Monday, December 09, 2013

Booksteve Reviews: Buck 'Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens

I have a great respect for country music but I'm not a huge fan of it. But there are some notable exceptions to that and one of them is the late Buck Owens.

I first heard Buck Owens when his song "Tiger By the Tail" was all the rage in the mid-sixties. He used to play the song on his half hour syndicated music show that played here late on Saturday afternoons so I'd watch fairly often hoping to catch it.

Then he went on HEE HAW doing music, comedy and hosting which apparently built his reputation and his bank account while actually hurting his career!

All of that and much more can be found in some detail in BUCK 'EM! THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BUCK OWENS. This was one of those cases where a celebrity passed leaving their autobiography unfinished and an author--in this case one Randy Poe who never even met Buck--assembled this finished version from hours and hours of random tape-recorded reminiscences from Buck.

It's a fascinating story, of course. The story of Buck Owens is of necessity also the story of the creation of the Bakersfield Sound and also very much the story of the ill-fated singer, guitarist and fiddler Don Rich with whom, in Buck's words, he often felt "joined at the hip."

Buck's unique sound was co-created with Don Rich who harmonized instinctively and learned to play guitar like Buck before actually surpassing him and teaching the teacher. His death in an accident in the early seventies casts a major shadow over the remainder of Owens' life and career.

But what a career it was! Buck was a pioneering presence in country music in that he eschewed the Nashville traditions. His sound influenced other country singers as well as rock groups including the Beatles who covered his first # 1 hit record, "Act Naturally" with Ringo on vocals. Years later, Buck and Ringo dueted on a version of the song!

Unlike many of these posthumous biographies, Randy Poe didn't spend a lot of time rewriting or ghostwriting segments. He just pieced them together in a roughly chronological order. He says as much in his introduction but it's quite noticeable even if he hadn't. The book is NOT well-written and is sadly lacking in the additional detail an actual collaborator might have brought out. That said, it reads EXACTLY like Buck is there and talking directly to you! He digresses, he revisits thoughts, he uses improper grammar sometimes. You literally get what is essentially a transcription of his thoughts, memories and the words on those tapes.

He doesn't pull any punches, either, especially for himself, admitting to frailties and failings (mostly with women) that others might have glossed over in their "official" stories. He corrects a lot of rumors, too, as well as pointing out that sometimes his memories were different from those of other people who were present in his life. HIS are correct, he says, and you can just almost see him smile as he said it.

So like I said, I'm not much of a country music fan. If you ARE, then throw on a CD of Buckaroos music and settle back with this one on these cold winter nights. I'm often disappointed in my favorites when I read their autobiographies but in this case, I like Buck Owens more than ever!


1 comment:

Graham said...

I read a book that Randy Poe wrote about Duane Allman five or six years ago (Skydog). It's actually a pretty good read, but he wrote it himself from the beginning.

Like you, I'm not a big country music fan, but I've always liked Buck Owens and I agree that his career suffered a lot after Don Rich's death...sort of like Owens lost his direction and desire. In his later years, he was pretty honest about his own failings and successes though, so I may have to pick this book up sometime.