Buck Owens: The Country Cad Who Couldn't Quite Escape Hee Haw

Buck 'Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens By Buck Owens with Randy Poe Backbeat Books, 360 pp., $29.99

Music legend says that bluesman Robert Johnson made his deal with the Devil at the Crossroads. If that's the case, then country legend Buck Owens must have booked his date with Ol' Scratch in the cornfield.

As Owens (1929-2006) mentions numerous times in this autobiography -- drawn largely verbatim from nearly 100 hours of recently-discovered taped reminisces -- his 17 seasons as co-host of the cornpone country comedy/music show Hee Haw fattened his wallet and made him a household name.

But it also damaged his reputation and album sales among country fans who had sent him to the top of the charts almost 20 times in the '60s before the cameras rolled. He would have a total of 21 No. 1 hits, the last being Dwight Yoakam duet "Streets of Bakersfield" in the '80s.

"I just couldn't turn down that Hee Haw paycheck," he admits early in the story. Then, later, "I kept whoring myself out to that cartoon donkey."

But in this book, put together by music executive and journalist Randy Poe (Skydog: The Duane Allman Story, Stalking the Red Headed Stranger), money was not the only weakness for the boy born Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr. in Sherman, Texas.

"90 percent of troubles in life are due to women -- trying to have too many at the same time," he offers sagely. And Owens should know. After all, this was a guy who left his second wife for a mistress almost half his age, then almost immediately started a relationship with his fiddle player and married her in Vegas on a whim before filing for annulment after a few days and then marrying the mistress. Got that?

And while there is perhaps a little too much talk about recording sessions, players, and chart positions -- Owens had an amazing memory for details -- Buck 'Em is an unvarnished look by Owens at his own life and the development of the "Bakersfield Sound." Unlike the saccharine-country pop music popular in the '60s, it relied on ringing twin Telecaster guitars, an uptempo drum beat, high vocals, unabashed steel guitar, and a recording mix up on the trebly scale.

In addition to his own hits (including "(I've Got a) Tiger by the Tail," "Together Again," "Love's Gonna Live Here," "My Heart Skips a Beat," and "Waitin' in Your Welfare Line"), Owen's songwriting was introduced to massive new audiences when The Beatles covered "Act Naturally" and Ray Charles did "Cryin' Time."

Story continues on the next page.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero