Growing up in the seventies and eighties, I thought of Buck Owens as “that guy on Hee Haw.” Of course, there’s a whole lot more to his career than Hee Haw or even his big hits that helped define the Bakersfield Sound. After all, Buck Owens was the guy who went to Japan and did the Tokyo Polka. In the late sixties into the early seventies, Buck Owens incorporated a wide variety of instruments, some of which aren’t all that common in country music. The Praguefrank Buck Owens discography has a lot of the details.
In 1970 and 1971, the Bakersfield Brass released albums of country songs with brass instruments. The second album earned a Grammy nomination for country instrumental album. The Bakersfield Brass was essentially Buck’s version of Danny Davis’ Nashville Brass. In addition to their own two albums, the Bakersfield Brass showed up on some of Buck’s other work, like his 1972 album “Live At The Nugget.” Also in 1972, the Bakersfield Brass version of “Sally Was a Good Ole Girl” was among the songs that made the trip on the Apollo 16. Episode #178 of the Buck Owens Ranch Show featured the Bakersfield Brass, and it’s available on YouTube. Don Markham of the Bakersfield Brass joined Merle Haggard’s band in 1974, and was a very important part of Merle’s sound.
I’ve mentioned before that Buck Owens was the first country star to purchase a Moog synthesizer, and that Jeff Haskell released a full album of Moog covers of Buck Owens songs called “Switched On Buck.” As the above discography shows, Jeff Haskell and the Moog showed up on Buck Owens’ own discography a little, though I’ve yet to hear any particularly prominent examples other than the “Switched On Buck” album itself.
The tambourine made its way into Buck Owens recordings in 1967, and you can see a couple of tambourines in use on episode 162 of the Buck Owens Ranch Show, which is on YouTube. Although the tambourine is an ancient instrument with thousands of years of history, it wasn’t used a whole lot in country music. The Byrds had the huge hit “Mr. Tambourine Man” in 1965, and after that, the tambourine became a lot more common in all types of music. Flatt and Scruggs covered the song and had some tambourine in 1967, so there’s a prominent bluegrass example. In 1902, Arthur Collins recorded the song “The Man Who Plays The Tambourine,” and that’s the earliest reference to the instrument on a record, as far as I’m aware.
In 1968, Earl Poole Ball played the celeste on a few Christmas songs. Earl still plays regularly in Austin. Celeste has a “toy piano” sound, and especially shows up on Christmas songs and children’s songs, though there are also examples in different types of music.
Also in 1968, Earl Poole Ball played the electric harpsichord. “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” was a big hit that had both the electric harpsichord and fuzz guitar.
In 1969, Jerry Wiggins played the bongos. There are some earlier examples in country music, but bongos are not particularly common in country music. A couple of prominent country bongo examples are Jean Shepard in 1964 with “He Plays The Bongo (I Play The Banjo)” and the 1961 Johnnie and Jack song “Uncle John’s Bongos.”
In 1970, notice the specifically credited “drumsticks on electric guitars.”
In 1972, Farfisa organ makes an appearance on “Made In Japan.” This was Buck Owens’ last number one as a solo artist. Does anyone know of any other country hits featuring the Farfisa ? Here’s Marty Stuart’s cover. In 2008, Brad Paisley featured Farfisa on a song.
Mellotron is credited in a 1974 session, so there’s yet another bit that doesn’t show up very often in country music. Mellotron has made a bit of a comeback in recent years thanks to “retro” producers like Dave Cobb.
Buck Owens’ catalog is much more varied than most realize, and there are probably even more items of interest from the Buck Owens Ranch Show, which aired 1966-1972.