Buck Owens: From Sherman Sharecropper to the Bakersfield King



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Almost everybody knows Buck Owens as the overall-wearing hillbilly who co-hosted with Roy Clark on the variety show Hee Haw. But during the 1960s and 1970s Buck soared to a level of success and influence that had scarcely been experienced by other country stars.

 

Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. was born into a family of sharecroppers on August 12, 1929, in Sherman, Texas. Nicknamed "Buck," the towheaded little boy moved with his family to Mesa, Arizona, during the Great Depression. Because it took such a toll on his family’s income, Buck dropped out of high school in the ninth grade to work on the farm. But like many other children of that era, he was fiercely ambitious.

Keenly interested in music, Owens learned to play the guitar and later on he picked up the trumpet and saxophone. While still in his teens he began to perform in Phoenix clubs and honky tonks, as well as on local radio.

At 19, Owens married fellow Country singer Bonnie Campbell. The couple had two sons, one of which grew up to be Buddy Alan, who later became a star himself.

In 1951, the Owens family moved to Bakersfield, California, where Buck performed regularly in local clubs. He spent several years playing guitar during recording sessions at Capitol Records. In 1958 Owen's cover of "Second Fiddle" reached No. 24 on the Country charts, but he had little confidence in his future as a recording artist.

In 1958, two years after marrying his second wife, Owens moved to Tacoma, Washington, where he played clubs in the area and hosted a live radio show (one of his guests was young Loretta Lynn). He met musician Don Rich, who became his partner and band member. Another band member, bassist and future superstar Merle Haggard, named Owens’ band "The Buckaroos."

Late in 1959 "Under Your Spell Again" reached No. 4, beginning a nearly uninterrupted string of Top 10 hits that continued into the 1970s. The first of more than 30 albums was released in 1961. Owens’ first No. 1 single "Act Naturally" appeared in 1963 and began 15 consecutive No. 1 hits, including "I've Got a Tiger By the Tail" in 1965.

Owens performed before a capacity crowd at Carnegie Hall in New York City on March 25, 1966. On tour he commanded top concert fees and he appeared in two motion pictures.

Owens, Merle Haggard, and other artists produced the Bakersfield Sound, a hard-country honky tonk sound that contrasted with the smooth Nashville music of the era. The Bakersfield King built a state-of-the-art recording studio in the community that sometimes was called "Buckersfield."

From 1966 through 1973 the half-hour Buck Owens Ranch TV Show aired over as many as 100 stations. In 1969 Hee Haw premiered over CBS-TV and enjoyed immense popularity on the network and in syndication. Although he had cut back on performing, Owens and Dwight Yoakam released a duet, "Streets of Bakersfield,"in 1988. The song was Owen's’ first No. 1 since 1972.

Among a host of awards for the Bakersfield star was an induction into Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996.

Owens passed away in Bakersfield on March 25, 2006, due to a heart attack.

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