Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Buck Stops

Buck Owens died today. A master of Country music's classic Honky Tonk sound, Buck influenced everybody after him, especially modern honky tonkers Dwight Yoakam, The Derailers and his contemporary Capitol lablemates, The Beatles. The Beatles are alleged to have a standing request for copies of all new Buck Owens records. They covered his Johnny Russell-penned hit "Act Naturally".

Buck's band, The Buckaroos, were unrivalled in their ability to play anything from weepy ballads to Rock and Roll to dirt-kickin' shuffles. The late Don Rich started on fiddle with Buck playing most of the lead guitar. He soon switched to a Telecaster, plugged into a Bassman and defined the sound of Country guitar - the original Titan of Twang. His matchless harmonies sound like Buck was doubled tracked. A listen to the seminal "Live at Carnegie Hall" concert reveals a tight, polished, versatile band lead by a man very comfortable in his own skin. He knows his music, he trusts his band, he tells knowingly corny jokes and treats the audience to a master class in live Country music.

Few musicians have made such an impact or created such an individual style that the very sub-genre they explored is named after them. You can go into any dive bar in Nashville and hear the ad hoc players describe a certain "feel" as a "Ray Price Shuffle", 'Johnny Cash beat", "Waylon beat", and of course simply "Buck Owens". It's a sound that cuts through the clank of beer bottles and loud conversations. A pair of bright, jangly Fender Telecasters, a tasteful steel guitar and a swinging rhythm section.

Buck Owens was one of the few names I heard growing up in an non-Country music household. I knew who he was because his songs were so popular, you heard them on every radio station. He was also savvy enough to convince Capitol to sell him his masters, meaning all Buck Owens records were controlled by Buck. Sundazed, a specialty label, did a series of superb reissues of all of the Capitol classics, and a boxed set spanning his entire career.

He went on to purchase several radio stations and built the Crystal Palace, a night club in Bakersfield, California were he continued to perform regularly. His career was revitalized by a duet with Buck apprentice Dwight Yoakam on the #1 song "The Streets of Bakersfield".

So long Buck, you will be missed.


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