Buck Owens Part Three
In Buck Owens Part Three, I’m going to start from 1963 and end up in 1986. Buck Owens Part Three Buck Owens Part Three, is between Part Two, which I done yesterday, an Part Four, which I’ll tomorrow, so I hope to have a visit from you, in the past and another in the future, but first, please visit me today, before you go into the past, but first go to the future and see what I’m typing about.
In early 1963, the Johnny Russell song “Act Naturally” was pitched to Owens, who initially didn’t like it, but his guitarist and long time collaborator, Don Rich, enjoyed it and convinced Owens to record it, which he did with the Buckaroos, on February 12, 1963. It was released on March 11 and entered the charts of April 13. By June 15 the single began its first of four non-consecutive weeks at the No. 1 position. It was Owens’ first No. 1 hit. The Beatles later recorded a cover of it in 1965, with Ringo Starr as lead singer. Ringo Starr later re-recorded the song as a duet with Owens in 1988.
The 1966 album Carnegie Hall Concert was a smash hit and further cemented Buck Owens and the Buckaroos as more than just another honky tonk country band. They achieved crossover success on to the pop charts. During that year, R&B singer Ray Charles released cover versions of two of Owens’ songs that became pop hits: “Crying Time” and “Together Again”.
In 1967, Owens and the Buckaroos toured Japan, a then-rare occurrence for a country musician. The subsequent live album, appropriately named Buck Owens and His Buckaroos in Japan, was an early example of country music recorded outside the United States.
In 1968 Owens and the Buckaroos performed for President Lyndon Baines Johnson at the White House, which was later released as a live album.
Between 1968 and 1969, pedal steel guitar player Tom Brumley and drummer Willie Cantu left the band and drummer Jerry Wiggins and pedal steel guitar player Jay Dee Maness were added. Owens and the Buckaroos had two songs reach No. 1 on the country music charts in 1969, “Tall Dark Stranger” and “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass”. In 1969, they recorded a live album, Live in London, where they premiered their rock song “A Happening In London Town” and their version of Chuck Berry’s song “Johnny B. Goode”.
During this time Hee Haw, starring Owens and the Buckaroos, was at its height of popularity. The series, originally envisioned as country music’s answer to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, outlived that show and ran for 231 episodes over 24 seasons. Creedence Clearwater Revival mentioned Owens by name in their 1970 single “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”.
Also between 1968 and 1970, Owens made guest appearances on top TV variety programs, including The Dean Martin Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jackie Gleason Show and seven times on The Jimmy Dean Show.
In the early 1970s, Owens and the Buckaroos enjoyed a string of hit duets with his protege Susan Raye, who subsequently became a popular solo artist with recordings produced by Owens.
In 1971, the Buckaroos’ bass guitarist Doyle Holly left the band to pursue a solo career. Holly was known for his solo ballads with his trademark booming deep voice on Buck Owens and the Buckaroos albums. His departure was a setback to the band, as Doyle had received the Bass Player of the Year award from the Academy of Country Music the year before in 1970 and served as co-lead vocalist (along with Don Rich) of the Buckaroos. Holly went on to record two solo records in the early 1970s, both were top 20 hits.
Owens and Rich were the only original members left of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, and in the 1970s they struggled to top the country music charts. However, the popularity of Hee Haw was allowing them to enjoy large crowds at indoor arenas.
In 1972, Owens and the Buckaroos finally had another No. 1 hit, “Made in Japan”, after three years of not having a number one song. In April, he added pedal steel guitarist, Jerry Brightman. The band had been without pedal steel since late in 1969 when Maness departed, and Owens returned to his grass roots sound of fiddle, steel, and electric guitars releasing a string of singles including “Arms Full of Empty”, “Ain’t it Amazing Gracie” and “Ain’t Gonna Have Ole Buck (to Kick Around no More)”. Owens’ original release of “Streets of Bakersfield” was released in 1972.
On July 17, 1974, Owens’ best friend and Buckaroos guitarist Don Rich was killed when he lost control of his motorcycle and struck a guard rail on Highway 1 in Morro Bay, where he was to have joined his family for vacation. Owens was devastated. “He was like a brother, a son and a best friend,” he said in the late 1990s. “Something I never said before, maybe I couldn’t, but I think my music life ended when he died. Oh yeah, I carried on and I existed, but the real joy and love, the real lightning and thunder is gone forever.” Owens would never fully recover from the tragedy, neither emotionally nor professionally.
Before the 1960s were done, Owens — with the help of manager Jack McFadden — began to concentrate on his financial future. He bought several radio stations, including KNIX-AM (later KCWW) and KNIX-FM in Phoenix and KUZZ-FM in Bakersfield. During the 1990s, Owens was co-owner of the country music network Real Country, which Owens owned station KCWW was the flagship station of. In 1998, Owens sold KCWW to ABC/Disney for $8,850,000 and sold KNIX-FM to Clear Channel Communications, but he maintained ownership of KUZZ until his death.
Owens established Buck Owens Enterprises and produced records by several artists. He recorded for Warner Bros. Records, but by the 1980s he was no longer recording, instead devoting his time to overseeing his business empire from Bakersfield. He left Hee Haw in 1986.