Buck 'Em!
Buck Owens and Randy Poe
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Buy *Buck 'Em!: The Autobiography of Buck Owens* by Buck Owens and Randy Poeo nline

Buck 'Em!: The Autobiography of Buck Owens
Buck Owens and Randy Poe
Backbeat Books
334 pages
November 2013
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Like Woody Guthrie, he was a Dust Bowl refugee, and like Merle Haggard, he was stuck with the insulting nickname of “Okie” after his farming family moved to Arizona in desperation during the Great Depression. He spent his childhood picking crops. His early memories of migrant camps included the music jams that sprang up spontaneously--“everybody was looking to relieve the pressure of a long hard day.” Yet, unlike the leftist “Dustbowl Blues” Guthrie and the doggedly conservative “Okie from Muskogee” Haggard, Buck Owens (1929-2006) gets no romantic points for his tough upbringing. That may be because he never expected any. He was determined to make it big, make money, and do things his way.

A musician and DJ by the time he was in his teens, Owens worked in studios, on the radio, and with various traveling bands. In the course of his career, he wrote and/or produced more than 20 hit singles, starting with “Act Naturally.” At first he was known as a guitarist, and that was all he aspired to be. But once he started singing--and singing loud enough so he could hear himself onstage--he became noted for a hard, clipped, twangy sound that became the model for quintessential country.

Perhaps his biggest misstep was Hee Haw. He claims that

“I had a pretty good idea of what I was walking into at the time, but I did Hee Haw anyway, hoping I would be the one guy who wasn’t affected by it.”
Hee Haw was an enormously popular TV show but it bowdlerized country folk, and by extension, their music. It made Owens and the other talented performers who appeared every week look like they were satirizing themselves. As Owens put it, on stage at a music show he was wearing “a suit designed by Nudie Cohn” and on Hee Haw he was “wearing…overalls backwards.” However, Owens, who named himself, as a kid, for the family mule, was also noted for holding on to a buck (Merle Haggard famously said he worked for Owens “as long as I could afford it”), and the show undoubtedly brought him both financial success and some career stability. But it killed album sales, he believed, and kept him from becoming an icon outside the bumpkin belt.

Still, with a legacy of huge hits, a lot of grateful acolytes happy to live under his umbrella of fame, and a very active, almost non-stop career that sometimes put marriage and parenting on the side burner, the man towers. With a prodigious memory and the gift of gab, he talked into a tape recorder for many hours, and Randy Poe (Skydog: The Duane Allman Story) has taken those tapes and pieced together the tough, titanic life of this remarkably hard-working showman with a voice that, though it can never be recreated, does sound a lot like Buck Owens.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2014

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