In the first ever EGC guest blogging slot, I’m presenting a short item written by Nate “Siderunner” Van Allen. A few days ago he sent to the Siderunners mailing list this farewell piece to Buck Owens. I asked if I could republish it here. He agreed, gave it a little edit and here it is. Many thanks to Nate. If you’ve ever listened to his band, you can hear in their music the fact that they’ve spun Buckaroos discs so often that they hear them even when they are turned off.
I wanted to note to all of you music fans the passing of a legend this week: Buck Owens. In the sixties Buck was the king of the country world recording a shitload of number one hits including “Act Naturally”, later covered by the Beatles. Buck Owens and the Buckaroos were the first country band ever to play Carnegie Hall and that recording remains one of my favorite live recording of all time for its grace, humor and staggering musicianship. In a time where bands try to sound worse and worse the sheer effortlessness of the music on that record stands in stark contrast, a testament to their immense talent, particularly guitar player Don Rich. Originally a fiddle player when he met Buck, Don switched to guitar for the band and ended up revolutionizing country guitar not to mention rock and roll guitar to this day, even if modern players don’t know it.
If it wasn’t enough to be so talented on guitar, Rich also had a voice that ranged from a deep baritone, heard on such songs as “Streets of Laredo”, to the high harmonies that accompanied Buck, that were unbelievably tight in their phrasing and pitch and also made smart use of intervals to produce a heightened emotional effect. There are similar harmonic intervals to what people use in modern recordings but are not skilled enough to pull off and need to use expensive harmonizing machines to do it. All of this came together to form what they call Bakersfield Country sound heard all over real county music today, most notably with Dwight Yoakam and BR-549 among others, not fuckwads such as Toby Keith and the like.
Don and Buck were so close as musicians and partners that when Don Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident Buck Owens quit music. He did this at a time not when he was in decline but on top. He simply quit. Owens later resurfaced on Hee-Haw but to me it was like watching this once great man being reduced to a comedy act. You’ll find his good sense of humor in his Carnegie Hall concert, which some of you might see as a little hokey and pandering, but that’s how they did it back then. It’s important to hear it the times intended.
I always think it’s important when looking at music to see who is going to be relevant in 20-30-40 years. Buck is and will always be, not just in country but also in music you hear everyday.