In the 1960s, Buck Owens dominated the Country charts; his singles and albums were guaranteed successes. Even more significant, he had performed the rare feat of crossing over into pop chart success as well. Signed to Capitol Records, he was to Country what label mates The Beatles and the Beach Boys, with as equally a prolific output as them as well. Yet by the end of the decade, Owens’ career was in transition. He wanted to take more control over his work, and as a result he built his own recording studio so that he would be able to record without the oversight of the label. Furthermore, he had taken a role as a cohost on a new country-themed variety show, Hee Haw. Omnivore’s third and final collection of Buck Owens singles for Capitol Records covers the final years of his time with the band The Buckaroos.
If this era isn’t as familiar as his 60s peak, there’s a good reason for that. Like many musical acts who find themselves transitioning from a musical career to television, an increase in audience doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in record sales—if anything, it can hinder it. Industry trends indicate that if you’re the successful host of a weekly show, people aren’t as quick to buy your records, as they already have access to you. It’s certainly true that Owens was no longer reaping the pop crossover success of the previous decade, but his records still rode high on the country chart, and his impressive release schedule didn’t abate, either—in this relatively brief period, he would release a staggering 21 singles, nine of which would make the Top Ten of the Country charts.
Even though his recording career was on the wane, that doesn’t mean the quality of the music suffered. Having access to his own studio gave him the opportunity to play around with all sorts of styles. Moments of delightful comedy abound, such as “Songwriter’s Lament,” “On The Cover Of The Music City News” (itself a parody of “Cover of the Rolling Stone”), and a hit duet with his son Buddy Allen, “Too Old To Cut The Mustard.” He still could pull out a deft honky-tonk number, too; “I Love You So Much It Hurts” is a fine romantic number, while “Arms Full Of Empty” is an uptempo weepie. He could turn out some fantastic bluegrass, as on “Corn Likker,” “Ruby (Are You Mad),” and “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” but then he could turn around with a superb pop ballad, as on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “I’ll Still Be Waiting For You.” His collaboration with singer Susan Raye produced some quality material, such as the fun Christmas Song “Santa’s Gonna Come In A Stagecoach,” or the pretty “The Good Old Days (Are Here Again).” Then there is “Made In Japan,” a number that would be his final #1 hit, and is a lush slice of Countrypolitan.
Tragically, this era came to a sudden end in 1974, when his best friend and musical partner in crime Don Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident—a loss that Owens never truly recovered from. He would leave Capitol the following year and retired the Buckaroos name, and though Hee Haw’s star only shone brighter, his passion for music started to wane; if you watch episodes that came a post-Rich, it’s easy to see his heart wasn’t fully in it. He’d sign a deal with Warner Brothers, but would only release two albums before going on an extended hiatus, and he’d make a return to occasional recording in the late 1980s, and would re-sign to Capitol. He banked on his reputation as a live performer, and would open up a nightclub in his hometown of Bakersfield, California. It was here that he would perform up until the day he died, giving a legendary last performance that he intended on canceling, but went through with when he learned that some of the audience had traveled from Oregon to see him play.
While one might not be as familiar with much of the material found here, that doesn’t mean the collection isn’t without its pleasures—far from it. Instead, this is a fine collection full of superb numbers worthy of rediscovery, with hardly a bum note in the lot.