Jim Shaw of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos
By DR. BRUCE L. THIESSEN, Dr. B.L.T.
Where were you born and raised? Born in Esterville, Iowa, Sept. 29,
1946. Moved to Seaside, Calif. at the age of 6, Fresno a year later.
Are there any events that have shaped your direction, and prompted you
to seek a career as professional performer and recording artist? Not
really. I never actually sought out this career.
Describe your musical influences. A great variety... surf rock and the
Beatles, later Blood, Sweat and Tears and The Band, various country
artists in my late teens (including Buck Owens' fresh new sound).
How did you get to be such a great keyboard player? I'm not really a
great player. I think I compensate for my lack of formal training,
proper technique, etc. by trying to play simpler things that fit what
the song requires. Nothing fast and fancy... just the basics. I try to
listen to what the rest of the Buckaroos are playing and decide what I
should add that will enhance the overall feel of the tune. I think
Buck had a lot to do with this in my younger years with him.
When did you join Buck Owens and the Buckaroos? What were the
circumstances surrounding you being added to the band? In October of
1969 a local musician friend of mine named Doyle Curtsinger (formerly
of Ronnie Pearson and the RonDons) joined Buck Owens' Buckaroos. This
was a real big deal to all of the rest of us Fresno country
musicians... Buck was a huge star to us all! Doyle hadn't moved to
Bakersfield yet and was commuting back and forth (about a hundred
miles each way) to do his recording in Buck's new state-of-the-art
recording studio. Meanwhile, my group was doing quite well at this
time and I had been considering recording an album to sell at the
Nashville West. I ran into Doyle one day at a local music store and he
suggested that Buck's wonderful new state-of-the-art 16 track
recording studio was the place to do it! He had only been in the
Buckaroos for a couple of months at this time, and he didn't want to
overstep his bounds and get in trouble, but he said if I wanted to
ride along with him to Bakersfield the next time they recorded (which
was quite often) I could check out the studio and get prices from the
engineer (Lee Furr)... as long as I was very "low-profile" and didn't
call any attention to myself. I said "Great!"
So, on one morning in January of 1970, I rode with Doyle to
Bakersfield, and hung around out front while he went into the
recording studio to go to work. As I gathered together rate cards and
brochures and asked questions I had no idea of the little drama
brewing out in the studio.
Buck often used piano players on his sessions to fatten up the rhythm
section, even though he had never officially had one in the Buckaroos.
Since he had just built his new studio in Bakersfield, he was in need
of a piano player who could be available. Someone had told him that
David Frizzell, then living nearby, could play enough rhythm piano to
do the job, so Buck had hired him for that day's session.
Unfortunately, the song Buck chose to record that day, "Down In New
Orleans," was quite a complicated little song, with tricky chord
changes for someone who "dabbled" at the piano. Buck and the band were
ready to record the tune, but David was struggling and kept making
mistakes. As Buck was becoming very frustrated, Doyle mentioned that
"there's a guy out in the lobby who's a piano player from Fresno).
The next thing I knew the door from the studio flew open and right in
front of me was the world famous Buck Owens saying, "Can you play that
song?" I didn't have a clue as to what he was talking about. I said,
"Sure." He led me into the studio, where I saw Don Rich, Doyle, Jerry
Wiggins, and a miserable looking David Frizzell. I was probably in a
state of shock. Buck said that they would run thru the song for me to
hear. I made panicked mental notes of the chords, and almost fainted
when they came to a key change in the middle and moved up to the key
of G#. Buck said, "Are you ready?" I said, "Sure."
Somehow, I got thru it without any obvious bloopers. Buck asked me if
I could stay for the rest of the session. I didn't tell him that my
ride home was his bass player... I just said, "Sure." He paid David
and sent him off.
In the following months I commuted back and forth two or three times a
week, doing sessions for Buck, Susan Raye, Buddy Alan, and more. This
was a major conflict with my college classes, and even as I struggled
with the decision of which to do, things got even more complicated.
One morning, in June of 1970, I got a call from Buck at my apartment
asking me to drive to Bakersfield to visit with him. When I arrived, I
was taken into the recording studio control room, where Buck and Don
Rich were waiting. Buck ran down the duties and benefits of being a
Buckaroo and offered me the job. That did it, college would have to
wait! I figured I'd spend a few years in the Buckaroos... the coolest
job I could imagine, and then finish up school and be an industrial
That was 35 years ago. Still here!
What were you doing prior to joining Buck Owens and the Buckaroos? In
1962, at the age of 15, I started playing in a little rock `n roll
band at Bullard High School in Fresno, California. We first called it
the Drifters, but when we were told that the name was being used
already(!!!), we changed it to the Decades. I played bass and a little
piano. Although I had some piano lessons as a child, I was basically
self taught and played by ear. We weren't very good, but we played a
few high school dances. In my junior year, I was invited to play organ
with an established Fresno group called the Paramounts. The rest of
these guys were 3 or 4 years older than me, and the leader, Mile
Carden was 23. We did mostly surf covers and opened shows for various
"name" surf acts at little shows in Fresno and outlying towns like
Avenal and Coalinga. Some of the groups we met and worked with were
the Dartells (from Oxnard) whose' main hit was "Mashed Potatoes," the
Chanteys.. "Pipeline," the Surfari's... "Wipeout" and "Surfer Joe,"
and one show with the Four Seasons where I was so jazzed that the
keyboard player used my Wurlitzer electric piano. I stayed with the
Paramounts through high school, then in early 1965 decided to make a
change when I was offered a job playing bass with the "Moonstones."
The 20 year old guitar player was Terry Christoffersen (who later
joined us in the Buckaroos in 1975 and is still with us today). We did
a lot of the British stuff... the vocals were a lot better than my
former group and I really enjoyed the music we were doing. We just did
casuals. The group broke up in the fall of '65 when Terry enlisted in
the Marine Corp reserves and I followed him in a couple of weeks later.
When I got out of the 6 month active duty portion of the Marines, I
needed to find a more lucrative job playing music to pay the rent and
put me thru college at Fresno State. I remembered that Ed Adkinson,
the other guitar player in the "Moonstones" (formerly the bass player
with Terry in the Deltas) told me that if I wanted to make a better
musical living while I was in college (i.e. play 6 nights a week) I
should consider playing country music. I had no preconceived opinions
about country... actually I didn't know a lot about it! I looked
around and found a steady Friday - Sat. night job in Lemoore, a small
town about 50 miles from Fresno where I played piano and a patient
bunch of older musicians let me figure out this "new" music as I went
along. In hindsight, it's obvious to me that they were really
desperate for a piano player! I bought a Floyd Cramer LP called "Last
Date" and figured out by ear what he was doing. The guys I worked with
showed me where to play rhythm, where to fill, etc.
Next I also got a job back in Fresno on Sunday nights at the Rocking
Horse Inn (formerly the Cozy Inn) on Railroad Ave. It was an important
club in the early days of Buck and Merle but I didn't know that at the
time. I was playing with the off-night group... Wayne Allen, and when
the regular group left to play some dates with Freddie Hart, Wayne got
the Monday thru Sat. night gig. I quit the Lemoore group and was doing
my 6 night a week thing ($20 a night, but those days my rent was $95 a
Within a few months I had caught the attention of a well known Fresno
group called the "Tommy Forse Band." (Tommy and his brother Ted had
formerly played together as the "Forse Brothers," and their guitar
player was a teen-aged Roy Nichols.) I played in this group until I
was 22, six and often seven nights a week, five hours a night. That's
where I "paid my dues" and really learned what was expected and
desired from a country piano player. Incidentally, Terry
Christoffersen also played with us in this group for part of this
time, and we were roommates in an apartment. I always loved his
playing, and plugged him shamelessly to Buck years later.
In the Fall of 1969 I was offered an opportunity to start my own group
and become the house band at the Nashville West, at that time Fresno's
hot new club. I left Tommy Forse and put together what I considered a
great band. Don Lee was my guitar player... he later joined us in the
Buckaroos in the mid '70s. Dave Gray was my vocalist and he played
trumpet as well... I later got him a job in the Bakersfield Brass.
In early 1970 I was having a great time. My band played six nights a
week, after-hours `til 5:00am on the weekends, and did a weekly live
Saturday TV Show called "Live From the Nashville West). Daytimes I
attended Fresno State College. I was working towards a degree in
industrial engineering... taking 10 or so units per semester.
How has life changed for you, since joining the band? Although the job
was originally lots of traveling and concerts, within a few years I
was given the opportunity to get into the publishing, writing, and
production aspects of Buck's companies, so it really turned into a
career more than a job. I feel I was given the privilege of getting in
on the ground floor with many of these areas... even though I was a
neophyte and got all my training "on the job."
What other life experiences have had an influence on you as a
musician? As a musician, I mostly play what Buck and the song
requires, so it doesn't feel to me that my life experiences have a lot
to do with my music.
What are some of your favorite memories associated with being with
Buck and the Buckaroos? Wow. Meeting people like John Wayne, Ed
Sullivan, Ringo Starr, and hundreds more. Traveling the world and
meeting interesting people.
What are some of the more disappointing moments associated with being
in the band? It was often a tough grueling job.... getting up at 4 or
5 in the morning to catch a series of planes to get to the next city
and concert... a few hours of sleep, and repeat. And of course the
loss of Don Rich four years after I joined the Buckaroos was
devastating to someone my age. He was my friend and a hero too.
I understand that the tragic death of Don Rich really dampened Buck's
spirits, not to mention his career. Who was Don Rich in relation to
Buck Owens and why do you think Don's death took such a toll on Buck
Owens? Don was Buck's best friend and like a brother too. They started
from scratch together with nothing and built it all up as a team...
Buck has often said that Don was as big a part of his success as he
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of joining Buck
Owens when he was further into his career, and not at the beginning,
when the Bakersfield Sound was really catching fire, and Buck was on
the rise? No advantages... I would have loved to have been there a few
years earlier. I just was born a few years too late.
Over the past few years, Buck's health has often interfered with his
ability to perform with the band. How has this affected the band, and
how does it affect the future of the band? Actually, the band is still
together and healthy as a group mainly because of the Crystal Palace.
If we hadn't built that nine years ago, we might have faded out by
now. Who knows? Buck's health is always the unknown factor, but I'm
pretty sure as long as he can climb the steps to the stage, he'll want
to entertain. (And I'd like to think he enjoys having the guys backing
him that can read his mind.)
What does your personality bring to the band? Stupid jokes and bad puns.
How would you describe your relationship with Buck Owens? In some
areas I guess the "right hand man" thing works, but there are plenty
of other people around him on a daily basis. His nephew Mel (our
General Manager) is the first one that comes to mind, and there are more.
I understand that in addition to playing in the band, you serve in a
business capacity with the band. How do you juggle the two distinct
roles? The business capacity is my varied and interesting job, and the
band is now under the category of "hobby."
How does it feel to be part of our cultural heritage and part of a
musical legacy? I can't say that I feel like part of the legacy. I got
to see a lot of fascinating and important things from a close
perspective... but I feel more like an observer than a participant.
What would you like the future to bring to you? More of the same. I
love my family and life and I'm looking forward to more wonderful
Well, there you have it. I consider it an honor to have interviewed
this humble honky-tonk hero. If you feel so inclined, come on over and
see/hear Jim in action. Join all the rest of the worldwide travelers
who have come from far and wide to see the Crystal Palace, to visit
the Buck Owens museum and to catch a show with Buck Owens and the
Buckaroos, and/or one of his guests at The Crystal Palace. Nobody is
confused as to who the big star of the band is. But don't let Jim's
gentleman-like modesty and unassuming character fool you, when he gets
on stage he'll walk you down a keyboard sidewalk that will rock your
For more information on Jim Shaw, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, and
the Crystal Palace, visit: http://www.buckowens.com/ THE BLACKBOARD
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