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Buck Owens: The Biography

By Eileen Sisk

Chicago Review Press, 385 pages, $24.95
Reviewed by C. Eric Banister, October 2010
See it on Amazon
For years, Buck Owens perfected his Bakersfield sound and topped the charts with his own brand of distinctive country music. To a generation of fans, he was a musical innovator and eschw-er of current trends. To another generation, he was the co-host of the syndicated "Hee Haw" where he traded jokes in the cornfield and showcased his songs with the Buckaroos on a weekly basis. Behind the scenes, though, he was known as a shrewd, and often unfeeling, businessman and womanizer.

His story starts in the small Texas town of Sherman where the Owens' family welcomed their newest addition, Alvis Edgar, Jr. Details of his upbringing and how he made his way to California, as author Eileen Sisk tells the reader, vary depending on the source of the story, but the final destination and his affinity for music remain a constant.

Honing his musical chops in Bakersfield, Owens quickly became a regional favorite before breaking into the national scene with his unique brand of guitar-driven country music. Sisk tells the story of Owens early recording sessions as a session musician and how he assembled his crack band, the Buckaroos, named by one-time Owens bass player, Merle Haggard.

Although tales of his love of women come out early in his career, it is after his initial national success that both his business instincts and womanizing ways begin to show an ugly side. Several associates relay to Sisk the details of Owen's often seemingly heartless way of dealing with both business associates and the women he encountered on the road.

Much of what Sisk writes will come as a surprise, perhaps even a shock, to fans of the man they remember watching him strum his red, white and blue guitar on television. It must be noted here that this book was written without the cooperation of many of the people who were close to Owens, including his family and many close business associates. At times, this tends to slant the narrative to show only one side of the man.

Even so, Sisk has researched her subject deeply, which is evidenced in the pages of the book. She was able to speak with several former Buckaroos and others who had business dealings with Owens and his holdings. Her research into the untimely death of Owens' long-time guitar player and prominent harmony vocalist Don Rich is thorough and is the first such research on the details of the motorcycle accident that took his life to see print.

It must be pointed out that sometimes the author's deep research and the lack of cooperation from the Owens' family steers the book into areas that could have remained unmentioned. Two such examples are the out-of-nowhere innuendo that Owens and Rich shared more than a platonic love for each other and the behind-the-back, wink-wink-nudge-nudge passages that seem to try to implicate that Richs' death had conspiratorial overtones. These types of stories, as well as the numerous mentions of Owens' private parts, often push the book into tabloid sensationalism that doesn't benefit the book or its subject.

The fact that Owens was sometimes very hard to deal with in business situations isn't really a secret (it is at least mentioned in Roy Clark's autobiography and the autobiography of Hee Haw producer Sam Luvuollo), but Sisk's unmasking of the personal side of the man will cause many fans to view Owens in a different light.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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