The music world sustained a major loss when Buck Owens died Saturday (March 25) in Bakersfield, Calif., but the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s spirit will continue to live in the music of artists he befriended and encouraged.
Kenny Chesney was in Lexington, Ky., for a concert when he learned of Owens’ death at age 76.
“Obviously, we all remember his music,” he told CMT Insider. “He was an icon in the music business and means a lot to a lot of people through his music.”
Owens was particularly optimistic about Chesney’s future — even when the young singer-songwriter wasn’t quite sure about his own career.
“After a couple of years on being on the road, I had a couple of albums under my belt,” Chesney said. “Not really a whole lot was happening [in Chesney's career]. I was sitting in my chair, almost feeling out of place at the CMA Awards one year. He walked over and said, ‘I just want you to know, Kenny, that I really believe in you. I think you’re a really good singer and a really good performer.’”
Owens told Chesney he only needed three minutes — the length of a hit song — for his career to ignite.
“You’re three minutes away from being a really big star,” Owens told him. “If you find a great song, you’re three minutes away from really getting on the right road and being successful.”
Chesney said their paths crossed again two years ago at the Academy of Country Music Awards show in Las Vegas.
“He walked up to me and said, ‘You got your three minutes, didn’t you? And you got six … and you got nine … and you got 12 … and you got 15. You’ve got a bunch of minutes. You’ve got a bunch of hit songs.’ He gave me a big hug and said, ‘I told you.’
“I will always remember his music and the kind of style and sound he had that was very identifiable, but I’ll remember those conversations that he had with me and the belief he had in me a lot more … forever.”
Sara Evans recorded a cover version of Owens’ 1965 hit, “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” for her 1997 debut album.
“He wrote it with Harlan Howard,” Evans told CMT Radio during an interview Monday (March 27). “Because I recorded that song, I was able to meet him and sing with him in his dressing room. But before that, I always loved Buck Owens. I grew up listening to him, of course, and had seen him on Hee Haw. He’s just a legend, and it’s really, really a sad loss to the world.”
Brad Paisley enjoyed a particularly close friendship with Owens. A frequent performer at Owens’ Crystal Palace restaurant and club in Bakersfield, Paisley would even join him onstage there for free on New Year’s Eve — a night when any country act can demand top dollar for an appearance. When Paisley was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2001, Owens granted his request and loaned him his mustard-colored rhinestone jacket for the evening. Paisley had admired it for years on the cover of Owens’ Carnegie Hall Concert album from the 1960s.
“My friend, Buck Owens, was one of a kind — a larger-than-life music legend who reinvented country music, epitomized musicianship and was the inspiration for countless artists including the Beatles,” Paisley said in a prepared statement. “He loved to become friends with other musicians and loved to pass advice on to young guys like me. He was very giving of his talents and wisdom. If any good can come from his passing, I hope that it’s a renewed interest in his achievements and, more importantly, his incredible Bakersfield Sound. He deserves to be remembered as one of the most important artists in all of music history.”
Dwight Yoakam shined the light on Owens and the Bakersfield Sound during the ’80s.
“I was devastated by Buck’s passing since I had talked to him just a couple days ago,” Yoakam said in a statement. “And even though he seemed in a somewhat fragile physical state, he was emotionally exuberant and still living life in a forward motion, discussing a variety of plans for his future. My thoughts and prayers are with his three sons, Buddy Allen, Michael and Johnny, his grandchildren and his girlfriend Karen. I will cherish, forever, the musical moments he graciously shared with me during his life. I will be eternally grateful for his fatherly chastisements, encouragement and, ultimately, his friendship and love. I will miss him deeply.”