Attention, Country Music Hall of Fame Voters: Here's Who You Need to Induct
To: The Voters for the Country Music Hall of Fame
First of all, I understand the responsibility that you have to the industry and to the Hall as you go through your voting process each year. It seems that with each selection you make, the cries get louder for others to be inducted. It is a tough job -- and not one to be taken lightly. However, that being said, I wanted to make a case for who I think should be one of the inductees for the 2014 class: Donald Eugene Ulrich (better known as “Dangerous” Don Rich), the longtime band leader for Buck Owens’ Buckaroos.
Today, July 17, marks four decades since Rich's passing in a motorcycle accident. But, his influence has only grown since his life met such a tragic end. Whether it be his guitar skills, his fiddling, or his harmonies, Don Rich was as much a part of the Bakersfield sound as Buck Owens himself. In interviews that Owens would give until his death in 2006, he pretty much admitted that the Buck Owens sound died on that freeway in Morro Bay, Calif., along with Rich.
Going to work for Owens when he was still a teenager, Rich was simply a fiddle player. However, his employer -- an astute guitarist in his own right -- taught Rich the guitar. To say he picked it up would be an understatement. His Telecaster licks have been some of the most admired in country music history. His fiddle work, though not as recognized as his guitar work on Owens sessions, continued to thrive. A listen to the Buck Owens 1971 album "Ruby & Other Bluegrass Specials" reflects this. With all due respect to any other fiddler, the Rich intro on the cover of Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen” is the best work on the instrument I have ever heard -- bar none.
Then, there were the harmonies. Rich didn’t start singing harmony on most Owens records until the late 1960s, but together the two forged a musical identity that was greater than the sum of its parts. Flatt had Scruggs. Rodgers had Hammerstein, and Owens had his Rich. Ask any artist who has come along over the years who was touched by the Bakersfield sound, and they will verify how special that blend was. In the early 1990s, Vince Gill was to perform a duet with Buck Owens on NBC’s “Hot Country Nights,” and Gill told him that instead of doing a duet, he wanted to do the Don Rich part on an Owens classic. That’s the influences that he had and has on other artists, such as Brad Paisley and Rodney Crowell.
2015 will see the induction of a performer in the musician category of the Country Music Hall of Fame. There are many great players with Nashville ties in the Hall -- Harold Bradley, Charlie McCoy, Floyd Cramer, and Hargus “Pig” Robbins, among them. They all deserve to be there, as do other legendary Music City session standouts as Pete Drake, Buddy Harman, and Hank Garland. However, it is time that the Hall recognizes that great musicianship has come from outside Tennessee, and though Rich was a band member of the Buckaroos -- rather than a stand-alone studio musician -- he deserves a spot alongside Owens in the Hall. The California country sound -- and country, as a whole -- would be a lot less were it not for Don Rich.
The voting process for the Hall doesn’t start for awhile, but on this date where we remember the greatness of Don Rich, let us think about the possibility of his being inducted into the Hall. It’s about time.