"All I Gotta Do Is Act Naturally"
Country folk love country music. Not the fireworks, guitar smashing, strutting across the stage kind of music. They like the simple ballads of Charlie Pride, George Jones or Buck Owens. They can hear and understand the words because they relate to them in their own lives. And they sing along with any of them years later because they never forget the meaningful lyrics.
“Biggest fool that ever hit the big time,
And all I gotta do is act naturally.”
“Act Naturally” was a classic Buck Owens tune while playing his guitar, after he achieved stardom. Alvis E. “Buck” Owens, born in Sherman, Texas on August 12, 1929, the son of a sharecropper, died March 25, 2006. The Owens’ family looked like the characters in Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” They piled into their old Ford and headed to California in 1937. They were victims of the Dust Bowls of the Southwest which had turned fertile Oklahoma farmland into impossible, inhabitable, impoverished landscapes of dry, blowing dust. The family consisted of Alvis Owens Sr., Maicie, his wife and their four children. Mary, Buck, Melvin and Dorothy, grandma Mary Myrtle, Uncle Vernon, Aunt Lucille and their infant son, Jimmy.
But they didn’t make it to California; they only made it as far as Phoenix. The hitch pulling their overloaded trailer broke and, without money to fix it, they moved in with relatives and took jobs picking crops and working at dairy farms. Buck was quoted as saying, “Sometimes we had only milk and cornbread for dinner. I never wanted to be too hot or too cold again.”
In 1942, with America at war, there was a shortage of male workers. Buck was only 13 but was 6-ft tall so he dropped out of high school to take a job as telegraph messenger and loaded produce for a local warehouse. He got a mandolin for Christmas and by age 16, a self-taught musician, he was could play a harmonica and sax and picked up local playing jobs, where other musicians gave him lessons. At 20, he purchased his first “Leo Fender Telecaster electric guitar” for $35, painting it red, white and blue. This was his favorite for “playing my freight train style of music” and became his favorite. His father adapted an old radio into an amplifier for him.
In 1951, his Bakersfield uncles encouraged him to come there and join the local country music circuit. Buck, his wife, Bonnie, who was a singer, and their two sons headed over to this California high desert town, 100 miles north of Los Angeles. His parents followed soon after. In 1963, he toured the country in a Chevy camper with his “Buckaroos” before he could afford a big bus. He invested in radio stations and bought “The Crystal Palace” in Bakersfield where he gave his last performance the night before he died. This Texas born kid did it all.
Buck’s music heroes were Jimmy Wyble, jazz guitarist with Bob Wills Texas Playboys. He also liked Elvis and Little Richard. Fans were astounded when he flew to London to record “Act Naturally” with Ringo Star and the Beatles.
Country western singer, Dwight Yoakam, was a close friend of Buck’s for more than twenty years. Recently, Yoakam, wearing his trademark, an oversized cowboy hat, performed in Snowmass and talked about Buck in a recent Denver Post interview. “Buck Owens was my inspiration and I always included some of his songs in my performances. My latest album, Dwight Sings Buck”, is a tribute to him. I purposely left “Tiger by the Tail” off as that song belongs only to Buck.”
Author’s note: When we lived in Santee, California in the 60’s, we saw Buck Owens perform at a roadhouse, Kelly’s Bar & Grill” on Mission Gorge Road for a benefit dance for Santee Little League. We loved to play our Buck Owens tapes n the car, while our three children groaned like wounded heifers whenever he sang along with his honky-tonk lyrics, “Lips Sweeter than Honnn-ey” or “Under Your Spell A-ginn”. Thanks Buck for everything.