Buck Owens’ Autobiography Is Unsparingly Candid

Buck 'Em Reflects on His Successes, Failures, Losses and Place in Country Music

Dwight Yoakam revived interest in Buck Owens’ music in the 1980s by praising and recording with his idol, and Vince Gill and Paul Franklin’ are focusing on it again via their current album, Bakersfield.

Now, with the publication of his autobiography, Buck ’Em, fans can read in Owens’ own words how he became a stylistic trailblazer and what it was like to fall from popular favor, even as he was building his own entertainment empire in his adopted hometown.

Although Owens died in 2006, long before this autobiography took shape, most of the text — which author Randy Poe arranged and edited — is taken directly from Owens’ taped reminiscences.

The voice that emerges from these memories is honest, straightforward, often funny and self-deprecating. But there’s never an ounce of self-pity. He’s harder on himself (especially when it comes to his weakness for women) than he is on the skeptics, naysayers and opportunists he frequently crossed paths with. Through it all, however, he remains keenly aware of his own exalted place in country music history.

Here are a few of his more trenchant observations:

On why he stayed with Hee Haw even as the syndicated TV show shifted more from music to comic buffoonery: “I couldn’t justify turning down that big paycheck for just a few weeks work twice a year. So, I kept whoring myself out to that cartoon donkey.”

On the artistic importance of Don Rich, his guitarist and singing partner who died in 1974 in a motorcycle accident: “Don Rich was as much a part of the Buck Owens sound as I was.”

On motorcycles: “God, I detested those things. I’d cut out newspaper articles about people getting killed on motorcycles and tape ’em up on the wall in the studio so everybody could see ’em.”

On deciding to sell his Blue Book music publishing company to Buddy Killen’s Tree Publishing: “Well, Buddy kept raising his price, and when he got to $1,600,000, I finally said, ’The price is right.'”

On his impulsive, on-the-road marriage to fiddler Jana Jae while he was living happily with another woman: “I’ll tell you right now, if the good Lord was to say to me, ’Buck, I’ll let you take back one thing you did in your whole life,’ that one thing would be to take back what happened with me and Jana Jae.”

On his attempt to revive his recording career by signing to Warner Bros Records: “My first album for Warner Bros had been such a monumental failure that we decided to all get together and do it again.”

Throughout the ups and downs chronicled in the book, Owens never passes the buck.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.