A Buck Owens Film?

Courtesy: The Bakersfield Californian | Saturday, Apr 1 2006

             There's a great screenplay waiting to be written on the life of Buck Owens, the country-rockabilly legend who'll be eulogized today in Bakersfield.
             Buck was an up-from-the-bootstraps child of the Dust Bowl who became a musical innovator and industry legend -- with just enough quirks and human shortcomings to be an honest, fully developed character.
             Not that a screenplay could begin to cover his life. A "Lord of the Rings"-type serialization, maybe. Of course, if a single screenplay can't do him justice, how could the special Buck section that's included in your newspaper today? Here are just a few of the leftovers from that effort, and from the past week -- Buck Week in Bakersfield.
             One more record?: Buck wrote 450 songs, recorded at least 47 albumsand released at least 97 singles during his half-century as an entertainer. But is there more? Enough for one more record?
             The vaults are not exactly overflowing with never-heard studio tapes by the Buckster. "He used everything," longtime Buckaroo keyboardist Jim Shaw said last week. "Studio time was precious so he didn't spend a lot of extra time doing things he didn't intend to use. He wouldn't go in and cut 11 songs and then decide which two not to use, like some people did." That doesn't mean there isn't a gem or two tucked away somewhere.
             "There is some stuff he sang on 'Hee Haw" that never came out on record," Shaw said. "All that stuff was sung live, and he gave some nice performances. There was some stuff he recorded later in life, too. But we'd only use stuff Buck would have been proud of."
             In November 2001 Buck told me he was about halfway through another album -- basically just Buck, his trusty old Fender Telecaster guitar, plus an accordion, harmonica, fiddle, mandolin and digital keyboard, set up right there in the privacy of his gargantuan, oak-and-beveled glass office at the headquarters of KUZZ radio. "Buck Owens and his one-man band," he called it. He did have a little help: Brad Paisley and Dwight Yoakam lent their harmonizing voices to a couple of separate tracks.
             Buck said at the time he'd written 30 songs over the span of a few months, two or three of which he said, "I'm really proud of." His favorite, he said, was called "Shut Up and Play the Piano."
             Nobody has any immediate plans to mine the archives for a posthumous record, Shaw said. And Buck's staff has a few other things to deal with in the weeks ahead. But who knows? The Buck nostalgia factor is as high as it's ever been.
             The last word from Buck: It's hard to say for sure, but the last interview Owens gave may have been with Melinda Miles of Car Kulture DeLuxe, a retro-greaser-hot rod magazine that at one time was based in Bakersfield.
             Buck talked about rockabilly, Vegas and, naturally, cars. (He said he owned 35, including two garishly appointed Buckmobiles, which was news to me.) Buck's best car story, however, involved a 1959 Ford Skyliner with a steel top that folded into the trunk.
             Buck and the boys were touring Florida one February in the early 1960s. "So it would rain and then sunshine and then rain and more sunshine," Buck told Miles, "and we would put the top down, then up, down and up, up and down.
             "Finally after several times doing this the top got stuck half up and half down. We just couldn't get it to move and, oh the looks we got from passers-by. We drove it 60 miles before we found a mechanic to fix it. It wasn't funny at the time but it is now."
             He didn't just love mules: If you were surprised to learn that Buck, as noted in Friday's obituary, had asked that well-wishers donate to the Bakersfield SPCA in lieu of flowers, you weren't alone.
             Kevin Lykins, executive director of the local SPCA office, was stunned, too. But then again he wasn't.
             Buck and former wife Jennifer Smith were dedicated benefactors, Lykins said, noting their donations helped build the Jennifer and Buck Owens Puppy Room, where puppies up for adoption are housed.
             "We were extremely honored that he thought of us," Lykins said.
             The tributes roll in: Fans keep calling Buck's flagship radio station, KUZZ, with fond recollections, but some are writing to the newspaper too. Don Moody and Henry Morales wrote heartfelt poems. Barbara Stephens wrote to say she probably got one of the last fan photos with Buck, taken the week before his March 25 death, and Sandy Holly (the sister of former Buckaroo Doyle Holly) figures she got one of the last autographs.
             Suzan Joy, wife of "Streets of Bakersfield" writer Homer Joy, e-mailed to say she'd gotten a dozen country music radio stations from Idaho to Arkansas to play that song at precisely the same time Bakersfield stations (all of them, of every format) played their simultaneous tribute at noon Friday.
             And I received e-mails from three continents, including one from Ruben Edvin Nysether of Norway, who wanted us to know Buck was 'Big in' Oslo, too.
             So long, Buck: I can't help thinking of the night I visited the Crystal Palace about six weeks ago. I'd brought my Cal State Bakersfield students to his dinner club and museum for the concluding session of the class (The Bakersfield Sound: Poverty, Migration and Twang).
             Buck came over and shook hands with every student, including a guest from Japan. "I love Japan," he told her. "Even wrote a song about it." Then he gave us a personal, 30-minute tour of his museum, just like he'd promised. The manager told me afterward she'd never seen him do that for anybody.
             Then he got up on stage and performed an amazingly long set in which he played fiddle, lap steel and mandolin. He passed up a golden opportunity to make fun of my dancing, probably in deference to my wife, who actually can dance.
             It was last time I saw him. I'll miss him. - Robert Price

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