Sunday, March 26, 2006

"Now I've got heartaches by the number, troubles by the score..."

Many artists have covered that song by Harlan Howard, but my favourite version is one of the earliest - the 1961 recording by Buck Owens, who died yesterday aged 76.
Perhaps he will be best-remembered for Act Naturally, re-recordered by The Beatles with Ringo on typically-ramshackle lead vocals in 1965, but other 'Buckaroo' tracks worth revisiting include Together Again (beautifully performed later by Emmylou Harris), Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass?, and renditions of Memphis and Johnny B Goode which had Buck's more strait-laced country aficionados unhappy but which he defended thus:

"I see ‘Memphis’ as bein’ rockabilly. I didn’t say I wasn’t gonna do rockabilly. I just said I ain’t gonna sing no song that ain’t a country song. I won’t be know as anything but a country singer. I meant that, I still mean that. Listen to the lyrics. If they’re not country lyrics...the melody...if that ain’t a country melody...The only thing was, a black man was singin’ it, a black man who I was a big fan of. So, my famous saying for my little pledge - I didn’t date it. I really meant it at the time. I don’t mean for it to be taken lightly."

His so-called 'freight train' songs may not be the most sophisticated - their repetitive, comfortable country licks make Johnny Cash's 'boom-chicka-boom' formula sound like free-form jazz by comparison - but they're great fun to listen to.

The Beatles appear to have agreed, and not just rockabilly Ringo.
According to Buck's website:

Unlike many country stars, Buck and Don Rick were enthusiastic fans of The Beatles’ early music, even before the group covered "Act Naturally." The pair had every Beatles album, and onstage did a good-natured imitation of the Liverpool quartet. Buck’s professed Beatlemania bothered some fans: "People would say ‘You shouldn’t be sayin’ that. You should be talkin’ about country music.’ And I said, ‘Why not? It’s the truth! Why can’t I say I’m a Beatles fan?’ I used to get criticized for that." Ken Nelson recalls that The Beatles admired Buck as well: "We used to have to send Buck’s albums to The Beatles when they came out."

Apparently, his pioneering "Hee Haw" country TV shows proved pretty influential too, though English viewers such as myself are probably only familiar with the Simpsons parody in the episode when 'Colonel Homer' helps the lovely Lurleen to become a country music superstar ("like ... uh ... that jerk in the cowboy hat ... and that dead lady!")

Rumours the show may now be resurrected, newly hosted by Tony Adams, will not be confirmed for as long as the self-acclaimed 'football intellectual' remains gainfully, bafflingly employed elsewhere as "World's Worst Pundit"...

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