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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Buck Owens, "I've Got A Tiger By The Tail"

Buck Owens
"I've Got A Tiger By The Tail"
Capitol (1965)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Remember a little while back when we looked at Steve Earle and I ranted against the onslaught of popular country music? Let's revisit that theme, but take the story back even further by looking at Buck Owens and his 1965 hit record "I've Got A Tiger By The Tail."

During the early '60s, country music was reaching what was then its highest point of popularity, and simultaneously began to separate into two distinct branches. The first was the "Nashville Sound," a more polished approach that didn't shy away from incorporating less-than-blue-collar instruments (such as playing a violin like a violin and not a fiddle). Most of the era's biggest names, such as Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, represented the Nashville sound. In response to Nashville's more southern approach to country, the "Bakersfield Sound" (named after Bakersfield, CA., its recording headquarters with Capitol) tended towards a more western style, with pedal steel guitars and acoustic strumming. Owens and his band, The Buckaroos, became the biggest name in the West.

If there's ever any doubt which scene a '60s country artist belongs in, just listen to the lead singer's voice. Owens had a Texas-twang that reflected his heritage well. Even more important to the Buckaroos' sound was the guitar playing of Don Rich. Rich was the first lead guitarist in the genre to popularize the Fender Telecaster, and his simple, signature style of soloing is all over this record. Rich, a long time friend and band member with Owens, also handles the fiddle on a couple of tracks and even the vocals for "Wham Bam." "Fallin' For You" is the best example of a Rich bridge on the album.

Owens may have been a retroactive victim of the '60s country stereotypes that he helped found. For one, there's the popular country/blues form that dips so far into lament that it earned the descriptive title "my dog died blues." The pedal steel guitar playing of Tom Brumley (the tone so popular in the Western genre) is so mournful, and the vocals of Owens so emotive, that tracks like "Cryin' Time" and "Let The Sad Times Roll On" just seem silly. Even when the band is in a more upbeat mood (there's no in-between for tears and laughter with Owens), there's no gripping narrative that made Marty Robbins' "Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs" worth the listen. Owens finally ascended/descended to the throne for country music stereotypes when he began hosting "Hee Haw" in 1968.

Look, if you're not a fan of country music as it is, I'm not going to encourage you to check out this record. It certainly wasn't my cup of tea. If anything, listen to my sample track below to get a feel for Rich's guitar playing and then bail out. If those names I listed under the "Nashville Sound" seemed a lot more appealing, you're not alone. Don't worry. They'll make an appearance eventually, and I'll give them a nice write-up (so you hardcore country fans don't need to jump down my throat yet).

INTERESTING FACT: "I've Got A Tiger By The Tail" includes a cover of the traditional song "A Maiden's Prayer." This song is played by garbage trucks in Taiwan to let citizens know that they are making their rounds. This fact has little to do with Buck Owens, but I'll be damned if it isn't one of the best interesting facts I've found so far.

Fallin' For You by Buck Owens on Grooveshark

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