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Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens Jr. 1929 – 2006

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Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. aka Buck Owens was born August 12, 1929 and died at age 76 on March 25, 2006 at his home in Bakersfield, California. He apparently felt good enough to do his regular twice-a-week show at Buck Owens Crystal Palace Friday night, dropped dead Saturday. Couldn’t ask for a much better way to go than that. There are a good basic bio and a photo gallery online.

Buck Owens is perhaps best known to many younger folk as the co-host of Hee Haw for its entire 20-plus year run. He sure did a lot of pickin’ and grinnin’ but he was already one of the top dozen or so hit makingest sonofaguns in the history of country music before he got there.

Of course, Buck Owens was famous as a pillar of the straight-up Bakersfield sound, as opposed to the increasingly sweetened up string-laden or pop market focused productions of Nashville. The classic Buck Owens sound had minimal studio extras, just the well-honed Buckaroos laying it down straight. He tended to have a strong rhythmic thrust, jangling Telecaster, and good ol’ steel guitar.

But the Bakersfield sound was not really the main point artistically – nor did he really emphasize that point. He didn’t make a point of being part of the outlaw movement and playing Willie’s picnics, or railing against the phonies in Nashville, etc.

The critical point is that Buck Owens was one of the songwritingest SOBs in the history of country music. His band was good, but not hotshots. He was not striking up some big mythology like Johnny or Hank. He was simply a highly skilled professional pop song writer presenting his songs.

He came up with some seriously memorable tunes on hit after hit. “Together Again” would work with, say, KD Lang giving it a Patsy Cline treatment. I bet Sinead O’Connor could do awesome things with “Cryin’ Time.” That could be a hit under a good many different arrangements.

Perhaps the best measure of his true artistic achievement is that numerous Owens’ songs have become standards. In more recent years, he’s famously had Dwight Yoakam doing a prominent cover of “The Streets of Bakersfield.”

But his two biggest covers were not really done as country. By the time the Beatles got hold of “Act Naturally” it was a Ringo novelty record, sitting alongside “Yellow Submarine” in their canon. Being covered by the Beatles in 1965 was a pretty significant professional distinction right there.

Within a few months of that, Ray Charles made a big hit with “Cryin’ Time.” That’d be the most likely pick for all-time Buck Owens cover. It certainly doesn’t have any Bakersfield twang by the time Ray does his r&b thing to it. By the looks of it, performing the song with Ray on Hee Haw in 1970 seems to have been a particular high point for Buck, as you might imagine.

If you don’t have the Buck Owens box set, then you probably don’t have enough Buck in your life.

I’m just saying you don’t need some fancy persona if you can conjure up songs like:

    Together Again
    Tiger by the Tail
    Cryin’ Time
    Act Naturally
    Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line
    Made in Japan
    Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass
    Cigareets and Whiskey
    Streets of Bakersfield
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  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    dang, i’ve been meaning to get some Buck Owens for a couple of years now…ever since the great label Sundazed reissued a bunch of his stuff.

  • Vern Halen

    Nice tribute – you hit it dead on. There’s not ever enough credit given to good songwriters & their craft, which is equally as important as their art.

  • http://solonor.com/blogger.html Solonor

    He never gets the respect he deserves. Whenever there is a big “all-time men of country music” type thing, he’s always way down the list, instead of in the top 10 (or top 5) like he should be.

  • Bliffle

    I thought they started calling it “Buckersfield” some years ago.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Al, appreciate you being quick on this and getting something written.

    One of my favorite singers, Mark Lanegan, covered “Together Again” on his covers album I’ll Take Care of You. Having never heard the original I can’t compare it to the original or to other versions but can say I did like Lanegan’s version of the song.

  • Geo

    My uncle Joe was a professional musician, he actually died at a gig playing the pedal steel. He was also a wonderful pianist, guitarist, jazz banjo(ist)… the pedal steel was sort of a sideline thing.

    Buck played on Friday and passed on the following day. It probably is a good way to go. I wonder if the crowd freaked out when my uncle exited this realm?