Album Review

The King of the Bakersfield Sound on the Comeback Trail in 1988

Buck Owens - Live From Austin, TX

There is no shortage of live Buck Owens recordings, but nearly all of them date to his record breaking run in the 1960s. Owens was not only a terrific songwriter, guitarist, singer, bandleader and businessman, but a gifted stage performer whose personal magnetism drew fans to his tours and to his dying day, to his beloved Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. By the time of this 1988 performance on Austin City Limits, it had been more than a decade since Owens had recused himself from his music career. The 1974 death of Don Rich had drained his enthusiasm, and with his energy focused on the radio stations he’d begun buying in the 1960s, it took an insistent Dwight Yoakam to pry Owens out of his self-imposed exile.

This October 1988 date found Owens and Yoakam on the same bill, each playing a full set and guesting on the other’s. Yoakam’s Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room had just crested at #1 on the album chart, the lead single, a duet with Owens covering “Streets of Bakersfield,” had topped the singles chart in June, and the title single from Owens’ own return to the studio, Hot Dog, would be released the following week. So there was a lot to celebrate on this Sunday night in Texas, as Owens showed that the layoff hadn’t impacted his musicality or showmanship, and that the latest edition of the Buckaroos, including keyboard player Jim Shaw, bassist Doyle Curtsinger, guitarist and steel player Terry Christofferson and drummer James McCarty, was sharp and powerful.

With sixty Top 40 hits (and more than twenty chart toppers!), Owens could barely graze the highlights of his catalog in this thirty minute set But in only 11 songs he manages to touch on classic hits, album cuts, covers of his hero Chuck Berry, and material from his upcoming album. And he does it without resorting to the medleys that had helped him squeeze more fan favorites into his live sets of the 1960s. The jangle of Owens’ silver sparkle Telecaster (which may very well have been Don Rich’s ‘66) kicks off “Act Naturally” and the band falls in behind him. Curtsinger provides the harmony foil once supplied by Don Rich, and Christofferson echoes Tom Brumley’s steel solo on “Together Again.”

Owens is in terrific voice, and his enthusiasm belies the number of times he’d performed “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “Crying Time,” “Tiger By the Tail” and “A-11,” each remaining fresh and potent decades after they’d been introduced. Even more enticing is a duet with Yoakam on “Under Your Spell Again.” The pair don’t lock their vocals together as seamlessly as had Owens & Rich, but the joy in their voices - Owens rediscovering the joy of a singing partner, and Yoakam singing with his hero - is palpable. The single “Hot Dog,” a cover of Owens’ 1956 turn as Corky Jones, gives the band a chance to rock, as does the closing cover of “Johnny B. Goode.”

This set combines the previously released CD and DVD into one package, with the same song list shared by both formats. The four-page booklet includes credits, but no liner notes, and no remembrances from anyone involved as to how this show came together or what it meant to the participants. For the second half of the bill, including “Streets of Bakersfield,” check out the companion volume on Dwight Yoakam. Owens took this band on the road, producing the belatedly released double-disc Buck Owens Live In San Francisco 1989, but it’s hard to top a Sunday night in Texas with Buck & Dwight! [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace