Album Review

Buck Owens - Young Buck: The Complete Pre-Capitol Recordings Of Buck Owens / Carnegie Hall Concert With Buck Owens & His Buckaroos

Buck Owens - Young Buck: The Complete Pre-Capitol Recordings Of Buck Owens

Yes, it's true; the Buck starts here. With this new release in an important new series, the Hall of Fame folks have, for the first time, brought together the rare singles and demos Buck Owens recorded under his own name in the mid-'50s, for the tiny labels Pep, La Brea, and Chesterfield -- of which only the first even bothered to notify him they were releasing the records at all.

It makes for fascinating -- and sometimes memorable -- listening. Details on these sessions are few, but young Buck (already working regularly as a sideman at Capitol for stars such as Wanda Jackson, Wynn Stewart and Tommy Collins) was clearly taking his own guitar leads, and may or may not have been backed by his Bakersfield band of that moment, the Schoolhouse Playboys.

You might expect to find the strong influence of Ray Price's honky-tonk shuffle here, but it's hard to detect much of that. The developing country side of Buck sounds more like two other honky-tonk heroes of that moment -- the Faron Young "I've Got Five Dollars" approach in a vocal range reminiscent of Webb Pierce. In fact, the vocals are only sometimes reminiscent of what we think of as quintessential Owens; the dead-on, unique phrasing is not in evidence yet, nor is the studied (or retrieved) accent that became hallmarks of his great local vocals. The style is being born, but it's not quite here.

If this were anyone else, however, you would take notice -- as Capitol did. The early version of "Down On The Corner Of Love" is dang good, if you haven't heard the much better one laid down years later. In fact, the cuts that really jump out at this point are the pure rockabilly tracks he recorded in dead earnest under the name Corky Jones. The single "Hot Dog" backed with "Rhythm And Booze" stand with the hardest big-beat rockabilly of the time, as might be expected from a guy who was sometimes backing Gene Vincent. Another standout is, of all things, a 12-bar blues -- "I'm Gonna Blow".

Owens' cleverness and originality as a songwriter, not always noticed because there's so much else to talk about, is much in evidence. In fact, of the sixteen songs and their alternates supplied here, he wrote all but one. The disc fills in a gap in rockin' country history, and fans are going to want to have it; just don't expect an hour with the Buckaroos.

You can get that (well, 49 minutes of it, anyway), in spades, with the spruced-up reissue of Owens' March 1966 Carnegie Hall gig with the Buckaroos, which Capitol called "A 'Live' Recording Of Their Great Performance At The Famous New York Concert Hall" -- an accurate enough description of what Sundazed has reassembled and cleaned up here.

Buck and the classic Buckaroo band (Don Rich on electric guitar, fiddle and harmonies; Doyle Holly on bass and deep-voiced "Streets Of Laredo"; Tom Brumley on pedal steel; Willie Cantu on drums) are at their absolute peak here. They look petty slick, too, on the restored Capitol cover shot of the boys in their California flash suits standing in front of the Hall. (Fans may want this just for the cover.) The show proceeds at a breakneck pace, via mini-medleys of the string of #1 hits played louder, faster, and more energetically than even the electric originals.

Rich leads the gang into a blazing version of the "Buckaroo" instrumental for the ages. In a return compliment to the Beatles, and a reminder that they could pay rock 'n' roll as well as anybody, there's a "salute" version of "Twist And Shout", as much Isley as Lennon. Buck cranks up "Act Naturally" near its end with a "2-3-4!" shout somewhere between the Marines and the Ramones, and "Love's Gonna Live Here" is momentarily interrupted by a one-liner joke so immaculately timed that the song actually recharges off the speed of the line.

About the jokes: They are often genuinely funny in a hip sort of way, some about being here in a very welcoming (it turns out) New York City, some in longish routines including send-ups of Tex Ritter, Ernest Tubb and Johnny Cash. Those who find that live album patter wears thin soon have been warned. But the music won't die. It won't even sit still.