Alvis Edgar "Buck" Owens, Jr., (August 12, 1929 – March 25, 2006) was an American singer and guitarist, with 21 number-one hits on the Billboard magazine country music charts. Both as a solo artist and with his band, the Buckaroos, Owens pioneered what has come to be called the Bakersfield sound—a reference to Bakersfield, California, the city Owens called home and from which he drew inspiration for what he preferred to call "American Music." Among Owens best known hits are: "Act Naturally," "Love's Gonna Live Here," "Together Again," and "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail."
A consummate bandleader, Owens pioneered a unique and fresh sound rooted in the traditions of earlier country stars such as Hank Williams and George Jones, but more streamlined than the honky-tonk music of the late 1940s and early 1950s. His clean, crisp, style was characterized by strong vocal solos or duets with straightforward lyrics, sharp staccato guitar riffs, and distinctive pedal steel-guitar solos.
The sound Owens developed with the Buckaroos depended on his camaraderie and talents of his partner and best friend, guitarist Don Rich, whom he met while in Tacoma. Rich can be heard harmonizing on all of Owens hits until his untimely death in 1974. The loss of his best friend devastated Owens for years and halted his recording successes and career until Owens performed with Dwight Yoakam in the late 1980s.
However, Owens co-hosted the popular and groundbreaking Hee Haw program with Roy Clark. Hee Haw, originally envisioned as country music's answer to Laugh-In, outlived that show and ran for 24 seasons. Owens was co-host from 1969 until he left the cast in 1986, convinced that the show's exposure had obscured his immense musical legacy.
Buck Owens was born Alvis Owens, Jr. in Sherman, Texas. "'Buck' was a mule on the Owens farm," Rich Kienzle wrote in About Buck, the biography at Owens' official website. "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."
In 1937, the Owens family migrated to Mesa, Arizona, during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. By 1945, Owens was co-hosting a radio show called "Buck and Britt." In the late 1940s, he became a truck driver and discovered the San Joaquin Valley of California. He was impressed by Bakersfield, where he and his wife settled in 1950.
Soon, Owens was frequently traveling to Hollywood for session recording jobs at Capitol Records, playing backup for Tennessee Ernie Ford, Sonny James, Wanda Jackson, Del Reeves, Tommy Sands, Tommy Collins, Faron Young, and Gene Vincent, and others.
During the Rock-and-Roll craze of the 1950s, Owens recorded a rockabilly record called "Hot Dog" for the Pep label, using the pseudonym Corky Jones. His career finally took off in 1959, when his song "Second Fiddle" hit number 24 on the Billboard country chart. A few months later, "Under Your Spell Again" hit number four, and then "Above and Beyond" hit number three.
In the early 1960s, Owens found himself at odds with the popular "countrypolitan" sound of the time, with its smooth, string-laden, pop-influenced styles as exemplified by Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, and Patsy Cline, among others. Owens went against the trend, utilizing a raw honky-tonk approach, mixed idiosyncratically with the Mexican polkas he had heard on border radio stations while growing up.
Owens was named the most promising Country-and-Western singer of 1960 by Billboard and his Top-10-charting duets with Rose Maddox in 1961 earned them awards as vocal team of the year. "Act Naturally" in 1963 became Buck's first number-one hit. The Beatles later did a cover of it in 1965. In all, Owens would have 21 hits that reach number one on the Billboard charts, including 15 consecutive chart toppers. Among his best known hits are:
"Love's Gonna Live Here" (1963), "My Heart Skips a Beat" (1964), "Together Again" (1964), "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail" (1965), "Waitin' in Your Welfare Line," (1966), and "Sam's Place" (1967).
In 1967, Owens and the Buckaroos toured Japan, a then-rare occurrence for a country musician. The subsequent live album, appropriately named Buck Owens in Japan, is possibly the first country-music album recorded outside the United States. At the White House the following year, Owens performed for President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Hee-Haw and decline
Hee Haw hit the television airwaves in 1969, keeping Owens busy throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The comedy-variety show featured Owens performances along with those of country performers such as Roy Clark, but its emphasis on hilarity tarnished Owens' reputation as a no-frills country singer. Financially, however, Owens prospered.
Before the 1960s were done, Owens—with the help of manager Jack McFadden—began to concentrate on his financial future. He bought several radio stations, including KNIX AM and FM in Phoenix and KUZZ in Bakersfield. In 1999, Owens sold the KNIX duo stations to Clear Channel Communications, but he maintained ownership of KUZZ until his death. Owens established Buck Owens Enterprises and produced records by several artists.
In the 1970s, he enjoyed a string of hit duets with a protege, Susan Raye, who subsequently became a popular solo artist, with recordings produced by Owens. In 1972 he had another number-one hit, "Made in Japan."
On July 17, 1974, Owens' guitarist, singing partner, and best friend, Don Rich, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Owens was devastated and never fully recovered from the loss. "He was like a brother, a son and a best friend," he said in the late 1990s. "Something I never said before, maybe I couldn't, but I think my music life ended when he did. Oh yeah, I carried on and I existed, but the real joy and love, the real lightning and thunder is gone forever." 
Owens continued recording, but he and his longtime fans were less than happy with the results. The records, made in Nashville for Warner Brothers, reflected the very type of bland country music he had always assailed. He was no longer recording by the 1980s, devoting his time to overseeing his business empire from Bakersfield. Time allowed him to realize that, despite the excellent pay and friendships he had developed on Hee-Haw, the show had effectively ruined his musical career by redefining him as a comedian, to the point that many who tuned in knew nothing of his phenomenal country-music career or his classic hit recordings. He left the show in 1986.
Dwight Yoakam was largely influenced by Owens' style of music and eventually teamed up with him for a duet of "Streets of Bakersfield" in 1988. Their duet was Owens' first number-one single in 16 years.
Buck Owens died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack on March 25, 2006, only hours after performing at his Crystal Palace restaurant, club, and museum in Bakersfield. He had successfully recovered from oral cancer in the early 1990s, but had additional health problems near the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the twenty-first century, including pneumonia and a minor stroke suffered in 2004. These health problems had forced him to curtail his regular weekly performances with the Buckaroos at his Crystal Palace.
The Los Angeles Times interviewed longtime Owens spokesman (and Buckaroos keyboard player) Jim Shaw, who said Owens "had come to the club early and had a chicken-fried steak dinner and bragged that it's his favorite meal." Afterwards, Owens told band members that he wasn't feeling well and was going to skip that night's performance. Shaw said a group of fans introduced themselves while Owens was preparing to drive home; when they told him that they had traveled from Oregon to hear him perform, Owens changed his mind and took the stage, anyway.
Shaw recalled Owens telling the audience, "'If somebody's come all that way, I'm gonna do the show and give it my best shot. I might groan and squeak, but I'll see what I can do.'" Shaw added, "So, he had his favorite meal, played a show and died in his sleep. We thought, that's not too bad."
Owens left behind three ex-wives and three sons: Buddy Alan (who charted several hits as a Capitol recording artist in the early 1970s), Michael, and Johnny Owens.
The front of the mausoleum where Owens is buried is inscribed "The Buck Owens Family" with the word's "Buck's Place" beneath.
Buck Owens had 21 Billboard number-one country hits spanning 1963-1988, including his final number one, the 1988 recording of "Streets Of Bakersfield," a collaboration with Dwight Yoakam. Owens defined the Bakersfield sound, which was a major force redefining country music in the 1960s when Nashville commercialism had opted for a smooth polish that left many country fans longing for a more authentic product.
Along with Merle Haggard, Owens was central to Bakersfield's energetic music scene. Owens' signature twisted-note Telecaster guitar style is legendary, and his vocal duets with Don Rich rank among the most perfect ever recorded in the country field.
Over a career spanning six decades, Owens delivered scores of hits, became a TV star on "Hee Haw," and entered the Country Music and Nashville Songwriters' Halls of Fame. He opened Bakersfield's Crystal Palace in the mid-1990s, his final concert taking place on its stage the night before he died on March 25, 2006.
- ↑ buckowens.com. Buck Owens' Crystal Palace: About Buck. Retrieved March 28, 2006.
- ↑ buckowens.com. Buck Owens Collection. Retrieved March 30, 2006.
- ↑ Brilliant Careers Salon: Buck Owens. www.salon.com Retrieved April 25, 2008.
- ↑ Lewis, Randy, "Singer Found Gold and Inspiration in California", Los Angeles Times, March 26 2006..
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Ching, Barbara. Wrong's What I Do Best: Hard Country Music and Contemporary Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0195108353
- Dawidoff, Nicholas. In the Country of Country: People and Places in American Music. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997. ISBN 067941567X
- Owens, Buck, and Jackie Phelps. Buck Owens at His Best with `Hee Haw' co-star Jackie Phelps. Nashville, TN: Gusto Records, 2006. OCLC 78763216
- Stacey, Linda, Angela Gia, and Karlene Copenhaver. Freight train running: A Biography of Buck Owens. Exeter, CA: Bear State Books, 2006. ISBN 1892622270
- Yoakam, Dwight, and Buck Owens. Tomorrow's Sounds Today. Burbank, CA: Reprise, 2000. OCLC 45292768
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