"Did I know television was going to hurt my record career?" he said to me. "Yes. I saw what it did to Perry Como, Andy Williams, and Johnny Cash. No more mystique."..."Would I do it again?" he said. "Absolutely."
--From In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music, "Honky Tonk Man," by Nicholas Dawidoff
Between 1963 and 1967, doing everything EXACTLY OPPOSITE of the way they were doing it in Nashville, Buck Owens had 15 number 1 Country songs.
He was a complex man, and eulogizing him in this space is difficult because he had an extreme distaste for being poor. Any part of the creative Buck that wasn't killed by Hee Haw, definitely died in 1974 with Don Rich in that motorcycle accident. He had some fun with Dwight Yoakam later in life, but the "fuck you" money he made by going on TV and slowly building his entertainment empire, stole the spark.
Make no mistake, though. What he did between 1963 and 1967 was pure. The exposed wires from the Buckaroos' amped up guitars were the frayed nerves of hillbilly men and women who worked too hard, drank too much, and desperately clung to the hope that tomorrow might be different. People still bought the sappy treacly shit that came out of Nashville, but Buck drove them bananas, like Hank Williams had done the previous decade. If Buck and Harlan Howard made a song about a guy getting in a bar fight or leaving his wife, it was because they saw it happen the night they wrote the song. If the guitars were wide open and high on treble, it was because that's what the dancers were demanding out on the dance floor.
Nashville will never be in the poor house, but back then, it was such an obvious mismatch, that they did the only thing they could do: drove a dump truck full of money up to his house and told him they were going to put him on TV.
I was mad a few years back when Johnny Cash died, because I knew shithouses like K102 and CMT would glum onto him for a few hours or maybe even a day and try to claim that they were somehow a part of his legacy, the worst kind of lies and crocodile tears. But, as I was searching for something to write about Buck, the Dawidoff book gave me the period to the sentence:
To see the music now so homogenized still has Johnny Cash a little shaken. "I think a lot of it's sex," he says. "These guys wear these tight jeans. They work out with a trainer three times a week. I can't see a lot of good country songs coming out of it. Individuality's missing. But it's working for them. It's like rivers and politics, you know. Bad stuff sometimes floats to the top. But I don't care. I'm still doing it my way. I just don't spend any time on Music Row, Nashville."
You're probably going to see a bunch of assholes like Chesney, Adkins, and Urban coming out on stage with red, white and blue guitars in the next couple of weeks; don't buy any of it.