Buck Owens Biography

Alvis Edgar Owens Jnr., 12 August 1929, Sherman, Texas, USA, d. 25 March 2006, USA, Bakersfield, California, USA. Buck Owens became one of the leading country music stars of the 60s and 70s, along with Merle Haggard, the leading exponent of the ‘west coast sound’. Owens gave himself the nickname Buck at the age of three, after a favourite horse. When he was 10, his family moved to Mesa, Arizona, where Owens picked cotton, and at 13 years of age he began playing the mandolin. He soon learned guitar, horns and drums. Owens performed music professionally by the age of 16, starring, along with partner Ray Britten, in his own radio programme. He also worked with the group Mac’s Skillet Lickers, and at 17 married their singer, Bonnie Campbell, who later launched her own career as Bonnie Owens. The couple bore a son, who also had a country music career as Buddy Alan.

In 1951 Owens and his family moved to Bakersfield, California, at the suggestion of an uncle who said work was plentiful for good musicians. Owens joined the Orange Blossom Playboys, with whom he both sang and played guitar for the first time, and then formed his own band, the Schoolhouse Playboys. Owens made ends meet by taking on work as a session guitarist in Los Angeles, appearing on recordings by Sonny James, Wanda Jackson, Tommy Sands and Gene Vincent. When the Playboys disbanded in the mid-50s Owens joined country artist Tommy Collins as singer and guitarist, recording a few tracks with him.

In 1955-56 Owens recorded his first singles under his own name, for Pep Records, using the name Corky Jones for rockabilly and his own name for country recordings. Owens signed to Capitol Records in March 1957. It was not until his fourth release, ‘Second Fiddle’, that he made any mark, reaching number 24 on Billboard’s country chart. His next, ‘Under Your Spell Again’, made number 4, paving the way for over 75 country hits, more than 40 of which made that chart’s Top 10. Among the biggest and best were ‘Act Naturally’ (1963), later covered by the Beatles, ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here’ (1963), ‘My Heart Skips A Beat’ (1964), ‘Together Again’ (1964), ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’ (1965), ‘Before You Go’ (1965), ‘Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line’ (1966), ‘Think Of Me’ (1966), ‘Open Up Your Heart’ (1966) and a cover version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’ (1969), all of which were number 1 country singles. ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here’ spent a record 16 weeks at the top of the charts. Owens recorded a number of duets with singer Susan Raye, and also with his son Buddy Alan. He also released more than 100 albums during his career. In addition, his compositions were hits by other artists, notably Emmylou Harris (‘Together Again’) and Ray Charles (‘Crying Time’). Owens’ band, the Buckaroos (guitarist Don Rich (b. Donald Ulrich, 15 August 1941, Olympia, Washington, USA, d. 17 July 1974, near Morro Bay, California, USA), bass player Doyle Holly (b. 30 June 1933, Perkins, Oklahoma, USA, d. 13 January 2007), steel guitarist Tom Brumley (b. 11 December 1935, Stella, Missouri, USA) and drummer Willie Cantu), was also highly regarded. Their back-to-basics, honky-tonk instrumental style helped define the Bakersfield sound - Owens’ recordings never relied on strings or commercialized, sweetened pop arrangements. The Buckaroos also released several albums on their own.

In 1969, Owens joined as co-host the country music television variety programme Hee Haw, which combined comedy sketches and live performances by country stars. He stayed with the show until 1986, long after his Capitol contract expired, and he had signed with Warner Brothers Records in 1976. Although Owens continued to place singles in the country charts with Warners, his reign as a top country artist had faltered in the mid-70s and he retired from recording and performing to run a number of business interests, including a radio station and recording studio in Bakersfield. In 1988, country newcomer Dwight Yoakam convinced Owens to join him in recording a remake of Owens’ song ‘Streets Of Bakersfield’. It reached number 1 in the country chart and brought new attention to Owens. He signed with Capitol again late in 1988 and recorded a new album, Hot Dog, featuring re-recordings of old Owens songs and cover versions of material by Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and others. Although Owens had not recaptured his earlier status by the early 90s, he became active again, recording and touring, including one tour as a guest of Yoakam. He underwent throat cancer surgery in 1993. In 1996 Owens was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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