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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing