Bonnie Owens is perhaps best known as the gal who married (and divorced) both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard... But she was a kick-ass West Coast country singer in her own right. She started performing the 1940s, and recorded her first single in the early 1950s, and continued to record infrequently for small independent labels for the rest of the decade. She and Buck Owens had known each other for years, and performed in country bands together, but were not married until 1951. They divorced several years later, and their son, Buddy Alan had a brief country music career as well. Bonnie Owens later married Merle Haggard in 1964, and continued her career as a solo singer and as a performer in Haggard's live band. Here's a quick look at her work...
Bonnie Owens "Queen Of The Coast" (Bear Family, 2007)
A 4-CD set honoring Bonnie Owens, one of the forgotten heros of the 1960s West Coast country scene... Although she's best-known for her marriages, here's a chance to size up Ms. Owens as her own, independent artist. This includes about an album's worth of duets with Merle, some early tunes recorded with the legendary Fuzzy Owen, a fair number of cover tunes, lots of obscurities and closes with her long out-of-print gospel album, Mother's Favorite Hymns. A real treat for longtime fans, and a nice chance to check out the best work by one of the best-known gals from the Bakersfield scene.
Bonnie Owens & Merle Haggard "Just Between The Two Of Us/The Fightin' Side Of Me" (Beat Goes On, 2003)
A generously-programmed twofer reissue that includes the albums Just Between The Two Of Us from 1966, and Merle's 1970 album, The Fightin' Side Of Me.
Bonnie Owens "Don't Take Advantage Of Me" (Capitol, 1965) (LP)
Although she'd been recording for over a decade, and had been married to one of the most successful men in country music, her full-length debut didn't come until 1965...
Bonnie Owens & Merle Haggard "Just Between The Two Of Us" (Capitol, 1966)
A collaboration between Owens and her new husband, Merle Haggard... This has been reissued a few times on several different labels...
Bonnie Owens "All Of Me Belongs To You" (Capitol, 1967) (LP)
Bonnie Owens "Somewhere Between" (Capitol, 1968) (LP)
Bonnie Owens "Hi-Fi To Cry By" (Capitol, 1969) (LP)
(Produced by Ken Nelson)
I know it's sexist of me to point this out, but she got her hair done (and changed the color!) for this album... And it looks pretty good! As on other albums, she plays the part of a sassy gal who's still kind of a doormat -- men keep doing her wrong, but she sticks up for herself by pointing out what jerks they are, even through she accepts her own misery as part of a package deal. The musical side is good -- basically it's the Strangers backing her up with a classic, Haggard-esque style. They play it pretty straight on most tunes, though they get a little goofy on a rock-flavored update of the Jenny Lou Carson oldie, "Jealous Heart." Another mega-oldie she covers is "Philadelphia Lawyer," a song that draws a vocal-tone connection between Owens and Rose Maddox that I might not otherwise have made. Also of interest are a couple of songs written by Lola Jean Dillon, and one by Mary Taylor. Like many female singer os the time, Owens may have been cast as an emotional doormat, but at least she had other gals writing some of the songs for her. Nice stuff!
Bonnie Owens "Lead Me On" (Capitol, 1969) (LP)
(Produced by Ken Nelson)
Backed by Merle's band, The Strangers, Owens delivers a modest set of songs, many about sad or bitter domestic situations, and the tang of resentment and regret has a surprisingly strong, believable undercurrent. The overall sound echoes that of Haggard's brand of Bakersfield Sound -- more laid-back and acoustic-leaning, and the Strangers style is unmistakable. She records a couple of great, almost scandalous cheating songs by Dallas Frazier -- "Number 82" and "How Can Our Cheatin' Be Wrong?" -- along with a nice sassy number by Liz Anderson, "Tonight I'll Throw A Party (Out The Door)" and a fluffy tossoff from Buck Owens, "Merry-Go-Round Of Love." And of course there are several songs from Merle Haggard, including the jaunty "Livin' On Your Love," and the kinda creepy domestic violence "novelty" song, "The Back Of My Hand." The title track, written by Leon Copeland, was Owens' last charting single, hitting #68 in an ignominious end to her commercial career... After that, a gospel album and pffftt! she was gone.
Bonnie Owens "Mother's Favorite Hymns" (Capitol, 1970) (LP)
Hick Music Index