by Brittany Wilt
In February 1957, the world of country music was forever altered. Capitol Records signed “singer, songwriter, and guitarist” Buck Owens and his newly formed band, the Buckaroos. The band consisted of four other members— guitarist and fiddler Don Rich, bass guitarist Doyle Holly, steel guitarist Tom Brumley and drummer Willie Cantu. On July 26, 1965, the band released a double-sided LP album titled Before You Go that consisted of a total of 12 songs. (“Buck Owens.” Newsmakers. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Biography in Context. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.)
Alvis Edgar Owens Jr., also known as “country music pioneer,” was born on August 12, 1929, in Sherman, Texas. The Owens family was forced to move “in the late 30s, [as] part of the Dust Bowl migration” and settled in Mesa, Arizona. At the age of 13, Owens dropped out of school to begin what no one knew would be a successful, lifelong career as a musician. At the age of 21, Owens made the life decision to move his family, his wife, Bonnie, and their two young children, Buddy and Mike, to Bakersfield, California where Owens’s talent would soon prosper into an iconic style of music. This would be known as “The Bakersfield Sound.” (Harrington, Richard. “THE BASICS AND BUCK OWENS.” The Washington Post (1974-Current file), Washington, D.C., 1989.https://login.pallas2.tcl.sc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/139960272?accountid=13965.)
Owens was able to make a name for himself because he purposely set himself apart from his fellow country musicians at the time. He was a “major influence on the late-‘60s country-rock movement” because he “went against the country-pop grain” In a fight to stand out against the common, Owens created his own style of music, which was named “The Bakersfield Sound.” His music was referred to by the New York Times as “electric rockabilly traditional honky-tonk funk” and is unlike any other of his time. His music was a major influence to artists such as Gram Parsons, Dwight Yoakam and modern country musician Brad Paisley. The Beatles even recorded a cover of Owens’s first number one hit song, Act Naturally. (“Buck Owens.” Contemporary Musicians. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1989. Biography in Context. Web. 23 Oct. 2016. “Country-Rock by Buck Owens Suggests New Musical Trend.” New York Times (1923-Current file), New York, N.Y., 1967.https://login.pallas2.tcl.sc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/117340232?accountid=13965.)
While many embraced the distinct new style of country music as “an alternative to Nashville’s industry hegemony” some were reluctant to the change. While touring, Owens found that there was a major prejudice against not only honky-tonk country, but also country in general, in the northern states, such as New York. “’New York […] got to thinking they were too sophisticated for country music. The people were afraid to get manure on their boots, afraid country music might smell up the place” said Owens. (Harrington) . IAN D. “Buck Owens Bringing Nashville North by Way of West Coast.” New York Times (1923-Current file), New York, N.Y., 1974.https://login.pallas2.tcl.sc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/120184393?accountid=13965.)
Elias Leight put it perfectly in his article from Paste Magazine when he stated, “The critical establishment and the non-country audience started to write Owens off after seeing those overalls. Owens surely doesn’t represent the only singer who got caught in cultural crossfire, but his reputation suffered […] some people shallowly dismiss simply because it’s a product of a culture they don’t understand” Owens dismissed this and played multiple shows in the northern region of the U.S. and even recording a live album at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in 1966. (Leight, E. (2013, October 29). Buck ‘Em!: The Autobiography of Buck Owens by Randy Poe and Buck Owens. Retrieved November 08, 2016, from https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2013/10/buck-em-the-autobiography-of-buck-owens-by-randy-p.html)
Some artists are referred to as naturally talented; that is the case with Buck Owens. When asked about his recording process for his 1965 album, he stated ‘“we did two four-hour sessions in two days, and came away with 10 songs. [And] we didn’t rehearse at all”’ (Leight, 2013)
The album, Before You Go, like most country music at the time, is centered around a single word: love. The focus of the band was to produce short singles that appeal to popular taste. “Charlie Brown” is the only song on the album, excluding the two instrumental only songs, “Steel Guitar Rag” and “Raz-Ma-Taz Polka”, that did not have “love” mentioned within the lyrics. “Charlie Brown” did not seem to fit into the album, but rather was an entertaining one-off piece that was included at the end of the album. It is short, light-hearted and likeable. At the end of each chorus, there is a dramatic shift in vocal scale that catches the listener’s attention. Another song on the album that stood out is “(I Want) No One But You.” This is the only song that makes specific cultural and historical references. An example of this is in the third stanza with phrases such as “to sail the ocean blue,” which references Christopher Columbus sailing to America in 1492 or “I don’t want a Cleopatra, she might cheat on me” referring to Cleopatra VII Philopator, who was an Egyptian queen who was known for having multiple affairs. Musically and stylistically, “(I Want) No One But You” sounded very similar to the rest of the album. The Bakersfield Sound receives its twangy nature from Owens’s beloved Fender Telecaster guitar.
Owens, in his “ten-gallon hat with a brimful of gold Cadillac medallions, a black leather jacket with black fringe, a string tie and snakeskin boots” (Harrington)was the epitome of country music. According to the New York Times, the band “rarely let an opportunity pass to make fun of the music” (“OWENS SINGS SOME, PLAYS IT FOR LAUGHS.” New York Times (1923-Current file), New York, N.Y., 1975.https://login.pallas2.tcl.sc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/120508999?accountid=13965.)
Owens’s “home-brewed […] professionalism” showed that he was able to have a good time while not taking himself too seriously — a trait that many lack in the musical world. Owens has come into his own during his musical exploration.
Before You Go is a prime example of the talent that is produced when you allow gifted musicians to gather and do what they love.