Buck Owens (1929-2006) burst onto the country scene in the late 1950s, after serving several years apprenticeship as a hotshot studio guitarist out on the West Coast. Bursting with good humor and boundless energy, Owens became the central player of the so-called "Bakersfield Sound," a back-to-basics approach that cheerfully took the stuffing out of the overblown pop pretentions of the Nashville country music establishment back East. Playing funny, bouncy, upbeat, vigorous honkytonk -- music that met '60s rock halfway, but still kept it country -- Owens was the right guy at the right time: he almost singlehandedly made country music fun again, and crossed over into the pop market as the 'Sixties began. A long stint on the Hee-Haw TV show made him a verifiable superstar, a genial, if somewhat cartoonish household name, known the world around. Sadly, by the 1970s his inspiration seems to have all but dried out, and I find most of his records from then to be depressing relics of a great performer just going through the motions. Switching from Capitol Records to Warner in the late '70s, Owens finally started to flop on the charts, and simply decided to retired from musicmaking for nearly a decade.
Business ultimately agreed with Owens more than show business did; throughout his career he had invested heavily in media and real estate (earning his hometown the nickname of "Buckersfield..."). Among his many ventures is the well-known Crystal Palace, a combination old-fashioned honkytonk and big, down-home restaurant where he performs regularly, often along with guest artists on tour. For many years Buck's old albums were nearly impossible to find: he bought up the rights to his own albums, and decided, apparently as part of a feud with Capitol, to keep them out of print for many years. In the 1990s, numerous reissues of his original albums (and those of his band the Buckaroos) came out on the Sundazed label, which was a special treat for several generations of fans; now most of those reissues are hard to find as well. Keep lookin', though! They're worth it!
Buck Owens "Young Buck: The Complete Pre-Capitol Recordings" (Audium/CMF, 2001)
In the mid-'50s, before he became the king of Bakersfield, Buck Owens was known around town as a hotshot session guitarist... He also made a brace of obscure singles on several teeny-tiny indie labels. Naturally his pre-Capitol recordings have tremendous collector cachet, and this CD is the first above-board, legit collection that gathers all this material in one place at one time. The material ranges from nasal, bluesy, George Jones-style weepers to shameless attempts to go rockabilly; it's not nearly as snappy as his brilliant, bouncy material from the 1960s, but it's still a gas, and some of these tracks show an early wild streak that may surprise a fan or two. Recommended!
Buck Owens "Buck Owens" (La Brea, 1960)
Buck Owens "Buck Owens Sings Harlan Howard" (Capitol, 1961) [ST 1482]
Buck Owens "Buck Owens" (Capitol, 1961) [T 1489]
Buck Owens "You're For Me" (Capitol, 1962) [ST 1777]
Buck Owens "On The Bandstand" (Capitol, 1963) [ST 1879]
Buck Owens "...Sings Tommy Collins" (Capitol, 1963)
A whole-hearted, Buckalicious homage to one of Owen's Bakersfield buddies, songwriter Tommy Collins...
Buck Owens "Together Again" (Capitol, 1964) [ST 2135]
Buck Owens "I Don't Care" (Capitol, 1964) [ST 2186]
Buck Owens "I've Got A Tiger By The Tail" (Capitol, 1965) [ST 2283]
Buck Owens "Before You Go" (Capitol, 1965) [ST 2353]
Buck Owens "The Instrumental Hits Of Buck Owens And His Buckaroos" (Capitol, 1965) [ST 2367]
Don Rich and the boys in the band get a chance to stretch out a bit... but don't forget: Buck himself was a session guitarist before he made it big as a singer and songwriter, so he gets in a few tasty licks as well!
Buck Owens "Christmas With Buck Owens" (Capitol, 1965) [ST 2396]
Well, here's a Christmas album that'll knock your socks off... then hang 'em up on the mantle for Santa to fill with goodies, too! What can you say? Buck Owens in 1965 was about the funnest thing imaginable in all of country music, and his goofy, warm-hearted embrace of the corny side of Christmas makes for one swell record. Plus, his band, the Buckaroos, totally rocked. Buck and guitarist Don Rich swap licks on the instrumental numbers, and give all the other songs that special little bounce. And with tunes like "Santa's Gonna Come On A Stagecoach" and "It's Christmastime For Everyone But Me," this disc's a winner, from start to finish. Recommended!
Buck Owens "Roll Out The Red Carpet..." (Capitol, 1966) [ST 2443]
Buck Owens "Dust On Mother's Bible" (Capitol, 1966) [ST 2497]
Simultaneously old-world and newfangled, Buck's faith-meets-Fender Telecaster approach to country gospel should raise a few eyebrows on all sides of the aisle. Infused with the bouncy, electric Bakersfield vibe, it's certainly not as stern a set as the dour band portrait on the cover would imply, but in some ways it also doesnŐt quite summon the full soulfulness the material might require. The Buckaroos don't break out of their typical upbeat sound to throw on any deep harmonies of really stretch themselves into the gospel groove, although Buck does completely embrace a bedrock fundamentalist Christian ethos on most of these songs, and adds several great new songs to the Christian country canon. Definitely worth picking up, particularly if you're a Buck fan to begin with, but not as resonant as it could have been. (For more music like this, check out my country gospel section. )
Buck Owens "Carnegie Hall Concert" (Capitol, 1966) [ST 2556]
In 1966 Buck Owens was on top of the world -- he had the liveliest band in country Top 40, and had racked up about a zillion #1 hits. At a time when the Beatles ruled American airwaves, Buck's "Bakersfield Sound" gave hick music an unexpected and entirely welcome shot in the arm. So Buck and the boys went to the Big Apple and wowed the city slickers at Carnegie Hall. This CD captures the whole affair, restoring some of Owen's goofier asides, such as his repeated pleas for producer Ken Nelson to cut out various mildly racy comments. It's pure showbiz corn and hokum from start to finish, including a long medley of dead-on imitations of other country stars of the day -- Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter -- and even the Beatles! He ties it together with medleys of his biggest hits, and plenty more old-fashioned showbiz corn. The audience, naturally, eats it up, and even though the band never really cuts loose, a fun time is had by all.
Buck Owens "Open Up Your Heart" (Capitol, 1966) [ST 2640]
Buck Owens "In Japan" (Capitol, 1967) [ST 2715]
Buck Owens "Your Tender Loving Care" (Capitol, 1967) [ST 2760]
Buck Owens "It Takes People Like You To Make People Like Me" (Capitol, 1968) [ST 2841]
This album includes the hit single, "Let The World Keep A'Turning," a duet with Buck and Bonnie's son, Buddy Alan, who made his recording debut later that same year.
Buck Owens "Sweet Rosie Jones" (Capitol, 1968) (LP)
Buck Owens "Christmas Shopping" (Capitol, 1968) [ST 2977]
This is, obviously, kind of a toss-off album, and Buck's previous holiday offering, 1965's Christmas With Buck Owens, was a much stronger record... Still, no one does cornball material as well as Buck Owens, and he sings these snow-swept ditties with much more feeling that you'd imagine... And on the songs where he doesn't sing, like "The Jolly Christmas Polka," his band the Buckaroos really cut loose and have some fun. Besides, compared to the syrupy schmaltz they put out for the yuletide nowadays, this is a real breath of fresh air. Plus, "Good Old Fashioned Country Christmas" is a song that speaks volumes! If you like your hillbilly holidays to sound down-home and rootsy, this is an album you'll want to check out.
Buck Owens "Guitar Player" (Capitol, 1968) (LP)
An all-instrumental album, highlighting Buck as a lead stylist. Kind of disappointing, actually. Buck's a fine guitar player, but this is a very muzak-y album.
Buck Owens "I've Got You On My Mind Again" (Capitol, 1969) (LP)
Buck Owens "Tall Dark Stranger" (Capitol, 1969) (LP)
Buck Owens "In London" (Capitol, 1969) [ST 232]
Hick Music Index