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
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
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.