If you read his new biography, you'll think so too.
Oh, yay! It’s another edition of Fake Can Be Just As Good, wherein we read a newly released music bio and give you the highlights so you can fake your way through a conversation about it or impress dinner guests or what have you. This week we’re taking a peek inside Buck Owens: The Biography, by Eileen Sisk, and it’s quite a meaty slab (400 pages), exposing for bare the best-selling, prolific country artist who could never quite overcome the hillbilly bumpkin image he forged on Hee Haw. Buck Owens, while infinitely engaging and smartly articulated, is a juicy tell-all dripping with tabloid-style sensationalism, and peppered with contemporary colloquialisms like “sextracirricular activities.” As a result, it’s cheapened in parts, but there’s no doubt Sisk knows her subject: you damn near need a pen and paper to jot down notes to keep up. She does an excellent job of presenting her subject as a callous asshole, and while such a strategy shows her commitment to honest reporting, it will undoubtedly polarize both her readership and fans of the dearly departed country icon. Here’s the Buck Owens tale of the tape.
*Owens was born Alvis Edgar Owens Jr., weighing five pounds at birth and possessing only one functioning kidney.
*Buck was a nickname Owens adopted for himself when, at the age of 2, he insisted on sharing a moniker with the family mule.
*Buck had “emotional incest” with his mother, according to the national promotion director of Buck Owens Enterprises, and as a child often tried to protect her from the abuse of her husband.
*Owens had “brain fever” (which might have been meningitis) around the age of 10; when he was released from the hospital, he couldn’t remember the ABCs.
*Buck possessed perfect pitch. His mother Macie would play a game that consisted of her playing a note on the piano and Buck identifying it.
*The country singer started smoking and engaging in sexual activity at the age of 13.
*Much of the story of Buck Owens’ early years may have been fabricated. He provided his record label with biographical information that was later discredited by his own mother.
*Buck’s first child was born in 1946, when the musician was only 16.
*Owens married for a second time at age 18, to a yodeler named Bonnie who bore him two children. They divorced a few years after, and then reunited as band mates. Bonnie later married Merle Haggard, who was one of Buck’s major musical rivals.
*Buck started his professional career as a guitarist at The Blackboard in Bakersfield, Calif. The owners of the club either asked or forced him to take over singing when Billy Mize quit the house band, the Orange Blossom Playboys.
*According to Buck’s manager Jack McFadden, Owens was married at least seven times, though Buck himself has only ever verified three of those marriages.
*In 1956, Buck released two songs under the pseudonym Corky Jones. The songs had a rockabilly feel, and Owens didn’t want to risk the repudiation of his country fans.
*After he moved to Washington state, Buck bought one-third of the radio station KAYE, and served as a disc jockey, media buyer and ad salesman.
*In Tacoma, Buck judged two talent contests, both won by Loretta Lynn, who had not yet begun singing professionally.
*Buck’s fiddle player (and later, guitarist) Don Rich joined the band in 1958; the young musician was only 16. He used fake IDs to get into most of the clubs where the band played. At 18, he used his fake to get married.
*When Don and Buck toured as a duo, they paid their backing musicians in bread, bologna and water.
*Dorothy Owens, Buck’s sister and the business manager of Buck Owens Enterprises, is an out-of-the-closet lesbian. Her nickname: “Uncle Dorothy.”
*Following the release of 1963’s “Act Naturally,” Buck had 15 consecutive No. 1 hits on the Billboard country chart.
PW's Music Issue 2014