Vaya Con Dios Buck Owens

I've come to the conclusion that birthdays really aren't a whole lotta fun. I mean what's to like? You're another year older, fatter, dumber; in short, whatever detriment is plaguing you at the time is magnified by yet another año.

Living in the Northeast this kind of specialized melancholia is compounded by the climate, which around my March birthday is very much like what I imagine standing on the deck of the Titanic when it hit the berg must have been like: cold, wet, dark. This year my birthday was particularly charming being the day I found out Buck Owens had died.

I've always said that fans of real country music— as distinguished from the futile, half–wit pop bullshit that Nashville major labels today call "country," — were lucky that many of its biggest early stars were still breathing. Now that Johnny Cash and Buck are gone that list of country music treasures to be relished and adored is growing perilously slim.

While the popular image of the man usually revolves around the loony red, white and blue paint job on his acoustic guitar, there was much more to Buck Owens than that or the fact that the Beatles recorded a knockout cover of his tune, "Act Naturally." Or his many embarrassing but lucrative years on that televised fiesta of whitetrashdom, Hee Haw.

Buck's real claim to fame in American popular music is that he brought the distinct chimey sound of the Fender Telecaster guitar into country music thanks to his own playing and that of his guitar player, the late and very great Don Rich. Tunes like the 1964 hit, "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail" were as much rock as they were straight country. With the word "You've" substituted for "I've," I've also come to cherish that tune as a club used to clobber friends who like their mates good lookin' but CRAZEE (my apologies to Slade). It was Owens and Rich's use of the Telecaster that became the bedrock of the "Bakersfield Sound," a rougher, rockier alternative to the more groomed "Nashville Sound."

Owens was also a memorable songwriter, penning one of the greatest country ballads, "Together Again" which was perhaps most memorably record by Emmylou Harris on her 1975 sophomore major label record, Elite Hotel.

Strangely enough, Owens ex–wife Bonnie, who incidentally years after she and Buck spilt went on to marry Merle Haggard (see CRAZEE above), also just passed, on April 25.

My feelings for Buck were stirred again today when a children's book entitled Honky–Tonk Heroes & Hillbilly Angels arrived. With text by Holly George–Warren, the book is a showcase for the whimsical anti–folk art–folk art illustrations of Laura Levine. As a lifelong aficionado of children's books, I have to say this one is gorgeous, informative and a superb place to start a musical education. I've already ordered a few more just to have around for when yet another friend calls to say that, in Aerosmithian terms, "the rabbit done died." George–Warren and Levine's first children's book collaboration, Shake, Rattle and Roll: The Founder's of Rock and Roll is equally great.

Michael Fischer's picture

I recently purchased stereo components that make production of a CD important. So I was very happy to find your Records 2 Die 4 articles. I own about 30 on the list and all sound spectacular on my new system. I purchased 5 more from Ricki Lee Jones Naked Songs sounds tinny enough that I won't listen to again. Pink Floyd's DSM is nothing special nor is Joni Mitchell's Shadows and Light. For me to be 30 out of 30 in CDs purchased elsewhere and 2 for 5 out of Amazon purchases, my guess is that Amazon presses their own CDs and are of inferior quality. I think your readers might want to know if this is true. I sure would.

Al Marcy's picture

Relax. There are still bars and clubs where live music is played by local musicians. The Big Time is just money and hype. No reason to get excited ;) Music is a gift :)