Buck Owens

Lean, no-frills country singer


Alvis Edgar Owens (Buck Owens), guitarist and singer: born Sherman, Texas 12 August 1929; three times married (three sons); died Bakersfield, California 25 March 2006.

Buck Owens was among the most prolific country hitmakers of the past 40 years and enjoyed a string of chart-toppers, including "Act Naturally", "Together Again" and "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail". A major influence on successive generations of musicians, he will be best remembered as the principal architect of the lean, no-frills style that has come to be known as the "Bakersfield Sound".

He was born Alvis Edgar Owens in Sherman, Texas, in 1929, and at the age of three gave himself the nickname "Buck" in tribute to the family mule. In 1937 his parents were among the many sharecroppers who decided to escape the effects of the Dust Bowl by heading west. He later remembered: "It was like The Grapes of Wrath, except that we didn't make it to California." They settled in Mesa, Arizona, and it was there that he learned to play the mandolin before eventually graduating to saxophone, guitar and steel guitar.

In 1954 he joined the guitarist Theryl Ray Britten for a daily radio show, Buck and Britt. He also played pedal steel with Mac's Skillet Lickers and, in 1947, married the group's vocalist, Bonnie Campbell. By 1951 he had moved to Bakersfield, where he found work as a guitarist with the Schoolhouse Playboys. As the house band at the city's Blackboard club, the Playboys' repertoire encompassed honky-tonk, western swing and rock'n'roll and would play an important role in shaping the style for which he would become famous.

His prowess as a guitarist led to session work for Capitol Records in Los Angeles and his distinctive playing can be heard on discs by, among others, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Gene Vincent and Tommy Collins. In the mid-Fifties he recorded a clutch of undistinguished sides for the Pep label, including some with a rockabilly edge that were issued under the name Corky Jones, and in 1957 was himself signed to Capitol.

Owens's first few discs for the label fared poorly, but the success of "Second Fiddle" in 1959 kickstarted an impressive run of hits that would include some of the finest country records of the next two decades. In 1963 he reached the top of the charts with Johnny Russell's "Act Naturally" and followed it with the popular "Love's Gonna Live Here". In 1964 three of his singles - "My Heart Skips a Beat", "Together Again" and "I Don't Care (Just as Long as You Love Me)" - made it to the No 1 spot, and in 1965 he enjoyed crossover success with "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail".

His records eschewed the strings found on so much of the music then emanating from Nashville, in favour of a pared-back, driving honky-tonk style that was dubbed the Bakersfield Sound. He used his road band, the Buckaroos, in the studio to create an as-live effect and, with the stunning Telecaster guitar-playing of Don Rich to the fore, his recordings were instantly recognisable. A number of musicians would fall under their spell, among them an ex-con named Merle Haggard who briefly played bass in the band before going on to become an iconic performer in his own right.

Owens's hits continued throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, and included "Waitin' in Your Welfare Line" and "Think of Me" (both 1966), "How Long Will My Baby Be Gone?" (1968), "Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass?" and "Tall Dark Stranger" (both 1969) and "Made in Japan" (1972). He recorded duets with his son Buddy Alan and with Susan Raye and, in 1969, made the first of many appearances as co-host of Hee Haw, a long-running television show that successfully combined music and cornball humour.

The death in 1974 of his best friend and bandleader Don Rich, following a motorcycle accident, devastated Owens and, when his contract with Capitol expired in 1975, his interest in recording began to wane. He did sign with Warner Brothers and scored a number of hits, including a fine duet with Emmylou Harris, "Play Together Again, Again" (1979), but focused increasingly on his business interests.

In 1988 he was approached by a long-time fan, Dwight Yoakam, who asked if he would appear on a cover-version of one of his old songs, "The Streets of Bakersfield". He agreed and it became his final No 1 hit. A year later, a duet version of "Act Naturally" with Ringo Starr made it into the Top Thirty.

Owens was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996 and, the same year, opened the Crystal Ballroom, a popular night-club and museum in Bakersfield. He remained, throughout, a modest man, once stating:

I'd like to be remembered as a guy that came along and did his music, did his best and showed up on time, clean and ready to do the job, wrote a few songs and had a hell of a time.

Paul Wadey

Voices
Numbers of complaints about unwanted calls have trebled in just six months
voices
News
people
Arts & Entertainment
Picture of innocence: Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington in ‘Derek’
tvReview: The insights of Ricky Gervais's sweet and kind character call to mind Karl Pilkington's faux-naïf podcast observations
Arts & Entertainment
Tangled up in blue: Singer-songwriter Judith Owen
musicAnd how husband Harry Shearer - of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame - helped her music flourish
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Paul Weller: 'I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting'
music
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
sportReal Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Germans will need their legendary self-belief to rescue Champions League tie in second leg
Life & Style
Looking familiar: The global biometrics industry is expected to grow to $20bn by 2020
tech
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Life & Style
Balancing act: City workers at the launch of Cityfathers
lifeThe organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group boasting more than 3,000 members
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Fresh hope: Ruth Womak and her dog Jess. A free training course in basic computing skills changed Ruth’s life
educationHow a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
News
Rohff is one of France’s most popular rappers
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Construction Solicitor – Surrey

Excellent Salary Package: Austen Lloyd: This is a rare high level opportunity ...

Construction Solicitor NQ+ Manchester

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: This is an excellent opportunity within...

Corporate Finance

£80000 - £120000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: US QUALI...

Banking / Finance Associate - City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: Banking / Finance Associate - We have an exce...

Day In a Page

Migrants in Britain a decade on: The Poles who brought prosperity

Migrants in Britain a decade on

The Poles who brought prosperity
Philippe Legrain: 'The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - we need a European Spring'

Philippe Legrain: 'We need a European Spring'

The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues the economist
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj
Judith Owen reveals how husband Harry Shearer - star of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons - helped her music flourish

Judith Owen: 'How my husband helped my music flourish'

Her mother's suicide and father's cancer also informed the singer-songwriter's new album, says Pierre Perrone
The online lifeline: How a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression

Online lifeline: Housing association's educational initiative

South Yorkshire Housing Association's free training courses gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Face-recognition software: Is this the end of anonymity for all of us?

Face-recognition software: The end of anonymity?

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook
Train Kick Selfie Guy is set to scoop up to $250,000 thanks to his viral video - so how can you cash in on your candid moments?

Viral videos: Cashing in on candid moments

Train Kick Selfie Guy Jared Frank could receive anything between $30,000 to $250,000 for his misfortune - and that's just his cut of advertising revenue from being viewed on YouTube
The world's fastest elevators - 20 metres per second - are coming soon to China

World's fastest elevators coming soon to China

Whatever next? Simon Usborne finds out from Britain's highest authority on the subject
Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture that causes men to miss out on seeing their children

Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture

The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable