SAN FRANCISCO -- There was the contingent of elder, hard-core
Country & Western fans in attendance, the sort of folks who go to see Buck
Owens at his Crystal Palace nightclub in Bakersfield, Calif., where he plays every weekend.
Then there was the more usual Bimbo's crowd, composed of young swing kids
working the post-modern, retro vibe.
And, of course, there was Owens, no stranger to either.
When country legend Buck Owens and the Buckaroos played Bimbo's 365 Club
on Wednesday night, they showed how talent and charm can bridge
They opened with the giddy
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Owens,_Buck_And_His_Buckaroos/Act_N aturally.ram">"Act Naturally"
aturally.ram">"Act Naturally"(RealAudio excerpt), Owens' first big hit
and a song that Beatles' fans know as the flip side of "Yesterday." The
Buckaroos, dressed in matching red Western shirts and black jeans, knew just
how to handle the crotchety, borderline tyrannical Owens. Keyboardist Jim
Shaw has been with Owens for 27 years, bassist Doyle Curtsinger for 28.
Buck controlled the show with a managerial style, giving commands to
bandmembers, roadies and any other miscellaneous handlers between songs,
during songs, during solos -- whenever he deemed it necessary. He moved
around the stage like a construction-site foreman checking workers' progress.
And if anyone doubted who was in charge, Buck's bandleader status was made
clear by the added flair of a black vintage coat and, of course, the requisite
black cowboy hat.
And while the years have taken their toll on Owens -- he had part of his tongue
removed five years ago after a bout with throat cancer -- his voice was still in
fine form, honey-thick and high. And his sense of humor was as seriously corny
as it ever was.
"We have a local rule," Owens told the crowd. "If you like a song, and if you
applaud really loud, the drinks get cheaper. If you don't, they get higher. Hell, I
was going to buy everyone a drink, but they told me that's illegal."
At Owens' urging, the crowd passed their requests, scrawled on napkins,
receipts and slips of paper, to the front of the stage. Kim McAbee, Buck's
backing vocalist (referred to by Owens as "my latest ... uh, I go through 'em
pretty fast"), spent a good portion of the show just keeping all the requests
straight, pitching 'em to the boss. Some he did, some he laughed off and some
he straight-out refused to do. But Owens' ornery, cantankerous manner had
some in the audience wondering what goes on behind the scenes.
"He was crass and crazy! That poor woman is [like] his secretary!" said Kurt
Wolff, a freelance writer and country fan.
Owens and the Buckaroos delivered plenty of classics, including "Together Again," "Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass," "Foolin' Around," "Cryin' Time" and, naturally, his 1965 Top 40 crossover hit, "I've Got A Tiger By The Tail."
It was clear that an effort was being made to take it easy on Buck's voice.
McAbee sang a couple of her own songs, including "Make Believin'," a slow,
languid country tune. Curtsinger crooned a pleasant, Hawaiian-flavored ballad
(which Buck referred to as "Lakkanukkinow" -- say it out loud). Mostly, it was
instrumental numbers such as the Buckaroos' classic "Buck's Polka" and
"Buckaroo" that kept the crowd rolling, while Owens gulped bottled water and
the occasional Scotch.
On "Dueling Banjos," the instrumental hoedown made famous in John
Boorman's film "Deliverance," Owens aimed his Telecaster at each Buckaroo,
challenging them with the familiar licks from the hootenanny favorite. At the end
of the tune, he headed straight for drummer Jim McCarty, leading him to a
thankfully short drum solo. Then he brought the entire band back into the main
It was fast, thumping and loud.
If anything was clear by the end of the night, it was that Owens owes a debt to
rock 'n' roll, and vice versa. This was classic country of the Bakersfield variety --
Owens was one of the primary architects of that famous sound, along with Merle
Haggard and Wynn Stewart. But there was enough rockabilly swagger to make
it obvious why the Beatles loved him, and why generations since have followed
A particularly fine version of
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Owens,_Buck_And_His_Buckaroos/Johnn y_B._Goode.ram">"Johnny B. Goode"
y_B._Goode.ram">"Johnny B. Goode"(RealAudio excerpt) capped the
evening, Owens howling and drawling and generally having a blast. It's not
often that you see a 70-year-old man captivated by the energy and power of
rock, but here he was, sweating and loving it.
Kevin Lynch, a vintage-record dealer, had issues with the hipster kids there to
see his hero. "Frankly, as good a show as this is, Milli Vanilli could have gotten
[the same] encore." Working up a head of steam, Lynch seemed ready to launch
himself at the next Stray Cat wannabe who wandered by. "Look, the guy's 72
years old. The guy's great on the Telecaster. And these people are fucking
wimps. The crowd is weak. The show is fantastic."
Nostalgia was clearly the evening's central motif. Watching openers Ray Condo
and the Ricochets, one couldn't help but think of an old-time barn dance, or a
dime-a-dance USO show. Nouveau swingers kicked and flew on the dance
floor, or quietly sipped martinis and cosmopolitans at the tables. Tall brunettes
with Barbara Stanwyck haircuts wandered throughout the room, their eyebrows
seemingly applied with Sharpie markers.
Po-mo, yes, but they cheered and stomped their feet for Buck.
The elder country-fanboy set may have been unhappy about the young, hipster
crowd, but Owens straddled the line between them, a living legend having a
hell of a lot of fun.