5 Fascinating Facts About the Most Devoted Country Music Purist Ever: Buck Owens

Buck Owens was country to the core. Along with his band, The Buckaroos, he consistently released great albums. His string of successful singles resulted in 15 consecutive years with a Top 10 country hit and included 19 No. 1s.

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The first of those chart-toppers was “Act Naturally.” Two years later, that song would appear on the charts again—only this time, it was on the pop charts. The Beatles had covered the song, and they made it the B-side to their smash hit “Yesterday.” Owens himself would cross over with a Top 40 hit with “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail.”

In 1969, CBS hired Owens, along with Roy Clark, to co-host a new country music variety show called Hee Haw. The pairing was an attempt to represent the two sides of country music: Owens represented the West Coast/Bakersfield sound, while Clark represented the traditional Nashville approach. The show was a massive success, bringing country music—and country music culture—to a mainstream audience for 26 seasons. Owens was on board for 16 of those.

Let’s take a look at five other fascinating facts about Buck Owens.

1. Buck Was Named After a Donkey… Sort of

Although his given name was Alvis Edgar Owens, the record-buying public only ever knew him as Buck. Owens was born on a Sherman, Texas, farm, where his family owned a donkey named Buck. At three or four years old, Alvis walked into the family home and proclaimed that his name was also Buck. From then on, it was indeed, Buck.

2. The Beatles’ Recording of “Act Naturally” Almost Didn’t Happen

When songs for the soundtrack to Help! were being recorded, the plan was for drummer Ringo Starr to take lead vocals on one of them. The Lennon/McCartney song “If You’ve Got Trouble” was slated to be sung by the drummer. They recorded a backing track for the song but weren’t happy with the result. The songwriting duo asked Ringo if he had any other song he’d like to sing in particular, and the response was “Act Naturally.”

Ringo had always been a country music fan, and his choice turned out to be the perfect fit. The Beatles did 13 takes of the song before a master was settled on for which Ringo would add his vocals. The Beatles would later perform the song live on The Ed Sullivan Show, reaching millions of viewers (who, incidentally, were brand new to the song and, likely, country music in general). In 1989, Owens and Starr teamed up to re-record the song. It earned nominations both at the Grammys and the CMAs.

3. Buck Didn’t Want to Appear at Carnegie Hall

When the singer was asked to appear at the hallowed hall, Owens declined. He was the hottest thing in country music and at the height of his own success. And yet, Owens was sure the people in Manhattan would not be interested in what he was doing. As far as he was concerned, Carnegie Hall was supposed to host Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and Gershwin. The Sherman, Texas farm boy was certain he would not be greeted favorably, and feared unsold tickets.

Ultimately, his manager, Jack McFadden, convinced the singer otherwise, and Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson even suggested they record it. The appearance was set for March 25, 1966, and lo and behold, the 2,700 available tickets sold out, erasing Owens’ fears and resulting in a live country music album classic

The Pledge

It was also at this time that Owens made his so-called “country music pledge.” Country music fans were debating about the benefits vs. the drawbacks of the expanding popularity of the genre. It became a common topic in the letter section of all the country magazines. For months, readers were arguing back and forth about the pros and cons of the expanding style of country music. Not wanting to be stereotyped as hillbillies, while at the same time not wanting to abandon their roots, the readers were sounding off passionately.

[RELATED: 7 Country Stars from Sunny California—Including Merle Haggard and Buck Owens]

Buck Owens paid for a full-page ad in the March issue of Music City News. This was his message: “I shall sing no song that is not a country song. I shall make no record that is not a country record. I refuse to be known as anything but a country singer. I am proud to be associated with country music. Country music and country music fans made me what I am today. And I shall not forget it.” 

4. Owens Was a Shrewd Business Man

In the late ‘60s, with the help of manager McFadden, Owens started investing in radio stations. He bought KNIX (both the AM and the FM) in Phoenix, Arizona, and KUZZ-FM in Bakersfield, California. In 1988, Owens partnered with Satellite Music Network to start Real Country, a 24-hour radio format that mixes current country songs with those of the legends. Buck Owens Enterprises was established then, too, and Owens shifted his energy from performing to producing other artists. 

5. Owens Finished His Career at the Crystal Palace

In 1996, Owens opened a museum/restaurant/bar/nightclub in his hometown of Bakersfield, California. Owens started his career playing the little honky-tonks in the area, and as he had success and performed around the country, he fantasized about having a classy hall to perform his music where he wouldn’t have to travel. The Crystal Palace cost over 7 million dollars to build. Construction delays were lengthy as Owens was very demanding, often changing plans mid-build. Once open, though, Owens started living his dream, performing with his Buckaroos almost every weekend, right up until his death. 

On March 25, 2006, after a performance at the Crystal Palace, Owens died of an apparent heart attack. It was exactly 40 years to the day after his Carnegie Hall appearance. He was 76.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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