Buck ‘Em! – The Autobiography of Buck Owens (review)

Buck ‘Em! – The Autobiography of Buck Owens – Buck Owens with Randy Poe (Backbeat Books) review

Buck Owens writes his autobiography…from the hereafter!

Buck Owens passed away in 2006 at the age of 76.  So, how is it possible that he’s writing his autobiography in 2014?  Well, it was always Owen’s intention to tell his story, so he began dictating it to tape.  By the time of his passing, he’d amassed a huge stack, containing literally hundreds of hours of his story, in his own words.  Problem was – none of it was in chronological order!

Enter writer Randy Poe, who’d previously put together the excellent Duane Allman bio Skydog.  It was Poe’s unenviable task to wade through this mountain of recordings.  With the blessing of the Owen’s estate comes Buck ‘EM – The Autobiography of Buck Owens.  The reason it’s an autobiography is that almost all of it is the country pioneer in his own words.  Besides transcribing the tapes, Poe did a little editing and grammar – the rest is all Buck.

Although he pretty much rewrote the rules for country music by addressing a more aggressive, Telecaster-led style, it didn’t come easy.  There’s tales of failed attempts to add syrupy background singers to his early recordings, and how he almost gave up because he was so frustrated with the business.  Owens came in contact with a lot of soon-to-be legendary performers on his way up, including Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn.

The book is full of funny anecdotes, like the time his band accidentally left him behind, because they thought he was sleeping in the back of the truck, when he had actually gone to eat dinner.  Or, how he tried in vain to convince a Beatles’ fan that “Act Naturally” was in fact, HIS song.

A looming figure in the book is guitarist, and longtime friend Don Rich, who played a key role in the Owens’ sound and was a part of the peak years of his music.  There’s a great story of the two of them perfecting their signature harmonies on a late-night trip from Washington state back to Bakersfield.  In fact, Owens admits that after Rich’s untimely death in 1974 (from a motorcycle crash), he never recovered.

To call Owens’ a driven individual is a gross understatement.  There’s mention of every single he released for Capitol Records, and how well, or poorly, it performed on the charts.

The big realization from Buck EM is that, although Owens played the role of dumb cowpoke in the Hee Haw TV show, he was NO dummy when it came to business matters.  He purchased several radio stations, and even opened up a successful club in his hometown of Bakersfield.  Unlike so many other musicians, Owens was always aware of where the money was going.

Probably one of the most savvy things he ever did was negotiate with Capitol Records so he would eventually own all of his recordings.  This is virtually unheard of among popular musicians.  Even 50 years later, bands like the Beatles still don’t truly own their material.  But, Owens convinced his label to relinquish the rights after a certain length of time.  So, even after his passing, the Owens’ estate has the freedom to release what they want, with whom they want, and reap the rewards.

Of course there’s mention of the hit TV series Hee Haw, and how the more popular the show became, the less records he sold – people just didn’t seem to take him seriously as a musician any longer.  Thankfully, that show is just a curious piece of ancient history, while Owens’ music will last forever.

Buck EM is written in Owens’ own, easy going style, so it’s an enjoyable read.  Anyone interested in where modern Country music came from, this book is highly recommended.  —Tony Peters