There will be 40 vintage, sealed, original pressings of Buck Owens vinyl releases, available (online) from Omnivore Records on May 31st. Until now, these LPs have been in Owens’ personal collection in Bakersfield. The original pressings chronicle Bucks career from Together Again/My Heart Skips a Beat (1964) to 1989’s Act Naturally. There are only a few in the collection and once they’re gone, they are gone.
Also on May 31, Buck Owens & the Buckaroos’ two-CD 42 songs collection: The Complete Capitol Singles, 1971-75 will drop. This double CD is both the A- and B-side of 21 singles from 1971-1975 (with nine “top ten” hits), in their original stereo single mixes.
Americana Highways was able to interview three people with perspectives that are central to these releases: Omnivore Records’ Cheryl Pawelski; Scott B. Bomar, publisher of BMG Books, Bakersfield expert, and author/historian; and Jim Shaw, a Buckeroo for more than 40 years!
AH: Cheryl Pawelski, how did Omnivore become aware of the LPs?
CP: We’ve been working with the Buck estate since the beginning of Omnivore. Jim Shaw let us know early on that he had stock on lots of products that Buck had made.
In the early days of Omnivore, we made use of a vintage coloring book for Record Store Day – we packaged the coloring books with a flexi of Buck’s songs that were mentioned in the coloring book. I love having access to vintage items like this, it allows for fun and creative projects. I’m so grateful to Jim and the estate for going along with us and trying out some of these ideas. The Buck fans are the true winners and that makes us super happy.
AH: Is it multiple copies of the same one or individual titles? And which titles are they, who plays on them, etc?
CP: We’re going to be able to offer 40 (!) different original, still sealed, Buck Owens albums. Here’s a list of all the albums. Each comes with a certificate of authenticity: http://omnivorerecordings.com/bucklps/
It’s far too many and too wide a time range to detail all the players. Much of that information for the individual albums can be found here:
AH: How significant is this find?
CP: It’s a pretty amazing cache of albums. Considering the earliest ones date back to the mid-60s, finding quantity of stock like this is pretty unusual. Often, though rarer as time winds on, you may come across a sealed copy of an album in a store, but this really is a treasure! If you’re a fan of Buck, the Bakersfield scene, country or Americana music in general, this is huge. As a collector, if I didn’t have these all myself already, I’d lose my mind and buy as many as I could in this sale.
AH: How significant are the Capitol Singles releases?
What’s great about the three volumes of the Capitol Singles (six CDs in all) is they capture two important things; one, it’s how people heard Buck and the Buckaroos in real time, on the radio as it happened and two, it charts the evolution of the sound they created. While there are greatest hits packages, best ofs and boxed sets, these three volumes capture the story. For 45 nerds like myself, it’s pretty incredible to have all the single A- and B-sides in one place.
I’m especially fond of what our design partner, Greg Allen, did riffing off the Capitol single designs. Patrick Milligan did a killer job putting these together and with Mike Graves restoring and mastering, these tunes have just never sounded better. To me, these three volumes together really capture the essence of the music and story of Buck and the Buckaroos.
AH: Scott Bomar, to what extent would you estimate the influence of the Bakersfield sound to be in effect today, and in which genres.
SB: That depends on how you define “Bakersfield sound.” Many people use that term to refer to a literal honky-tonk “sound” characterized by pedal steel guitar, twanging Telecasters, a driving beat, and maybe some fiddle. That doesn’t describe all the music coming from Bakersfield during the golden era that lasted through the mid-1970s, but there was a lot of that kind of thing going on. I think of the term “Bakersfield sound” as a convenient way to say that something significant came out of Bakersfield that was different than what was happening in mainstream commercial country music at the time. I don’t think the guys in California set out to “challenge” Nashville, but the way they did their thing in their own way ended up being a challenge nonetheless. Unfortunately the twanging Telecaster sound is out of favor in country music today. Guys like Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam, and Brad Paisley have kept that sound alive, but that’s not what you hear on country radio much anymore.
I think the spirit of the Bakersfield Sound is alive and well whenever artists do things their own way, pioneer their own sound, or push the boundaries of what people think about country music, while capturing commercial success at the same time. Chris Stapleton has done that. Kasey Musgraves has, too. Even Lil Nas X has done it, though his music sounds nothing like the music of Buck Owens. But the willingness to be yourself and do things your own way is similar.
AH: What specific style of guitar playing characterized the Bakersfield sound?
SB: If you go back and look at the lineups in the house bands of the clubs that were popular in Bakersfield in the 1950s and ‘60s (the Blackboard, the Lucky Spot, the Clover Club, etc.), you’ll notice that they often didn’t have a bass player. As a result, the guitar players got pretty good at playing on the lower end of the neck to help hold down the bottom end. Guitarists like Gene Moles, Roy Nichols, Buck Owens, and Don Rich were all good at that. I understand that Buck and the band would sometimes tune their instruments down to get that raunchy lower-end twang on the records. Plus, all those guys could just twist the notes like there was no tomorrow. In most everyone’s mind, the Bakersfield sound and the Fender Telecaster go hand-in-hand. Most of those guys used to joke that the solid-body electric guitar was the instrument of choice because they could also use it as a weapon in the honky tonks
AH: How did the Bakersfield sound originate and evolve, and is there a reason it was specific to Bakersfield?
SB: The Dust Bowl migration drove a lot of people west from places like Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma in the 1930s. Those migrants brought their music and their traditions with them. There was another wave of migrants during the war years that brought more people to California in search of jobs.
Western swing was really popular in those days and blue collar workers and day laborers would blow off steam at huge dances featuring bands such as Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
With the advances in amplification in the 1950s small combos could play beer joints and honky tonks and keep the people dancing in a smaller setting with fewer musicians.
Country music on the east coast was about sitting and listening. Country music on the west coast was about dancing. There were all sorts of barn dances and clubs up and down California’s central valley, but none of them produced stars as big as Buck Owens or Merle Haggard. That’s why we’re still talking about the Bakersfield sound today.
AH: Jim Shaw, what is the source of the Bakersfield Sound?
JS: I believe there was actually a San Joaquin Valley Sound… the migrants from the dust bowl states settled in Bakersfield, Tulare, Fresno, Merced, Stockton, etc. Their music was raw and suitable for their hard working and hard playing lives. The reason that all of this ultimately became known as the Bakersfield Sound was simply “Buck Owens”. When Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson finally realized that he had a singer who wrote his own songs, had his own band and sound, and when left to his own devices could produce hit songs, he was primed and ready to allow Merle Haggard to do the same thing a few years later. In my opinion, it was the success of Buck and Merle that named and main-streamed the Bakersfield Sound.
AH: Can you share a story from the days you performed with Buck Owens?
JS: When we traveled, Don Rich was in charge of Buck’s Telecaster guitar… getting it to the venue, tuning it, etc. One afternoon as we loaded into an auditorium, Doyle took Buck’s guitar out of its case and hid it under the rental car seat. When Don opened up Buck’s case and found it empty, he pretty much came unglued. BTW, that silver Telecaster was appraised by the Country Music Hall of Fame for $350,000.
AH: Was it fun or serious to play with Buck?
JS: The serious part of working with Buck was that he had high expectations of us all… you needed to be on the ball and get the job done. No excuses! I was always fine with that because Buck led by example. Otherwise, I think the word “fun” is apt for those early years. We didn’t have very many dull moments. For every hour we were on stage we had a huge number of hours traveling (we flew commercial) and even when things went wrong (often!) we always seemed to find a way to laugh about it.
Thanks Cheryl, Scott and Jim. Here is the complete listing of the 40 sealed LPs:
Under Your Spell Again (1961)
The Best Of Buck Owens (1964)
Together Again/My Heart Skips A Beat (1964)
I Don’t Care (1964)
I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail (1965)
Before You Go/No One But You (1965)
The Instrumental Hits Of Buck Owens And His Buckaroos (1965)
Christmas With Buck Owens And His Buckaroos (1965)
Roll Out The Red Carpet For Buck Owens And His Buckaroos (1966)
Dust On Mother’s Bible: Songs of Faith And Religion by Buck Owens And His Buckaroos (1966)
Carnegie Hall Concert With Buck Owens And His Buckaroos (1966)
Open Up Your Heart (1966)
Your Tender Loving Care (1967)
It Takes People Like You To Make People Like Me (1967)
The Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 2 (1968)
Sweet Rosie Jones (1968)
The Guitar Player (1968)
Christmas Shopping (1968)
I’ve Got You On My Mind Again (1968)
The Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 3 (1969)
Buck Owens In London (1969)
The Kansas City Song (1970)
Double Play (1970)
A Merry “Hee Haw” Christmas From Buck Owens And His Buckaroos (1970)
I Wouldn’t Live In New York City (1970)
Bridge Over Troubled Water (1971)
The Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 4 (1971)
Too Old To Cut The Mustard? (1972)
Live At The Nugget (1972)
Live At The White House (1972)
In The Palm Of Your Hand (1973)
Aint It Amazing, Gracie (1973)
Arms Full Of Empty (1973)
The Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 5 (1974)
41st Street Lonely Heart’s Club (1975)
The Best Of Buck Owens Vol. 6 (1976)
Hot Dog! (1988)
Live At Carnegie Hall (1988 reissue; bonus tracks)
Act Naturally (1989)