Randy Poe, author of Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens, will be giving a talk at the Country Music Hall of Fame about Buck Owens and the Bakersfield Sound on Saturday, December 7th at 1:30pm. Check it out here! And while you wait, here is an excerpt from Buck ‘Em.
My parents moved out to Bakersfield that same year, so pretty soon most of the folks who had made that original trip from Texas to Arizona ended up in the same town again. The only one who didn’t eventually make the move was my older sister, Mary Ethel. She’d gotten married in Arizona, so she stayed there. My younger sister Dorothy had been a senior in high school when my parents moved to Bakersfield, so she lived with Mary Ethel until she graduated. Then she came on our and moved back in with our parents. A year later, Melvin came to Bakersfield, too. It was where we’d all planned on going back in 1937. It just took us a little longer to get there than we’d thought it would.
When I got to Bakersfield, I found out my Uncle Vernon had been absolutely right about the music scene that was going on. In fact, Bakersfield had been kind of a music hot bed, I guess you’d say, going back quite a few years before I arrived.
Bob Wills had been a regular at the Bakersfield dance halls back in the ’40s. There’d also been a fiddler named Jimmy Thomason who played a big dance at the Beardsley Ballroom every week. He started playing there in ’49, and I guess he would’ve played there forever if the place hadn’t burned down in 1950. I think Jimmy might’ve been about the first resident of Bakersfield who actually got a record contract. He was signed to King Records, a label that put out a bunch of great blue-grass and country stuff in those days. None of Jimmy’s records were chart hits or anything like that, but being a genuine recording artist sure made him a big deal around town. When television finally arrived in Bakersfield, he became a local TV star. He and his wife hosted a bunch of different country performers on The Louise and Jimmy Thomason Show.
There was another place in town called The Rainbow Gardens where everybody went to dance after the Beardsley Ballroom burned down. Outside of the city limits a little ways was a place called the Pumpkin Center Barn Dance. A guy named Ebb Pilling ran the Pumpkin Center. He called himself Cousin Ebb, and he played the banjo in his own band there. Cousin Ebb booked a lot of bands at the Pumpkin, including the Maddox Brothers and Rose. Bonnie and I had seen the Maddox Brothers and Rose back in Mesa when we were teenagers. I remember another Bakersfield guy – Roy Nicols – was the guitar player the night me and Bonnie saw ‘em. Rose and her brothers were the first act I ever got to see that wore really colorful Western-type outfits with rhinestones on ‘em – the kind of things all of us country singers started wearing in the ’60s.
All of these places I’m telling you about – the Beardsley Ballroom, the Rainbow Gardens, and the Pumpkin Center Barn Dance – were great big places with big ol’ dance floors. Most of the music being played at those places during that era was Western Swing. I loved Western Swing. In fact, one of the earliest Western Swing bands was a Texas outfit called the Light Crust Dough Boys. I still remember listening to the Light Crust Dough Boys on the radio when I was real little.
Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens is the life story of a country music legend. Born in Texas and raised in Arizona, Buck eventually found his way to Bakersfield, California. Unlike the vast majority of country singers, songwriters, and musicians who made their fortunes working and living in Nashville, the often rebellious and always independent Owens chose to create his own brand of country music some 2,000 miles away from Music City – racking up a remarkable twenty-one number one hits along the way. In the process he helped give birth to a new country sound and did more than any other individual to establish Bakersfield as a country music center.
In the latter half of the 1990s, Buck began working on his autobiography. Over the next few years, he talked into the microphone of a cassette tape machine for nearly one hundred hours, recording the story of his life.
With his near-photographic memory, Buck recalled everything from his early days wearing hand-me-down clothes in Texas to his glory years as the biggest country star of the 1960s; from his legendary Carnegie Hall concert to his multiple failed marriages; from his hilarious exploits on the road to the tragic loss of his musical partner and best friend, Don Rich; from his days as the host of a local TV show in Tacoma, Washington, to his co-hosting the network television show Hee Haw; and from his comeback hit, “Streets of Bakersfield,” to his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In these pages, Buck also shows his astute business acumen, having been among the first country artists to create his own music publishing company. He also tells of negotiating the return of all of his Capitol master recordings, his acquisition of numerous radio stations, and of his conceiving and building the Crystal Palace, one of the most venerated musical venues in the country.
Buck ‘Em! is the fascinating story of the life of country superstar Buck Owens – from the back roads of Texas to the streets of Bakersfield.