Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book Review: Buck 'Em: The Autobiography of Buck Owens

When one thinks of country music's Outlaw movement, automatically visions of the great Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson come to mind.  And rightfully so.  Waylon and Willie epitomized the Outlaw movement in country music, the movement which sought to end the stranglehold that the Nashville recording industry establishment had on the success and failure of its artists.  What makes this movement so well known, is that this particular Outlaw movement became commercialized and therefore commercially successful as evidenced by the sales experienced by the "Wanted: The Outlaws" album featuring Waylon and Willie, as well as Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser.  But it should be noted that before the Outlaw movement took place in the mid 1970's, an Outlaw movement took place some 15 or so years earlier which shook the Nashville establishment to its core.  

The life and career of Buck Owens has finally been chronicled, and it's been well worth the wait. The writing of the book itself could not have been an easy task.  Taken from hundreds of hours of audio recordings that Mr. Owens made over the years leading up to his death, author Randy Poe has constructed a story as told by Mr. Owens, that tells the life tale of one of the greatest country music singers, songwriters and pioneers of all time.  Written as if Mr. Owens dictated his life story to Randy, the story speaks to Mr. Owens' childhood spent in poverty from his birth in Texas, chronicles his family's move during the dust bowl years to Mesa, Arizona, and finally ending up in Bakersfield, California where he would reside until his death in 2006.  

The story of Buck Owens is very revealing as it shows how life events can truly effect the life path we choose.  For example, his impoverished upbringing instilled a drive to be successful in Buck that is nearly unmatched in music.  His success didn't just extend to hits on the country music charts ... it extended to the business side of the music industry where one could argue he was even more successful.  

His start as a recording artist is also chronicled, and this is where Buck Owens was Outlaw before Outlaw was cool.  In 1959, after his first recording sessions for Capitol Records failed to produce any hits, Mr. Owens sent a letter to his producer, Ken Nelson, where Mr. Owens stated he felt the records being produced were not his sound, not his type of country music.  He further stated that he wanted to record his music his way, and if there was no agreement to be had, perhaps they should end their contract.  Needless to say that didn't happen.  Twenty number one hits and millions of records sold later, it's clear who was right in that argument.  It should also be noted that all of this took place outside of Nashville, nearly his entire recording career was based in California.  

The story of his friendship with Don Rich is also told in intimate detail.  When I mention that this story talks of how life events shaped Buck Owens, this story is the most heart wrenching.  The premature passing of Don Rich hurt Mr. Owens so badly, that one can tell his drive to even make music had died as well.  The music they made together was timeless, and the devastation this event had on Mr. Owens' life is sad.  

The legacy of Buck Owens, like it or not, is pretty much laid bare in two parts.  One is the pioneer, a man who is one of the most influential singer-songwriter's of all time.  Mr. Owens has influenced many country stars of today, such as Dwight Yoakam and Brad Paisley, both of whom contribute to the writing of this book.  As label mates on Capitol, The Beatles requested to receive copies of every Buck Owens record as it was produced.  The other is the man most of us saw on the television show Hee Haw every Saturday night for 17 years.  It's clear Mr. Owens felt two ways about appearing on that show, and felt that Nashville slighted him because he was a member of Hee Haw.  But if you visit Nashville today, or if you've been there in the last couple of years, you will see one of the finest exhibits ever produced by the Country Music Hall of Fame, as they present "The Bakersfield Sound: The Music of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and California Country."  It is the finest tribute to one of the greatest periods in the history of country music, of which Buck Owens was at the forefront.  The book "Buck 'Em: The Autobiography of Buck Owens" is a great story, a great read and a must for any music fan.

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