Sunday, January 26, 2014

Buck Owens Brunch # 1: Dwight Yoakam Coaxes Buck Out of Retirement

Wednesday, September 23, 1987

Dwight Yoakam came to the offices of Buck Owens Productions just before five in the afternoon. The 30- year-old singer, with several Top 10 records to his credit, was in the vanguard of the movement back to traditional country music. In Bakersfield to perform at the Kern County Fair, he hoped to meet the man he idolized as a youth, and whose music he championed as a rising star.

Buck Owens hadn't recorded in over a decade. He was kicking back, presiding over a corporation that included four radio stations, a television station and two weekly newspapers. The glory years of writing songs that became country standards, of one #1 record after another, of the Bakersfield Sound and the sold-out concerts, were long past. In his last active decade of performing, he was known less as a singer than he was as a clowning co-star of TV's Hee-Haw. 

Buck Met Dwight that day, and as he gazed on the young singer, the knees of his blue jeans fashionably torn, he saw a bit of himself, 25 years earlier. At the beginning of his stardom, in his early 30s, Buck too had been a maverick, ready to please but unwilling to compromise. Like Buck, Yoakam decried Nashville's disdain for it's hillbilly roots. Unlike Buck, he went even further. In interviews he assailed Music Row executives who he felt slighted traditional country artists.

A bond quickly formed between the veteran and the Young Turk. Buck once had a similar bond with a younger musician: his near-telepathic relationship with his lead guitarist Don Rich. Depression over Rich's death in 1974 had sapped Buck's creativity and led to his semi-retirement in 1980.

In Dwight's presence, Buck felt that old drive stirring again. That night, for the first time ever, he appeared on stage with another artist at the Fair, singing with Dwight on a medley of old Buck Owens hits. It was an electric moment. And Buck Owens realized, after years away from the show business entity he calls "Lady Limelight," that his music still breathed in the hearts of others - and in his own.

Dwight and Buck playing at the 1988 Country Music Awards:

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