Buck Owens Alvis Owens, Jr., was born in Sherman, Texas. "'Buck' was a mule on the Owens farm," Rich Kienzle wrote in About Buck, the biography at Owens' official website. "When Alvis, Jr., was three or four years old, he walked into the house and announced that his name was also Buck. That was fine with the family; the boy was Buck from then on." In 1937, his family migrated to Mesa, Arizona, during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.
In 1945, Owens co-hosted a radio show called "Buck and Britt". In the late 1940s, Owens became a truck driver and discovered the San Joaquin Valley of California. He was impressed by Bakersfield, where he and his wife settled in 1950.
Soon, Owens was frequently traveling to Hollywood for session recording jobs at Capitol Records, playing backup for Tennessee Ernie Ford, Sonny James, Wanda Jackson, Del Reeves, Tommy Sands, Tommy Collins, Faron Young and Gene Vincent and many others.
During the Rock and Roll craze of the 1950s, Owens recorded a rockabilly record called "Hot Dog" for the Pep label, using the pseudonym Corky Jones.
Buck's career took off in 1959, when his song "Second Fiddle" hit number 24 on the Billboard country chart. A few months later, "Under Your Spell Again" hit number 4, and then "Above and Beyond" hit #3.
In the early 1960s, the "countrypolitan" sound was popular, with smooth, string-laden, pop-influenced style like Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, and Patsy Cline. Owens went against the trend, with a more pure and raw honky-tonk hillbilly feel, mixed idiosyncratically with the Mexican polkas he had heard on border radio stations while growing up.
Owens was named the most promising country and western singer of 1960 by Billboard, and his Top-10-charting duets with Rose Maddox in 1961 earned them awards as vocal team of the year.
1963's "Act Naturally" became Buck's first #1 hit. The Beatles later did a straight cover of it in 1965.
In 1967, Owens and the Buckaroos toured Japan, a then-rare occurrence for a country musician. The subsequent live album, Buck Owens in Japan, is considered possibly the first country music album recorded outside the United States. At the White House the following year, they performed for President Johnson.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of the biggest American rock bands of the period, often demonstrated a country flavor, and even mentioned Owens in the hit, "Lookin' Out My Back Door":
A dinosaur Victrola List'nin' to Buck Owens Doo, doo, doo Lookin' out my back door Hee Haw hit the television airwaves in 1969, keeping Owens busy throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1972 he had another #1 hit, "Made in Japan".
Before the 1960s were done, Owens - with the help of manager Jack McFadden - began to concentrate on his financial future. He bought several radio stations, including KNIX and KESZ in Phoenix, Arizona, and KUZZ in Bakersfield, incorporating his trademark red, white and blue guitar into each station's logo. In 1999, Owens sold KNIX and KESZ to Clear Channel Communications; he maintained ownership of KUZZ until his death.
Owens established Buck Owens Enterprises and produced records by several artists, released on the Capitol label.
On July 17, 1974, his guitarist and best friend Don Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident. Owens was devastated and never really recovered from the loss. "He was like a brother, a son and a best friend", he said recently, continuing, "something I never said before, maybe I couldn't, but I think my music life ended when he did. Oh yeah, I carried on and I existed, but the real joy and love, the real lightning and thunder is gone forever."
Dwight Yoakam, another Bakersfield resident, teamed up for a duet of "Streets of Bakersfield" in 1988. Their duet was Owens' first #1 single in 16 years.