Three albums pay tribute to country favorite Owens

Los Angeles Times

<p>Dwight Yoakam, left, and Buck Owens performing in 1988</p>

When Buck Owens died last year at 76, he went out the way most musicians dream about:After eating his favorite dinner (chicken-fried steak at his restaurant and nightclub, the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, Calif.), he played a gig with his longtime band (the Buckaroos) for an enthusiastic hometown crowd, went home, climbed into bed and never woke up.

That brought to an end a remarkable life that began in the cotton country of northeastern Texas and took him to the pinnacle of international country-music stardom. Along the way, he amassed a fortune once estimated at more than $100 million and became a trusted and beloved father figure to a generation of younger musicians.

Owens famously advised Garth Brooks during his contract battle with Capitol Records not to relinquish ownership of his master recordings — a tip that Brooks wisely, and profitably, took. And when Dwight Yoakam was getting his career off the ground in the mid-’80s, he lobbied Owens to end his self-imposed recording hiatus long enough to join him in the studio for a new version of Streets of Bakersfield, a record that took Yoakam to the No. 1 slot on the country singles chart for the first time and Owens there for the last.

The loss of this musical paterfamilias is manifesting itself in tributes to the man who cranked out 90 country singles — 20 of them reaching No. 1 — during 30 years.

Yoakam’s Dwight Sings Buck (released Tuesday) has the highest profile of three salutes to the man credited with creating and disseminating the “Bakersfield sound” in country — a snappy, upbeat counterpoint to the string-heavy style that prevailed in Nashville, Tenn., in the ’50s and ’60s, the West Coast sound carrying as much rock sting as down-home twang.

The Derailers, from Austin, Texas, recently put out the 13-track album Under the Influence of Buck, while Orange County, Calif., country singer-songwriter Jann Browne beat both to the punch earlier this year with Buckin’ Around, bringing a woman’s viewpoint to 11 of Owens’ hits.

Because of the depth and breadth of his catalog, it’s not surprising that among the collected 39 cuts, only seven songs appear on two of the albums and just one landed on all three: Love’s Gonna Live Here, the record that entered the chart in 1963 and stayed at No. 1 for four months — easily Owens’ biggest hit. That helped him become the No. 1 country artist of the ’60s in terms of his chart numbers, ahead of George Jones, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Loretta Lynn and all the rest.

The Derailers album is the most conventional, sticking closest to Owens’ arrangements and vocal phrasing — the musical equivalent of a well-lighted photographic portrait.

Yoakam and Browne are

a bit more painterly, and because Browne is working in another gender universe, she’s probably the least beholden to the Owens blueprint. Yet there’s no question about her devotion to the California country style built on musical clarity and concise emotional punch.

Where Yoakam and the Derailers both weigh in with committed versions of his heartbreakingly happy ballad Together Again, Browne makes the canny choice of his witty self-referential follow-up, the 1979 duet with Emmylou Harris, Play ‘Together Again’ Again. Browne’s time-worn dusky alto plays beautifully off the gravelly tenor of duet partner Chris Gaffney.

Yoakam pushes the envelope furthest on Only You, a country weeper in Owens’ hands, transformed by his disciple into a harrowing psychological journey that’s more Roy Orbison by way of David Lynch than chipper ol’ Buck. His rendition of Voni Morrison and Johnny Russell’s Act Naturally splits the difference between Owens’ original and the Beatles’ breakthrough pop version, and his elastic phrasing on My Heart Skips a Beat surely would give the song’s composer one of those great ear-to-ear grins.

One of Owens’ pet peeves later in life was how slavishly similar Nashville’s mainstream music sounded to him — a byproduct of the same session musicians playing in the same studios for so many singers.

On that front, each of these albums has a refreshingly distinct sonic personality: Yoakam’s, atmospherically full-bodied; the Derailers’, crisply energetic; and Browne’s, affectionately scrappy.

All three tributes channel the spirit Owens consistently invested in his performances.

Because of the depth and breadth of Owens’ catalog, only one song landed on all three.

2 Responses to “Three albums pay tribute to country favorite Owens”

  1. Your article celebrates what I think is the best in Country Music History, and in Coutnry Music in Texas! I can attest to the amazing music that comes out of Texas, and I am thankful to the great exposure we get here. If it werent for radio stations like Lonestar 92.5, who play barely any commercials, and all the best in Country, Alternative Country, and Classic Rock, I dont know where we’d be! You should check them out online at, you can look up upcoming events and concerts on their site too. They are always supporting the best in music, and I’m not just saying that because I work with them, you really seem like you would be into them! Peace and Love!

  2. There’s one you missed. It’s called Confessions of a Buckaholic. Here’s a song from that CD:

    The Last Time I Saw Buck Owens
    Dr BLT
    words and music by Dr BLT copyright 2008
    [audio src="" /]

    If you want to know more about that CD, stay tuned at the all new blog site:

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