Two for Tuesday: Buck Owens

The summer before I started eighth grade, CBS started advertising a new show that would play on Sunday nights that was intended as a country version of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in.” I am, of course, talking about “Hee Haw.” My brothers thought I was nuts, and they would be right, but then, they should have known that, anyway.

The hosts of the show were Buck Owens and Roy Clark, two popular country musicians (that’s what I assumed, anyway, because I had never heard of them) who played guitar. I played guitar, so naturally I was interested. And it was a heck of a show, and was on the air until 1997, on CBS until 1971 (when it was purged along with other country-themed shows such as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Mayberry, RFD,” and “Petticoat Junction”), then in syndication. It was fun getting to know the various artists in the cast as well as the guest stars, and the show had more than its share of attractive women wearing little more than very short shorts and blouses that were more open than shut. (I was a teenaged boy, what did you think I’d notice?) I decided to feature some of the great musicians on that legendary show, starting with Buck Owens.

Alvis Edgar (Buck) Owens was one of the more successful performers of the “Bakersfield Sound” in country music, named for the city in California where it first became popular. The Bakersfield sound was the music of the honky-tonks and contrasted with the heavily-produced music coming out of Nashville that employed orchestras as backing to singers such as Patsy Cline and Charlie Rich. In time, his music evolved, dropping the fiddles and pedal steel and including elements of rock. He influenced The Beatles, whose early albums included a distinct country sound. They recorded his 1963 hit song “Act Naturally” on the Help! soundtrack album in 1965. Interestingly, they also influenced him and his music; he said in an interview in Guitar Player magazine (I don’t have the date; it was around 1988) that he and the band played Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band nonstop in the bus while driving from gig to gig.

Today’s first song is his version of “Act Naturally,” played in his 1966 Carnegie Hall concert. Listen to Don Rich’s guitar solo; George Harrison borrowed it note-for-note on The Beatles’ version.

Dwight Yoakam was heavily influenced by Buck and the Bakersfield sound. Dwight and Buck recorded Dwight’s tune, “Streets of Bakersfield,” in 1988. A live recording of the two of them doing the song at the 1988 Academy of Country Music Awards is our second tune.

Buck passed away on my 50th birthday in 2006. He has left a recorded legacy and his music will no doubt continue to influence generations of country music performers. He is you Two for Tuesday, September 10, 2013.

2 thoughts on “Two for Tuesday: Buck Owens

  1. Actually, if it weren’t for Buck there would be no Bakersfield sound. He not only was a recording artist but he was responsible for bringing attention to the talents of, oh, for example, Merle Haggard to the attention of the American people. I used to watch his syndicated show on Saturday afternoons.

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    1. In other words, there might have been a Bakersfield sound, but it might have been limited to the honky-tonks in Bakersfield. Very true. He might not have been its inventor (who knows who that was?) but he was its most famous practitioner, and, like you said, Merle Haggard and other Bakersfield musicians might not have even been heard of.

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