Sunday, April 21, 2013

Buck and Don

Buck Owens, Don Rich, Willie Cantu, Tom Brumley, Doyle Holly

This unattributed photo of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos circa 1966 is currently on display at the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Many Americans are aware of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos as a result of the long running television show Hee Haw, the knock-off of the groundbreaking Laugh In TV show, that mixed corny jokes and country music, as the Buckaroos were the show's house band during its 23 year run. Since the photo is part of the Wilson's Southern Folklife Collection one might ask what Hee Haw has to do with Southern Folklife, but the Buckaroos were an established country and western band before the show appeared in 1969 and most of its successes on the charts had already occurred by then.

I found a large collection of the band's music, spanning all of their time as a band, at, which is where all the music featured in my Greatest Rock and Roll Since Moses page, in the right hand column, comes from (and which is all free to download since it's in the public domain, i.e., the copyright has expired). I didn't include this collection on that page but thought it was worth noting.

The recordings range in quality. Some are studio recordings of the quality you'd expect from a CD and some seem to have been recorded live at small venues, but I didn't find any that weren't passable, if you're a Buckaroos fan.

I've always liked the Buckaroos sound, and much of the reason has to do with Don Rich, who is second in line in the photograph behind Buck Owens.

Rich played guitar and fiddle and possibly some other instruments on the band's recordings. He was a gifted musician who, it is said, simply picked up an instrument and learned how to play it, as it was needed in particular songs. On many recordings he provides the melodic violin countermelody, that, along with the "walking bass" and the judicious use of flamboyant steel guitar flourishes, makes up much of the band's sound. More prominent than the fiddle playing is his guitar playing, which tends to feature technical virtuosity, namely an at times incredible speed, over the string bending expressiveness that longtime guitar players exhibit. But what Rich contributed primarily to the band's unique sound was the high pitched harmony he sang behind Buck Owens' lead vocals on many if not most most of the band's songs and certainly on most of its bigger hits. It's what I always thought made the Buckaroos sound what it is.

Owens and Rich paired up in 1960 and collaborated on 21 number one country and western hits and were central figures in what was known as the Bakersfield Sound. Bakersfield, near the south end of the Central, or San Joaquin Valley, California's vast agricultural heartland, is, or was anyway, sometimes called Nashville West, owing to the country and western, folk tradition brought there by Okies and continued by their descendants, Okie being the common name for people who migrated to California during the years around the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl when drought and bad farming practices had devastated much of the nation's agriculture land.

Rich died in a motorcycle accident in 1974, which put an end to not only to his but to Owens' musical career. Owens, reportedly devastated by Rich's death, would continue to perform and record occasional celebrity duets with other known musicians but, as he said when he finally spoke out about Rich's death years later, "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."

(Note: There are 100 individual items, or mp3 files, in this collection and two of them are complete albums. It shows 5.8 megabytes on my computer. )

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