous successful twangin’ talents have emerged from the area including Dusty, Washington’s Wylie (Gustafson) & the Wild West, Seattle’s Ranch Romance, and Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, Cougar, Washington’s, Gary Bennett (singer with Nashville’s popular BR5-49), Ravensdale, Washington’s Brandi Carlisle, Tacoma’s Neko Case and her Boyfriends, and Lila McCann, and Buckley, Washington's Blaine Larsen whose 2004 single, "How Do You Get That Lonely," became a big radio and CMT video hit.
AFTER NOTES: About Willie Nelson….After KVAN dropped it's Country-Western format in 1958 for Top 40, Key picked up the format for a short period and hired Willie Nelson to DJ before he was fired for coming to work drunk.
And apparently he had been fired from KVAN due to “selling”his records on the side on the air..BUZZ MARTIN was another NW original….MANY other artists have started here and remained here….every year in August is the famous Oregon Jamboree in Sweet Home Oregon…