Buck Owens, according to biographer Eileen Sisk, was a man inclined to change his mind on a whim without explanation. An admirer of her first book, he met Sisk, agreed to participate in this project, and exchanged chatty letters for almost three years. And then, out of the blue, his Business Manager called to say he wanted no part, and anything that came about would be "unauthorized."
As a general rule, it’s not wise to annoy the author of one’s life story. Sisk has delivered what amounts to a hatchet job, painting a rather dark portrait that gleefully exposes Owens’ faults, while paying scant attention to his many achievements as both artist and businessman.
Born 1929, Owens always preferred making music to making hay, and his determination saw him rise to superstar status – the best-selling country artist of the '60s, he enjoyed a phenomenal string of hits before signing on as co-host of television’s Hee-Haw, a campy celebration of corn that nonetheless ran nationally for many years. Along the way he romped through an indeterminate number of marriages (accounts, including Buck’s own, vary), and even posed nude for Playgirl Magazine. He virtually invented the so-called Bakersfield sound, a hard-driving style with a big beat that owed much to rock ‘n’ roll that provided a muscular alternative to the syrupy, string-drenched sound prevalent in Nashville at the time.
Music, however much we’d like to think otherwise, is a business – a cut-throat business, with winners and losers. Owens, for all his faults, was clearly a winner. Yet Sisk focuses almost exclusively the less savory aspects of Owens’ character. And despite exhaustive research and earlier access to the man himself, very few of Owens’ own words are included; instead, Sisk quotes colleagues, associates, and acquaintances – including a number of love interests – to paint an unrelentingly unflattering portrait.
Juicy details and sordid stories can be a lot of fun, of course, when they reveal major discrepancies between the public and private personas of the rich and famous. But despite a hard-nosed attitude for business and a rather messy love life, Owens simply doesn’t seem to deserve Sisk’s rather vindictive approach. It’s easy enough to find former associates who’ll complain about Owens’ frugality as an employer, and his practice of assuming ownership of songs supposedly composed by others. But Sisk doesn’t seem to have spent much time fishing for compliments, and Owens’ considerable musical influence and the positive support he provided to many musicians are here relegated to a brief epilogue – as though any good qualities he may have had are mere afterthought.