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Buck Owens displays the West Coast sound that brought the rock generation into the honky-tonk fold

Wednesday, May 15 2002
In the early '60s San Joaquin Valley superpicker Buck Owens almost single-handedly rescued country music from the sleepy formulae of Nashville's "countrypolitan" crossover acts. His upbeat West Coast sound brought the bright, fat tones of the Fender Telecaster into the hillbilly fold, making old-fashioned honky-tonk accessible to a generation raised on rock 'n' roll. With bouncy, novelty-oriented hits like "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail" and "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)," Owens helped country music survive during the reign of Beatlemania. Then, when he was cast as co-host of the corn-pone TV variety show Hee Haw in 1969, Owens nabbed an even larger audience, eventually becoming one of the few country singers to break into mainstream superstardom during the psychedelic rock era.

As the '70s opened, Owens turned the rules of show business on their heads by buying complete control of his catalog from Capitol Records and happily hustling back to his hometown of Bakersfield, where he then reigned over a small media and real estate empire. Owens retired from touring and recording for most of the '80s and '90s, although he would occasionally blow the roof off his private nightclub, the memorabilia-encrusted Crystal Palace. This week, longtime fans and young alt-hicks have the rare opportunity to see Owens perform outside of his native habitat, sharing the San Francisco stage with fellow '60s icon Loretta Lynn. Like Owens, Lynn is a throwback to country's rough roots, a singer who knows how to mix catchy, modern melodies with brazenly down-home, backwoods vocals. Both remain vigorous and vital, as this week's concert should show.

About The Author

Lawrence Kay


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