Buck Owens (left) and the Buckaroos (Don Rich, 2nd from left)
Listen/Download – Buck Owens and the Buckaroos – Buckaroo
The new week is here and I thought I might get things started with a selection that might at first glance seem decidedly un-Iron Leg-gy, yet which first listen will reveal to be apropos.
I have to start by saying that although I didn’t really get into Buck Owens until the late 80s (when some of his early stuff appeared on a comp of Capitol Records West Coast country) I probably knew who he was since I was a little kid.
How, you ask?
Anyone else remember Hee Haw?
Back in the day, when I was vegetating on the couch, after the Saturday morning cartoons had finished (and following reruns of the Monkees, and the Children’s Film Festival), there wasn’t much on the tube.
However, were you to spin the dial (remember spinning the dial?) you would encounter all manner of syndicated coolness, including Soul Train, and that heap of hillbilly hilarity, Hee Haw.
Hee Haw went on the air in 1969 as a kind of rural response to the success of Laugh In and featured all manner of country stars, both musical and comedic. After two years in prime time, it was canceled and then rose from the dead into syndication where it ran for almost two decades.
The hosts of that show were Roy Clark, and Buck Owens.
By the time Owens started on Hee Haw he had been one of the most successful country artists of the 60s, charting over a dozen #1 hits and along with Merle Haggard bringing the Bakersfield Sound to the fore.
That said, for years all I knew of Owens was his TV “character” of an amiable, talented bumpkin in backward overalls.
When I heard his older music, many years later I was blown away.
My idea of 1960s country music was almost entirely the syrupy, string laden Nashville product that often crossed over into the pop charts.
When I first heard Owens, and Haggard I was drawn into their harder edged, guitar driven sounds that were sometimes informed by, and often influenced rock and roll (the first time I heard Merle Haggard songs was via covers by the Grateful Dead and Gram Parsons).
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bunch of original Owens LPs at a local record store, and eventually picked up the boxed set that Rhino put out in the 90s.
As important as Owen’s talents as a vocalist, songwriter and talent scout, was his ability to put together a shit hot band, which was led through the 60s and early 70s by his lead guitarist, the legendary Don Rich.
Now for most rock fans, Buck Owens pops up on the our radar via the Beatles’ cover of his 1965 Country #1 ‘Act Naturally’ (written by Johnny Russell). Owens was said to have been a fan of the Fabs, and returned the favor by covering Beatles tunes in his live sets.
He did so more subtly (at least to my ears) with his #1 from the Fall of 1965, ‘Buckaroo’.
The first time I heard ‘Buckaroo’ I flipped my wig. My first impression was how the tune was at its root ‘country’ but simultaneously pop/rock, and the thing I kept hearing in the back of my mind was the Beatles doing ‘I Feel Fine’.
Though the tune was written by Bob Morris, who wrote a number of tunes for Owens and artists in his orbit, like Susan Raye and Haggard, it’s hard to imagine it taking off the way it did in the hands of anyone but Don Rich and Buckaroo’s pedal steel player Tom Brumley.
‘Buckaroo’, which hit #1 around Christmas of 1965 is centered around a ringing guitar riff, a vaguely latin beat (much like the one the Beatles borrowed from Bobby Parker’s ‘Watch Your Step’ when they wrote ‘I Feel Fine’ which charted in late 1964) and a turnaround in the middle of the song that sounds like a tip of the hat to Ritchie Valens’ ‘La Bamba’.
Interestingly enough, in addition to being a huge country hit, ‘Buckaroo’ scraped the Top 40 of the Pop charts in a number of markets, including New York City.
‘Buckaroo’ went on to be covered by a number of artists (including the Byrds, their version appearing on the CD issue of their 1969 Fillmore concert) and was a live feature for Don Rich and the Buckaroos until his untimely death in a 1974 morocycle accident.. In a bizarre twist it was almost a year to the day after another guitar genius (and Byrd) Clarence White was killed by a drunk driver.
I hope you dig the tune, and if you have any interest in good, solid country music, check out Buck Owens.
PS Head over to Funky16Corners for some mid-70s Chicago funk.