The entertainment industry is mourning the death of singer, songwriter and guitarist Buck Owens, who died on March 25. He was 76. Owens pioneered Country music's "Bakersfield Sound" and influenced many of today's traditional-sounding artists, including Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam and Brad Paisley. VOA's Mary Morningstar has more on the musical career of Buck Owens.
"I've Got A Tiger By The Tail" is among the numerous international hits Buck Owens recorded during his long career in Country music. Born Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr. in Sherman, Texas, he later moved with his family to Mesa, Arizona, where he first performed on a local radio show. After relocating to Bakersfield, California in 1951, Owens mastered his instrumental talents, playing on recordings by Sonny James, Faron Young and Tommy Collins. That led to his own recording contract with Capitol Records in 1957. Owens once explained what motivated him to pursue a career in music.
"In the beginning my only goal was to, when I got into music, you always remember the times when you went to bed hungry, you don't forget those times, when you were cold and a lot of other things," he said. "I used to say as a kid, 'When I get big, I'm going to find a way that I'm not going to have to wear hand-me-downs and I'm not going to have to wear pace boards in my shoes.' I think the drive for my career came from that."
In 1965, Buck Owens formed his band The Buckeroos and developed a style that became known as the "Bakersfield Sound." While Nashville's brand of Country music was more polished or sophisticated, Owens described his playing as more roots-oriented.
"The California Country sound is more raunchy, it's more edgy, it probably has more echo on it. It certainly has a lot of drive to it," he said. "To me, it's far less refined [than the Nashville sound], except it is a refined sound. Just anybody doesn't play it and can't play it. I think you have to be around it some to understand what it is. Maybe it comes from the roots of it. I used more drums and used more percussion-type guitar. I didn't really go out and invent that style of guitar playing. It's the only style I can play. I think it's a different region, it's from a different reason, and my biggest influence, of course, was [Texas bandleader] Bob Wills."
Buck Owens became one of the biggest Country stars of the 1960s, dominating the charts with a string of Number One singles. In addition to influencing numerous Country acts, he is also regarded as a major influence in the Country-rock movement of the late 1960s. The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers were among the bands inspired by Owens' unique style.
When the popularity of honky-tonk music faded in the 1970s, Owens decided to cut back on performing. During that time, he continued to co-host the popular television series Hee-Haw, which debuted in 1969 and ran until 1986. He also attended to many business interests, including his television and radio stations.
Owens' musical career was revived in the 1980s, when a new generation of Country musicians re-introduced his Bakersfield Sound. One of the most successful artists to do so was Dwight Yoakam, who convinced Owens to record a duet version of "Streets Of Bakersfield." The song became a Number One Country hit in 1988. That same year, he signed a new recording contract with Capitol Records. In 1989, Buck Owens received the Country Music Association's Pioneer Award and he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. When asked how he would like to be remembered, Owens replied:
"One of the things I'd want them to say is that I was original. I think I would want them to say I was honest in my presentation. I would think that they would say, 'That's what he did.' I always thought of my music as music for the people. I always thought of myself as just a people singer. Mostly what I always looked to do, which I think was very important, is I did not record for the industry. I tried to record for the people. Secondary, was whether or not they were going to play it on the radio."
Owens underwent surgery for throat cancer in 1993, and, in 1997, was hospitalized with pneumonia. He had also suffered a minor stroke recently. The Country singer, songwriter and guitarist Buck Owens died in his sleep on March 25 just hours after a performance at his Crystal Palace theater.