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Owens, Buck [Alvis Edgar ]locked

  • Olivia Carter Mather

(b Sherman, TX, Aug 12, 1929; d Bakersfield, CA, March 25, 2006). American country musician and businessman. He is widely considered the central figure of the Bakersfield sound, and his dominance of the country charts in the 1960s challenged Nashville’s hegemony and bolstered the West Coast country scene in Bakersfield and Los Angeles. During the 1950s he worked as a guitarist and session player for several Bakersfield artists before signing with Capitol Records in 1957. In 1963 he began a streak of 14 consecutive number-one country hits with “Act Naturally,” which was later covered by the Beatles. Other hits included “Together Again” (1964), “I’ve got a tiger by the tail” (1965), and a cover of “Johnny B. Goode” (1969).

Owens’s songs eschewed themes of hard living and rambling for a portrayal of the male subject as a lonely victim of romance. With his backing band, the Buckaroos, he developed a bright, driving sound which he described as a freight train feel: heavy bass and drums accompanying two Fender Telecaster electric guitars played by Owens and the guitarist Don Rich. The twangy Telecaster sound and high, close harmony of Owens and Rich characterized many of his recordings. The Buckaroos both toured and recorded with Owens, a contrast to country norms. Owens thus established an alternative to the popular “countrypolitan” sound produced in Nashville (he also never joined the “Grand Ole Opry”); in doing so he inspired such country-rock musicians as Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He also marketed himself as a hard-country artist free of pop influence; in 1965 he published his famous “Pledge to Country Music” in which he committed to sing and produce only country music.

Owens’s recording career declined in the 1970s following the death of Rich, but he won new fame as co-host of the television show Hee Haw. He also managed business ventures that he had begun developing early in his career, eventually building an empire that included ownership of country radio stations, publishing and management companies, a television show, and Bakerfield’s Crystal Palace dancehall. Collaborating with Dwight Yoakam brought him attention in the 1980s and produced Owens’s final number-one hit, “Streets of Bakersfield” (1988).

Bibliography

  • M. Fenster: “Under his Spell: how Buck Owens Took Care of Business,” Journal of Country Music, vol. 12 (1989), 18–27
  • M. Fenster: “Buck Owens, Country Music, and the Struggle for Discursive Control,” Popular Music, vol. 9 (1990), 275–90
  • B. Ching: “Drawing Hard Lines: Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, and the Bakersfield Sound,” Wrong’s What I Do Best: Hard Country Music and Contemporary Culture (New York, 2001), 89–118
  • E. Sisk: Buck Owens: the Biography (Chicago, 2010)