Buck Owens

On this day in 1929, country music maverick Alvis Edgar Owens Jr., better

known as "Buck," was born in Sherman, Texas, where he was raised in a

sharecropping family. His mother sang and played piano to him from an early

age and he grew to have a great interest in music. Owens' family moved to

Arizona during the Depression and he quit school to help make ends meet. But,

in his spare time, he also pursued his dream of playing music. At 16, he was

persistent and talented enough to land a Mesa, Ariz., radio show, on which he

sang and played guitar. He soon moved to Bakersfield, Calif., where he had

musician relatives who told him he could earn a living there with his guitar.

After playing in the local music scene, Owens developed a following and was

signed to Capitol Records in 1957. In the early '60s, Owens enjoyed hits with

"Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)," "Above and Beyond," "Foolin'

Around" and "Under The Influence of Love." He had a particularly good year in

1963, when he released "Love's Gonna Live Here," "You're For Me" and "Act

Naturally." The Beatles soon covered the latter song with Ringo Starr on vocals

(Owens later re-recorded "Act Naturally" with Starr in 1989), earning Owens

further exposure in the pop/rock world. In 1965, Owens had a big pop hit with

"I've Got a Tiger by the Tail."

As the '60s drew to a close, Owens, with help from his backup band the

Buckaroos, was a bona fide country-music superstar, having scored 26

consecutive #1 country songs and 12 #1 albums. He also became known as the

father of the "Bakersfield Sound."

In the late '60s, he hosted a syndicated television show and, in 1969, Owens

began co-hosting "Hee Haw," the popular country-music/comedy program

which made him a big star beyond the C&W world. He stayed with the show

until 1976, becoming a household name, but losing his clout with serious

country-music buyers.

Owens once said about his diminishing record sales: "TV did the same thing for

me that it did for other people who were on it weekly, starting with Perry Como.

When he got on weekly television, his record sales went away. Television is the

quintessential barebones of what you are. All mystery is removed. What 'Hee

Haw' did for me was take a name and a sound and put a face to it."

But, in the '80s, traditional country music had a major resurgence in Nashville,

Tenn., and newer artists such as Dwight Yoakam began paying tribute to

Owens as their musical hero. After Owens recorded "The Streets of Bakersfield"

with Yoakam in 1988, his comeback was cemented among country purists. In

1996, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville

Songwriters' Hall of Fame.

Despite a battle with throat cancer, Owens currently performs weekly at his

Crystal Palace nightclub in Bakersfield.

Owens' most recent record release is Kickin' In (Curb/Capitol Nashville),

an album filled with the traditional honky-tonk that has made him one of popular

music's most influential artists.

As Dwight Yoakam said, "Buck Owens, from the late '50s to the late '60s, was

the quintessential honky-tonk recording artist. His music and band were so

barroom-raw and hillbilly-edgy that, combined with their exposure to the

California culture of the '50s and '60s, they were the hippest act in country

music."

Owens is currently ranked by Billboard magazine as the #10 most

successful country music act of all time.

Other birthdays: Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), 49; Kid Creole (a.k.a. August

Darnell), 48; Pat Metheny, 43; Roy Hay (Culture Club), 37; and Sir Mix-a-Lot

(born Anthony Ray), 35.