31
Mar
10

Higher than a cat’s back

Music cognoscenti know: Buck Owens was the bee’s knees–in spite of the fact that in his later years, there was a certain clownish aspect to his act. You could make the case that Hee Haw was on the air for a little too long. But in his prime, Buck was one cool country cat.

Here are a couple of clips of the glory years of the Buckaroos, featuring Don Rich, Buck’s guitar man and harmonist (“he sings higher than a cat’s back”). Rich died in a motorcycle crash in 1974, and Buck was never the same.

Rich opened for Elvis at the age of 16, and had a regular gig at Steve’s Gay 90’s Restaurant in South Tacoma when Buck Owens hired him as fiddler. Fender gifted him a Champagne Sparkle Telecaster, and he could really wear a Nudie suit.

That distinctive accent harmony was a defining feature of the Bakersfield Sound. Merle Haggard, who performed in Buck’s band for a while (and who named them the Buckaroos) also made amazing use of it. (Check out the Bonnie Owens part in the studio version of “Today I Started Loving You Again”–alas, I could not find this online.) Merle and Buck had a pretty contentious history together (including sharing a wife, though not simultaneously), so I would not be surprised if they both took credit.

I think of how musically genius these boomtown hicks were, when listening to the New Pornographers’ Adventures in Solitude. That first verse with the spare accent harmonies. Pure Bakersfield.

* While I’m digressing on the subject of criminally overlooked collaborators of the Bakersfield Era, I would recommend a listen to Laura Cantrell’s gorgeous, heartbreaking song about Bonnie Owens:

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