Buck Owens became famous for what came to be known as The Bakersfield Sound. He hit big after signing to Capitol Records, but Buck had been kicking around southern California for quite a while before that. The new Bound For Bakersfield 1953-1956 collection contains 24 tracks recorded for various labels before he hit with Capitol. Although some of the material is pretty raw, Buck’s innate talent still shines brightly.
The set opens up with “Blue Love,” complete with some amusing studio chatter. This song was recorded in Hollywood, sometime in 1953, and is pretty primitive. Still, that high-lonesome voice of Buck’s is right on target. The rest of the material was recorded for release as singles, and for his debut album Buck Owens on the La Brea label. The sound quality of these later recordings is much improved over that of the original “Blue Love.”
Whether for historical record, or maybe just to pad things out a bit, a number of alternate versions of the tracks are included. These are invariably inferior takes, however their presence can be justified for the sake of including everything.
The singles he released for labels such as Pep, New Star, and Chesterfield certainly speak for themselves. No wonder Capitol signed him right up. Buck’s rockabilly “Hot Dog” (from 1956) is a classic, even though he released it under the pseudonym Corky Jones out of fear of alienating his country audience. Hearing his wailing guitar solo midway through is a thing of beauty.
“Rhythm And Booze” is even harder rockabilly than “Hot Dog.” Showing his true roots though is “There Goes My Love.” This single really captures the Buck Owens Bakersfield sound he became so famous for. His voice is front and center, with a lyric (inevitably) bemoaning a lost love, with classic country elements such as pedal steel proudly on display.
One of the reasons Buck Owens has always been held in such high regard by country music fans is the fact that he turned his back on the “country-politan” style that became so prevalent in the sixties. Buck was having none of it, and it was not just an act of rebellion. Listening to “Sweethearts In Heaven” one could argue that some sweetening would improve it, in fact there are moments that practically cry out for strings. But what makes it so great are the unabashed cornball lyrics and melody, played with as uncompromising a twang as one could imagine. It is the perfect combination, and shows that Buck knew exactly what he was doing all along.
A few years later, Buck Owens received the ultimate “hip” validation when The Beatles covered his “Act Naturally.” Perversely enough, he squandered that by hosting Hee-Haw with Roy Clark a few years later. For a lot of people, it took Dwight Yoakam’s unabashed idolatry of the man to restore his cachet as a true country music pioneer. I am truly happy that his contributions to music had been fully appreciated by the public at large by the time of his death in 2006.
These early recordings show that he had it from the beginning, and are a must for fans of his music, and of the whole Bakersfield sound.