Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966

buckowens_completecapitolsingles5766The towering Capitol singles of Buck Owens

Having already been feted with exhaustive box sets, multidisc anthologies, vault finds, tribute albums, a posthumous autobiography, and dozens of original album reissues, one might ask: what’s left to say? As it turns out: plenty. Collecting Owens’ A’s and B’s from his most commercially fertile years, this generous two-disc set replays Owens’ emergence and dominance as both a country hit maker and a maverick artist. Recording in Hollywood, two thousand miles from Nashville, he added a new chapter to the country music playbook with the driving, electric Bakersfield sound, and established himself as an iconoclastic force on the both the singles and album charts. Among the fifty-six tracks collected here are twenty-two Top 40 hits, including an astonishing string of thirteen consecutive chart toppers.

While the hits will be familiar to most, and the B-sides to many, only the most ardent Owens fans will recognize the earliest Capitol singles. This quartet of originals, waxed in 1957, sounds more like Buddy Holly-styled rock ‘n’ roll than the Bakersfield sting Owens would later develop. The low twanging guitar, sweetly phrased lead vocal and backing chorus of “Come Back” is more doo-wop than country, and its waltz-time B-side “I Know What It Means” sounds like Nashville going pop. “Sweet Thing,” co-written with Harlan Howard, has rockabilly licks supplied by guitarists Gene Moles and Roy Nichols, and its ballad B-side, “I Only Know That I Love You” has a lovely guitar solo to accompany its double-crossed lyric.

Owens returned to Capitol’s studio in 1958 with a reconstructed backing unit that included fiddler J.R. “Jelly” Sanders and Ralph Mooney on steel. It was from this session that “Second Fiddle” launched Owens onto the country chart. The same group, which also included pianist George French, Jr., bassist Al Williams and drummer Pee Wee Adams, cut a 1959 session from which “Under Your Spell Again” climbed to #4. By year’s end, Sanders was out and Don Rich was in, Harlan Howard’s “Above and Beyond” carried Owens one notch higher, to #3, and Howard and Owens’ “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache)” then reached #2. The B-sides include the charting “I’ve Got a Right to Know,” and the ironic “Tired of Livin’.” Ironic, because the song’s sad-sack complaint about a lack of success was fronted by a Top 5 hit!

1961 found Owens paired with Rose Maddox for the double-sided hit “Mental Cruelty” b/w “Loose Lips,” and he just missed the top slot twice more with “Foolin’ Around” and “Under the Influence of Love.” The success of his A-sides dipped slightly in 1962, though he was still charting regularly, minting staples like “You’re For Me,” and the B-side “I Can’t Stop (My Lovin’ You).” Owens turned out an incredible amount of high quality, original material throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, winningly vacillating between sunny elation and sorrowful heartbreak. He also had an ear for other songwriters, recording albums dedicated to Harlan Howard and Tommy Collins, and charting covers of Pomus & Shuman’s “Save the Last Dance for Me” and Wanda Jackson’s “Kickin’ Our Hearts Around.”

Owens finally topped the charts in 1963 with Johnny Russell’s “Act Naturally,” kicking off a string of #1s that stretched into 1967. Incredibly, all of disc two’s singles topped the chart, except for a return duet with Rose Maddox that stalled at #15 and a 1965 Christmas single. The A-sides from this era are among the most iconic of Owens’ career, including “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “My Heart Skips a Beat,” “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail,” “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line,” “Open Up Your Heart” and Don Rich’s “Think of Me” (which became a staple for the Mavericks). The B-sides include the chart-topping “Together Again,” the stalwart “Don’t Let Her Know” and the woeful “Heart of Glass.”

The classic lineup of the Buckaroos had come together in 1964, with Owens and Rich joined by bassist Doyle Holly, drummer Willie Cantu and steel player Tom Brumley. Their chemistry was immortalized on Live at Carnegie Hall, and their instrumental skills carried “Buckaroo” to the top of the country chart. More importantly, it was this lineup that doubled down on Owens’ rejection of the Nashville Sound. The polite drum accents of 1961’s “Foolin’ Around” might have alarmed Music City’s gentry, but it was only a prelude to the more insistent tom-toms of “My Heart Skips a Beat,” Don Rich’s twangy fills and solo on “Act Naturally” and Willie Cantu’s full-kit drumming on “Before You Go.”

While Nashville was busy courting pop fans with syrupy layers of strings and choruses, Owens was stripping his sound down to guitars, bass, fiddle and drums, and riding the beat. He also bucked another Nashville standard by recording with his band, rather than picking up session players. Red Simpson sat in for a few sessions in ‘65 and ‘66, and James Burton provided the sputtering electric lead on “Open Up Your Heart,” but what you hear on all the singles from ‘64 onward are the Buckaroos. The set ends with Owens’ last hit of 1966, “Where Does the Good Times Go,” two singles shy of the end of his continuous string of #1s, and well short of the success that ran up to Don Rich’s 1974 death. Owens moved on from Capitol to Warner Brothers, and returned again in the late ‘80s, but mostly retired from the studio to run his businesses and perform on the weekends at his legendary Bakersfield club.

The singles are presented in the order of their release, and remastered in mono from the original reel-to-reels. The brightness that Owens laid into the masters remains, but with more bottom end than you likely remember from AM radio. Owens emerges from these sides as a pioneering artist who wrote, sang (often doubling himself on harmony), picked guitar and led a band that was both revolutionary and commercially successful. And with the masters having come from the Buck Owens’ estate, you can add top-flight businessman to his resume. The CD package includes a 20-page booklet highlighted by Dwight Yoakam’s introductory notes, excerpts from Owens’ autobiography, detailed personnel and session data, and label and picture sleeve reproductions. All that’s missing is ‘67-’75, so here’s hoping for a sequel! [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.