Friday, March 30, 2007

'Cause I can play this here guitar, Pt. 6

California country music was a distinct breed by the late '50 and early '60s. We had southern hillbillies like Merle Travis and Joe Maphis who migrated to California, embraced the electric guitars that were becoming common, and developed virtuoso playing styles, all while having loads of fun.

Meanwhile, a little north of Los Angeles in Bakersfield, CA, Buck Owens was developing a style of music combining hillbilly traditional country and blugrass vocals and song structure with twangy electric guitars, solid drums, and great pop hooks.

Many feel that Buck's best asset was his guitarist, fiddle player, and harmony partner Don Rich. From wikipedia:

He was born Donald Eugene Ulrich and playing violin at the age of three. As a teenager growing up in Tumwater, Washington, he picked up the guitar as well. During those years he caught the ear of Buck Owens, then a DJ and musician in Tacoma. After Don graduated from high school, he planned to become a music teacher. He quit college after a year or so to join Buck's band, named the Buckaroos by Merle Haggard.

Most people won't remember his name alone. If you tell them he was Buck Owens' guitarist, the leader of the Buckaroos, some people might recall the handsome, talented guy who died too soon. But mention this name to a guitar player who's been around awhile, and you'll see a look of utter amazement. They'll remember the fast fingers and chicken pickin' that made the Buckaroos so famous.

From the 1950s through today, many Buckaroos came and went, but Buck only had ONE "right arm" and that was Don Rich. Together they went from playing one night stands to the top of the charts. In the late 1960s, the Buckaroos won "Band of the Year" awards several times. Through TV shows like "The Buck Owens Ranch" and "Hee Haw," the Buckaroos' audience grew. There were several Buckaroos albums recorded without Buck.

Don's talent was not limited to the guitar and his singing voice. He was an excellent fiddle player as well. He cut an album in 1972 called "That Fiddlin' Man."

Rich started out playing fiddle with Buck Owens & The Buckaroos, before switching to guitar in 1962. Rich, like Owens, played a custom sparkle-finish Fender Telecaster electric guitar, and took advantage of this guitar's unique tones to create the bassy rhythms and twangy "chicken pickin'" that became a characteristic of the genre. His playing style can be heard in the 1963 Buck Owens hit "Act Naturally," a song which was later covered by The Beatles. With The Buckaroos, Rich helped create 19 number 1 country hits in the 1960s.

Rich died on July 17, 1974, at the age of 32 after a motorcycle accident along Highway 99 north of Bakersfield after a recording session at the Buck Owens Studios then located in Oildale. He was on his way to Morro Bay, California, to join his wife and family for a summer vacation when he lost control of his motorcycle and struck a guardrail resulting in his tragic and untimely death. His simple grave is located at Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery on Kern Canyon Road (Highway 184) in the foothills of northeast Bakersfield.

Here's a great example of Don's playing in the solo of this song:

Here's another great solo. Note 2 guys singing into the same mic, the rock elements in the solo, kinda reminds me of some English group:

Wait, didn't that English group cover this song?

Oh yeah, listen to Don's playing all through the song. Badass.