They later called it the Bakersfield sound, but Anderson is right when he observes that it could have come from Austin or Denver or Seattle. Whatever it was, it wasn't quite Nashville, but it was very commercial -- so much so that some of the songs crossed over to the pop charts, or were covered by bands like the Beatles ("Act Naturally"). Owens knew how to write tunes and how to pick the ones he didn't write. With a seemingly unstoppable outfit backing him, Owens scored hit after hit in the days when a crossover success like the sad, sweet "Together Again" would be covered by 50 different singers.
Buck Owens: I was surprised to learn that I had eight songs on the pop charts and I thought, "Goodness gracious!" I knew I had some, "Tiger by the Tail," "Buckaroo," but some of those others got into the pop charts and I knew we were doing something that was beyond just the country-and-western scene -- but I didn't go after that. I knew I shouldn't. I had enough sense to hang back there and do just what we were doing 'cause that's what I loved to do. Not that I didn't want to grow, but I didn't want to get out there too far.
When Owens and the Buckaroos were asked to play Carnegie Hall in 1966, the singer thought it would be a major mistake. He didn't believe he could possibly fill a prestigious New York City venue. But the Carnegie Hall concert was a huge success, and the original (much shorter) album proved to be one of the best live records ever released.
Buck Owens: We couldn't afford a sound man (laughs), no light man, no guitar deck, none of that stuff, but it was electric -- an electric night which meant that the audience and we entertainers onstage were connected into the same piece of machinery. And it was funny! Like vaudeville, really. One thing I'm proud of, I think I cut 10 live albums and not once did we ever have to take it back to the studio and redo something. Not once. Not once! And the Carnegie Hall record -- you hear many modulations, changes in tempo, pickup notes to play and sing, medleys, and not one note was missed.
The Country Music Foundation released the full-length 49-minute version back in the late '80s, and now Sundazed has reissued it along with much of the Owens catalogue, including an anthology of Rich's work titled Country Pickin': The Don Rich Anthology. The Rich album and Carnegie concert disc showcase the unique chemistry of Buck and Don, and for Owens, talk of the project stirs up vivid memories of his old partner and friend.
Buck Owens: I never met anyone who didn't like Don Rich. I never met anyone who in the 16 years we were together that was mad at him, except his wife 'cause he didn't do something he was supposed to do or whatever (laughs). But he loved music. He was crazy about music. So I recorded albums on him, all the Buckaroos and him, and he had two or three singles but he didn't want to do anything but what he was doin'.
I can't tell you the times that I spoke with him, and I said, "Don, you got the looks, the personality, the talent -- you could be an artist in your own right" -- I'm talking after "Act Naturally," after "Together Again," "Tiger by the Tail," even. His answer was always the same: "Well, I'm about as famous as I want to be." That was his words. "I like what I'm doing and if I ever change my mind I'll let you know."
Don Rich never got a chance to change his mind; he died in a motorcycle accident in 1974.
Buck Owens: We were the team of teams. It was pretty hard in those days, especially when you're talking about the early '60s. But Don loved to throw in twists and all kinds of other things -- the difference is, he was so much better at it than I was. He could do things that I couldn't do, things that I could hear. And if I could hum 'em, the thing about his talent was, he could play 'em. I never met anyone else like him. I never met anyone else close to him.
But I'll tell you something else . . . after Don Rich's death, it just snuffed out my fire. I was not able to ever, um, enjoy it again. I mean, I still enjoyed it some, but I don't enjoy it anything like I did when Don was there. It never -- uh, he didn't write a lot but I still miss just having him around, you know, because of his creativity. But I never got over that, and just the last couple of years I've started writing songs again.