Don Rich and the Buckaroos: Guitar Pickin’ Man

donrich_guitarpickinmanBuck Owens’ right-hand man picks and sings

Buck Owens had hits before teaming with Don Rich, but together they led the Buckaroos to unparalleled commercial and artistic success. Owens first met Rich in Tacoma, Washington, where the latter grew up playing fiddle and the former was taking a break from his Capitol Records contract. Rich gigged with Owens around town and on local television, and after a stint in college, joined him in the studio for 1959’s “Above and Beyond” and “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache).” Rich switched to acoustic guitar for 1961’s B-side “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” and electric lead for 1963’s “Act Naturally.” The latter was perhaps not coincidentally Owens’ first #1, and the first in an uninterrupted string of fifteen chart toppers.

Owens and Rich equipped themselves with sparkling Telecasters (tuned down a half step to reduce string breakage and get a fatter tone) and Fender Twin Reverb amps, and with the bass and drums given more prominence, the Bakersfield Sound was born. Music poured out of the Buckaroos at an incredible rate, filling albums and the singles charts, and spilling over from Buck Owens’ albums into a dozen albums led by Rich. It’s from this torrent of creativity that Omnivore has cherry-picked eighteen tracks, three from Buck Owens albums, fourteen from Buckaroos’ albums, and a previously unreleased version of “Guitar Pickin’ Man,” recorded for the Hee Haw television program.

The selections favor vocal tracks, though Rich’s guitar playing is highlighted both here and on a sprinkling of instrumentals. Among the latter is the stuttering lead of “Chicken Pickin’,” the western atmosphere of “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch,” and the genre-bending “Bossa Nova Buckaroo Style.” Rich’s vocals weren’t as sorrowful as Owens’, though he strikes a similar tone for Bonnie and Buck Owens’ “Number One Heel,” and recalls Owens’ own double-tracking on “You Bring Out the Best in Me.” Rich wrote a lot of the Buckaroos’ material, often working with Red Simpson and other co-writers when not covering catalog material from Owens and Merle Haggard.

For all of his acknowledged importance to the Bakersfield Sound, Don Rich’s name was rarely above the title. His only solo album, Don Rich Sings George Jones, was recorded in 1970 and shelved until 2013, and his 1971 release with Buck Owens’ son Buddy, We’re Real Good Friends, remains out of print. Ditto for most of the Buckaroos’ albums, save these. This new collection joins That Fiddlin’ Man as a look into Rich’s work with Owens and the Buckaroos, more of which is highlighted on Omnivore’s recent double-CD The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966. The 12-page booklet includes photos, credits and liner notes from Rich’s adoring sons, fleshing out the family man behind the guitar. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.