CD Reissue Review: Don Rich – That Fiddlin’ Man (Capitol/Omnivore, 1971/2013)
Though it was Buck Owens’ name that appeared on the marquee, he’d have been the first to say that the marquees would have been a lot smaller without his right-hand man Don Rich leading the Buckaroos. Rich was an ace guitarist, harmony singer, songwriter and fiddler, and just as responsible for creating the Bakersfield Sound as Owens, Haggard or Wynn Stewart. Though he’s best known for his stinging Telecaster, he joined Buck Owens as a fiddler, and can be heard threading his strings around Owens’ vocals as early as 1961’s “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache).” He’d pick up the lion’s share of the Buckaroos’ guitar work a couple of years later, but he never gave up the fiddle.
Rich cut albums backing Owens, with the Buckaroos and as a soloist, but this 1971 title is the only one to be released under his own name during his lifetime (a second album was posthumously released earlier this year as Don Rich Sings George Jones). The ten tracks were culled from previously released Owens and Buckaroos albums ranging from 1963’s On the Bandstand to 1970’s Boot Hill. The picks were surprisingly old-fashioned, with little of the kick that the Buckaroos brought to country music. Omnivore’s first-ever CD reissue adds ten more tracks drawn from similiar sources, but the selections highlight more of the Buckaroos’ instrumental sting. Rich’s fiddle is featured on each track, and his melodic lines are often drawn upon by the steel, dobro and guitar for their own spotlights.
Rich shows his fiddling prowess across a wide range of material and settings, with an especially evocative lead on the ballad “Faded Love” and a mid-tempo take on “Greensleeves” that may be the only version that invites you to two-step. Of the album’s original ten titles, Rich is especially fetching on the Louisiana-rooted numbers “Louisiana Waltz,” “Down on the Bayou” and “Cajun Fiddle.” Drawn from the Buckaroos’ most fertile period, these tracks find Rich backed by lineups that include Tom Brumley, Doyle Holly, Willie Cantu, Earle Poole Ball, Buddy Emmons, Doyle Curtsinger and Jerry Wiggins. Rich may be best remembered for his guitar and voice, but his fiddle was an important part of the Buckaroos’ sound, and here it’s given its just due.