Much has been written about the career and life of Buck Owens over the years. However, not much has been stated from the words of the man himself. Until the release of the new autobiography, “Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens,” it looked like that might never happen. However, co-author Randy Poe tells Billboard that fate had a strange way of putting him in “contact” with the musical legend, who died nearly eight years ago.
“I had went up to Bakersfield to meet with some members of Buck’s family about the possibility of writing Buck’s authorized biography,” Poe said. “After meeting with them, Jim Shaw, who to this day is one of the Buckaroos – and runs some of Buck’s businesses in Bakersfield – took me into Buck’s old office and there was this desk with a stack of tapes. He says ‘This might be helpful to you.”
What the tapes were – Owens talking about his life and career – did prove to be invaluable – and changed his course of action. “I didn’t have to think about it very long or very hard till I came back to Jim and the family and I said ‘Let’s scratch this authorized biography business, and do what Buck wanted. Let’s create his autobiography from these cassettes that he left us.”
Owens made the recordings in his Bakersfield office with the goal of writing a book in mind between 1995 and 2000, but the project never came to be. Poe said that upon first listen to the tapes, there was one thing that was very evident. Owens’ memory was as astute as his legendary business acumen.
“I’ve never come across anybody like that before. I’ve heard of people who had photographic memories, but this man remembered things that went all the way back to his childhood – people, places, and dates. It was fascinating listening to him tell these stories, then go research them for backup, and find how accurate he was.”
The book retraces Owens’ path from being born in Sherman, Texas in 1929 to moving to California as a child. The singer recalled growing up in the Great Depression, and that experience fueled his fire to succeed, said Poe.
“I think that’s the way Buck felt – ‘I’m not going to be poor,” said the author. “I’m going to be somebody and I’m never going to work in the fields or the hot sun again. He proved himself to be right.”
Part of that Owens success story included the contributions of his lead guitarist / fiddle player / harmony singer, Don Rich. Poe admits the pair shared a unique musical connection unlike few others.
“If you watch some of the old ‘Buck Owens Ranch Shows,’ you get to see up close Buck and Don working together. I have never ever seen that kind of perfection before. It was totally telepathic between the two of them. It was an amazing thing to watch.”
Buck ‘Em! also contains stories about The Buckaroos’ performances at venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Fillmore, and the White House – as well as his long association with “Hee Haw,” of which Poe said “I think it was something that he had mixed emotions about towards the last few years of his life. When he first got involved, everyone’s heart was in the right place – getting to let millions of Americans hear country music and get to know who Buck Owens is, and whomever the guest stars were. But, the focus became more on the corny humor. He was taking home $400,000 a year, which was comparable to $3 million in today’s money, and he couldn’t walk away from that. They taped twice a year for two weeks, so he put a month’s worth of time to get paid that kind of money. I think he felt it would make no sense to walk away from that,” though Poe said the tapes did reflect the close friendships that Owens felt toward many of the cast.
Not being able to talk to the actual subject could get a little interesting, said Poe. “The most frustrating thing was the inability to be able to say things like ‘Why did you marry the fourth one? What was the thought process? When he would interrupt himself on a tape, I could say ‘Wait a minute, you were telling a really good story. Go back and finish it.” I would love to have been able to do that, but he hung on to so many newspaper or magazine articles, and could go back through those and some unpublished interviews he had done. It was the most complicated jigsaw puzzle anyone has ever put together, but I was able to piece it together through all the different sources.”