singer (1929-2006), songwriter, guitarist, host of Hee Haw
, and man who brought the Bakersfield sound
to the rest of America.
Born Alvis Edgar Owens, August 12, 1929, in Sherman, Texas. He gave himself the nickname Buck at the age of three after the family mule. Grew up hearing bluegrass on Mexican border radio stations, picking cotton in Arizona, and teaching himself to play the mandolin, steel guitar, saxophone, and harmonica. Married at 17 to Bonnie Campbell, lead singer for Mac's Skillet Lickers. In 1951, moved to Bakersfield, California, where he joined the Orange Blossom Playboys, playing a newfangled Telecaster guitar for the first time, and formed his own band, the Schoolhouse Playboys. In the 1950s he could make $12.50 a night playing gigs in Bakersfield, and $40 for three hours work if he drove to Los Angeles to do session work for Wanda Jackson, Sonny James, Tommy Sands, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Gene Vincent. In 1955 he recorded for Pep Records both under his own name and as Corky Jones for rockabilly numbers. He signed with Capitol Records in March of 1957. As an AM radio disk jockey, he met a young fiddler named Don Rich, who'd become his guitar player, harmony vocalist, bandleader, co-writer, arranger and best friend.
Owens first national hit (#4 on the charts) was Under Your Spell Again in 1959. He was named most promising country music star of 1960, but it wasn't until 1963 that his career really took off. Every single he released for the next four years went to #1: 15 in a row, with a total of 20 #1 records between 1963 and 1972; 20 other singles made the top 10. He played Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium, the Fillmore West, the White House. In the 1960s, country music was Buck Owens and his band, the Buckaroos.
Don Rich's death in 1974 devasted him. He cut back on his music, ensuring that a generation grew up knowing knew him only as the host of Hee Haw, which he continued to host until 1986. In the 1980s he was rediscovered by young traditionalists like Dwight Yoakam, who in 1987, gave Buck another #1 hit with a duet of Streets of Bakersfield.
He owns KUZZ AM/FM and KCWR in Bakersfield , and co-owns with ABC Radio the "Real Country" radio network, currently in over 160 markets. Owens lost part of his tongue in 1993 to throat cancer, but in 1996 opened the Crystal Palace, a restaurant/nightclub in Bakersfield. Most Friday and Saturday nights, Buck takes the stage with the house band for two shows. Owens was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Sources: Kaufman, Gary. "The Baron of Bakersfield." Salon Magazine. <http://www.salon.com/bc/1999/02/23bc.html> (1 June 2000)
<http://www.buckowens.com/> (1 June 2000)