50 prime hits, B-sides, alternates, live tracks and rarities from 1955-1967

Proving himself as savvy in business as he was innovative in music, Buck Owens wrested control of his masters from Capitol Records in a 1970s legal battle. His ownership led to a CD reissue program on Sundazed that stretched from 1995 through 2005 and encompassed nearly two dozen original albums. Add to that multiple box sets [1 2 3 4], greatest hits discs, pre- and post-Capitol anthologies [1 2 3], and a collection of tunes recorded for Hee Haw, and you have to wonder if there's anything left to say. The answer provided by this new double-disc set is a definitive yes. Compilation producer Patrick Milligan has done an expert job of assembling singles, album sides and rarities into a compelling fifty-track exposition of Buck Owens' key years before and with Capitol. The set tells a familiar story, but with an idiosyncratic selection of tracks that deftly balances the many elements of Owens' extensive catalog.

Starting with a few mid-50s sides for Pep, the collection traces Owens' rapid evolution from a country singer with steel guitar, tinkling piano and fiddle to the king of an exciting new Bakersfield Sound. As Owens developed his unique brand of country music, the Buckaroos grew into one of the world's premiere bands and live acts. With so many sides to their commercial success, it's tricky to find a compelling point between the shorthand of a single-disc hits collection and a Bear Family-length box, but Omnivore's done just that. The set succeeds by combining a well-selected helping of singles (both charting and non-charting), B-sides, live performances, duets, alternate and early takes, previously unreleased, unreleased-in-the-US and unreleased-on-CD tracks, stereo album cuts and appearances on rare compilation albums.

In addition to well-known hits rendered in their original radio-ready mono, the set includes the non-charting "Sweet Thing," the B-side "Til These Dreams Come True," and a sprightly early version of "Nobody's Fool But Yours" that stands side-by-side with the better-known master. Other early versions are closer to the masters, but tentative and not yet fully gelled. It's a treat to hear the works-in-progress and compare them to the refinements of the final takes. The early version of "My Heart Skips a Beat" is already a great song, but without Owens' opening lyrical cadence and Mel Taylor's tom-tom rolls, it's not yet an indelible hit record. The alternate arrangement of "Where Does the Good Times Go" includes a happy-go-lucky string chart (courtesy of future Bread main man, David Gates) that was dropped from the final release.

By 1964 the classic Buckaroos lineup had solidified around Owens, Don Rich, Doyle Holly, Tom Brumley and Willie Cantu, and it's this group that powers the last three tracks of disc one, and all of disc two. The quintet punched up the beat for "Gonna Have Love," "Before You Go" and "Getting Used to Loving You," with guitars and drums that no longer held the line on "Opry polite." The group's live sound has been documented across more than a half-dozen live albums (including the legendary Carnegie Hall Concert, represented here by "Together Again" and "Buckaroo," and In Japan! represented by "Adios, Farewell, Goodbye, Good Luck, So Long" and "We Were Made For Each Other"), but Omnivore's dug deeper to pick up a 1963 Bakersfield performance of "Act Naturally" from the rare Capitol release Country Music Hootenanny, recorded in surprisingly clear stereo.

The song list is given mostly to Owens' terrific originals (including the instrumental "Buck's Polka," with Owens picking lead), but adds a good helping of gems he selected from other songwriters' catalogs, including Eddie McDuff and Orville Couch's "Hello Trouble," Tommy Collins' "Down, Down, Down," Red Simpson's "Close Up the Honky Tonks," Eddie Miller and Bob Morris "Playboy," and Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison's "Act Naturally." Owens' work as a duet singer is touched on briefly with Rose Maddox on "Sweethearts in Heaven," but his more extensive collaboration with Susan Raye fell beyond the set's designated ending point in 1967. The end of that year saw Willie Cantu leave the fold, and the classic lineup of the Buckaroos come to an end.

Owens and the Buckaroos continued to have both commercial and artistic success well into the mid-70s, when the death of Don Rich seems to have sidelined Owens' initiative. With a wealth of post-67 hits and ever more far-reaching albums left to sample, hopefully Omnivore has a second volume up their sleeve. For the period they've selected, however, they've created a fresh view that expands upon shorter hits anthologies, but abbreviates the full albums into a compact telling of Owens' most successful commercial period. There are too many essential hits missing for this to be a complete view of Owens' genius, but as an introduction to his plain-spoken, naturally brilliant and stylistically diverse brand of country music, it's a winner.

Those new to Owens' catalog will be entranced by the ease with which he moved from tearful heartbreak to light-hearted humor. The album tracks don't always match the "wow" of the missing hit singles, but they help paint the picture of an artist whose well of creativity was a great deal deeper than the two-and-a-half minutes radio would play. The accompanying 28-page booklet includes liner notes excerpted from Owens' posthumously published, like-titled autobiography, along with several full-panel photos and cover reproductions. All of Owens other reissues - the hits collections, the box sets, the album catalog - are worth hearing, but if you want an affordable, compelling overview of his prime years, this is a great place to start.

©2014 Hyperbolium

Views: 634

Tags: Bakersfield, Capitol, Country, Omnivore

Comment by Garrett Cash on January 13, 2014 at 8:53am

Thanks for the review. I've gotten extremely interested in the Bakersfield sound lately, especially Buck Owens, and I'll certainly check out this album and the autobiography it's associated with. Luckily I got to see the Bakersfield sound exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum before it left. I sort of regret both having museum-fatigue and not reading over everything like I could have, and not being as obsessed with the genre as I am now. But they had some incredible stuff there and I'm glad I saw it. 

Comment by hyperbolium.com on January 13, 2014 at 9:28am

If you're near Bakersfield, it's worth stopping in to the Crystal Palace to see the Buck Owens memorabilia that's on display. It's also a great place to take in a show and dinner (or brunch). You might also check out Swing West, Vol. 1: Bakersfield.

Comment by Easy Ed on January 15, 2014 at 7:51pm

Can't wait to hear this package of Buck. One thing though...I know Buck got control of his masters from Capitol in 1980, but I'm not clear if it was an acrimonious split. I worked there beginning in 1986, and that's when he licensed them back to Rhino and Curb...separately owned entities that were at the time distributed by Capitol-EMI. We had several hits packages, ranging in price from budget to full. His first signing when Dwight pulled him out of retirement in 1988 was with Capitol Nashville, with the Hot Dog album. 

The real mastery of Buck was in purchasing the string of country radio stations just as the Garth years exploded the genre, and also in his real estate deals throughout the Southwest. Got a chance to see and speak with him around 1994 give or take, when he was touring again just because he loved playing the songs. It certainly wasn't for need of money, and the cancer was beginning to eat him up. I will say that whenever I think about that night, and he was in rare form onstage and cordial backstage, the term 'larger than life' always comes to mind. I've worked with a lot of musicians over the years and his presence was like being with royalty.

Great piece as always my friend. 

Comment by TenLayers on January 15, 2014 at 9:51pm

Sounds like you had a pretty cool life in musicville yourself Ed.

Comment by Easy Ed on January 16, 2014 at 4:48am

It was pretty cool although you don't know what you got until it's gone. I had a good run from 1972 to 2008...saw a lot, learned a lot. And managed to remember most of it.

Comment by hyperbolium.com on January 16, 2014 at 11:49am

@Ed: You're right, control of the catalog reverted to Owens in 1980; but the agreement was struck in Owens' last contract with Capitol, in the early 1970s.

His Friday and Saturday night shows at the Crystal Palace were a hoot. He'd take requests from the audience (both in person and live on KUZZ; he always had a smile for ladies who brought their requests up to the stage), send out birthday wishes, and occasionally climb down from the stage to join the dance floor. It was a rare opportunity to see a musical superstar doing exactly what he wanted on a stage that he built custom for himself. Many musicians told us it was the single best stage they ever played on; no doubt a product of Owens' decades of experience in less-than-perfect surroundings.


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.