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March 26, 2006

Buck Owens

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I was sorry to learn that the country-western giant Buck Owens died the other day at the age of 76. Buck played a huge role in establishing something I'm very fond of: "the Bakersfield sound," a rough-edged and rip-roaring honkytonk style that contrasts with the genteel, sweeter music that comes out of Nashville. The Bakersfield sound endures today most notably in the music of Dwight Yoakam. It's aggressive music, masculine and raw -- a bar-band sound that arose to please an audience of oil workers and truckers, and the gals who loved them.

Buck came by his grit honestly. He was the son of a family of Texas sharecroppers who really did flee the Dust Bowl for a better life. After some years driving trucks and working in the fields, he started performing music. Success didn't come overnight; it took Buck some time to pull his thing together. He worked as a DJ, learning a lot about how make music sound good on the radio. He found some supergifted collaborators, including Don Rich and Harlan Howard. He pulled together a lot of the popular and folk sounds around him -- rockabilly, polka, and Mexican music especially. One of Buck's greatest gifts was in the studio, where he was able to create studio tracks that had the crackle of live performances.

Finally -- he was now in his 30s -- he had himself a career in music. And what a career it was. During one four-year stretch in the 1960s, every song he recorded -- 15 of 'em in a row -- went to #1.

Buck's best music has the kind of lowdown, kickass wildness that you generally associate with an outlaw, misspent life. Yet, unlike a lot of the other top manly-man, working-class C&W stars, Buck was never a screw-up. He didn't drink; he didn't do drugs; he invested his earnings wisely; he remained based in Bakersfield instead of moving someplace glitzier ... He was a big ol' square, in other words. He even hosted "Hee Haw" for many years. I wonder if this combo of funk, gumption, and wholesomeness was part of what made Creedence Clearwater such fans of his.

Buck's musical fortunes waxed and waned more than a few times over the years. Finally, in the mid-1980s, he decided that his moment had passed, and he began to focus on his investments. But country music's style-wheel was turning over once again. When Dwight Yoakam became a big star, Dwight was generous in praise of Buck, and he helped put Buck back in the spotlight. It's pleasing to read that, on the night before he died, Buck performed a 90 minute set of music at his own Bakersfield club.

Here's Buck's own website. It features a good biography. Gary Kaufman's appreciation in Salon is informative and moving. A nice Kaufman line: "He was a rebel without a dark side." Wikipedia's article on Buck -- which I notice is remarkably close to Kaufman's Salon article -- is full of helpful links. You'll thank yourself for buying this wonderful (and inexpensive) CD. This is my favorite Dwight Yoakam disc.

Best,

Michael

UPDATE: Via Scott Chaffin, I ran across a couple of great links. You can listen to Buck and Dwight duetting on "Streets of Bakersfield" here, and you can watch a video of Buck performing "Tiger by the Tail" here.

UPDATE 2: Mike Hill supplies some Bakersfield-sound rarities.

posted by Michael at March 26, 2006




Comments

As much a tribute to Buck as a good inclusion in my top ten tearjerkin' songs, I posted "Cryin' Time" as my number #9 choice this evening.

Buck was always a favorite in our household. Sad to hear of his passing.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on March 27, 2006 12:06 AM



Not sure what happened to my comments above...

What I meant to say:

As much as a tribute to Buck as a good inclusion to my top ten tear jerkin' songs, I posted "Cryin' Time" this evening as my number #9 choice.

Buck was a favorite around our household. Sad to hear of his passing.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on March 27, 2006 12:08 AM



I hadn't seen this, and am saddened indeed by his passing.

I grew up with Hee-Haw on the TV every Saturday night, and at first only knew Buck from there. What a revelation to discover later on who he really was, and what his own music was like!

Posted by: mr tall on March 27, 2006 12:34 AM



One of my all-time favorite songs has a great reference to him: Creedance singing "Lookin' Out My Back Door"...
There's a giant doing cartwheels,
A statue wearing high heels.
Look at all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn.
A dinosaur Victrola listening to Buck Owens.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on March 27, 2006 08:22 AM



Buck Owens was never quite the same after the the death of his great guitarist sidekick, and close friend, Buckaroo Don Rich. Don Rich was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1974.

Posted by: Bill on March 27, 2006 08:58 AM



To quote a recent lyric by Dwight Yoakam:

"The last cowboy band left the state."

From "The Late, Great Golden State"

Posted by: Yahmdallah on March 27, 2006 11:33 AM



My first date with my wife was a Dwight Yoacam concert at the Beacon. Buck showed up to do the Streets of Bakersfield duet. You can't get off to a better start than that.

I've got a couple links to the Bakersfield sound here:

http://sluggoneedsanap.blogspot.com/2005/12/friday-nite-juke-box.html

Posted by: Sluggo on March 27, 2006 12:48 PM



Not having seen the lyrics in print, I always thought that the line from the CCR song was "Dinosaur patrolling, listening to Buck Owens."

Of course that does not make the least iota of sense, but then again giants doing cartwheels and statues in high heels are a little weak in the logic department themselves.

Posted by: Peter on March 27, 2006 04:01 PM



Peter, I'm in for "dinosaur patrolling" too, but whatever. When you've been the major force behind John Fogarty and Graham Parsons (and hence everything that can be thought of as "country rock") you've done something with your life, that's for sure.

Posted by: ziel on March 27, 2006 07:44 PM



as a canadian in the pacific northwest I always enjoyed his concerts. Definitely one of the greatest country bands ever [don rich] especially. Bucks' contribution to music is underestimated,he almost single handed launched the west coast country sound,that even the beatles admired. He will be missed,and in my opinion todays "corporate country" has no soul. Sadly we have no replacments for artists like buck,cash,haggard,jones. Each time I travel california I will BE VISITING THE "CRYSTAL PALACE" Thanks buck!!

Posted by: john wilksne on April 1, 2006 02:00 AM



as a canadian in the pacific northwest I always enjoyed his concerts. Definitely one of the greatest country bands ever [don rich] especially. Bucks' contribution to music is underestimated,he almost single handed launched the west coast country sound,that even the beatles admired. He will be missed,and in my opinion todays "corporate country" has no soul. Sadly we have no replacments for artists like buck,cash,haggard,jones. Each time I travel california I will BE VISITING THE "CRYSTAL PALACE" Thanks buck!!

Posted by: john wilksne on April 1, 2006 02:00 AM






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