Friday, May 27, 2005


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 27, 2005

For a jolting reminder of the era when both country music and local television productions were raw, real, spontaneous and fun, a good place to start is The Buck Owens Ranch Show DVD collection.

Available only through Owens’ Web site, these three discs contain episodes of Owens’ syndicated television show, which showed in some 100 markets between 1966 and 1972.

Before I get started here I’d be remiss not to give a consumer warning. Strictly speaking. these DVDs are a giant rip off.

Sold only separately they cost $29.99 each, plus postage and handling, so if you get all three the cost is over $100. Each disc contains only three 30-minute episodes — and unfortunately each one contains one inferior early ‘70s segment (more on that later).

That being said, I’m glad I spent the money. I love these DVDs.

Part of it is sentimental. The Buck Owens Ranch was taped in my hometown of Oklahoma City at WKY-TV studios. The show initially was sponsored by a local store, Mathes Brothers Furniture. I saw the very first episode in 1966 and rarely missed it on Friday night until I moved to Santa Fe in 1968.

But even more important than these precious memories, is the fact that nearly 40 years later, the music not only holds up, it’s even better than I remember.

The Buckaroos was an extremely tight little roadhouse band. “Tender” Tom Brumley was one amazing steel guitarist. But the real menace was guitarist/singer/occasional fiddler Don Rich. His guitar solos often were breathtaking and sometimes downright crazy. His harmonies with Owens could rip out your heart and stomp on it.

Though Buck and his band were the main focus, there were some fine guest performers as well. Bakersfield icon Tommy Collins was a frequent guest, performing mainly novelty songs, (at least on these DVDs.) Kaye Adams, famous for her proto-feminist trucker theme “Little Pink Mac,” also was a semi-regular.

By far the most surreal performance in this collection was J.D. Sumner & The Stamps Quartet, a gospel group, led by a frog-voiced singer with a pencil-thin mustache. (This group would become part of Elvis Presley’s stage show.) Here they sing “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” I had to check the credits to make sure that David Lynch didn’t direct this episode. The Stamps, in their pompadours, matching green suits and otherworldly expressions are weird enough. But what about the sudden shifts of Sumner’s scalp? His hair looks like some sleeping mammal that wakes up only when Sumner hits certain notes.

The earlier definitely were the most fun. As the DVD notes explains, “During the first few years, the shows were performed live to tape—each segment between commercial breaks was done without stopping or editing!”

Indeed, there were some rough moments there. You sometimes can hear the sound man making adjustments in the middle of a song. Whenever someone sings near the fountain, you can hear the water gurgling. And at one point Buck practically has to shout at Tommy Collins, who was on another part of the set, to start a song.

But by 1970, the show became slicker, more professional -- and ultimately far less immediate and far less charming.

As the DVD notes explain, “In later years Buck brought his son Mike in to help and they started editing the shows together after the songs were taped.”

In the 1970 and ‘71 shows included in the DVDs, The Buckaroos still have Rich, though his role seems diminished. Brumley was gone. Instead of Tommy Collins and Kay Adams, there’s the cheesy Hager Twins and Buck’s talentless son, “Buddy Alan.” (I do like big-haired/mini-skirted singer Susan Raye, who had joined the Owens troupe by this time though.)

In short The Buck Owens Ranch had become a junior version of Hee-Haw, which Buck had started co-hosting in 1969.

Owens quickly was heading for artistic decline by 1970. But the mid ‘60s episodes included in these DVDs show Buck Owens in his prime.

{CLICK HERE for an interesting article that contains some deatils about The Buck Owns Ranch.}

Other notable music DVDs:

The Dirty South Live at the 40 Watt Club by Drive-By Truckers. The Truckers don’t make it out to New Mexico very often (last time was January 2002 when they played Burt’s Tiki Lounge in Albuquerque), so if you’ve been craving to see this band, this DVD might have to do.

The performances here, including nearly all the songs from their latest and best album The Dirty South, was recorded last August at the kick-off shows for their 2004 tour.

It’s a hometown crowd for The Truckers (who, like R.E.M. before them, rose from the Athens, Ga. Scene) so the energy is high and crowd’s enthusiasm seems to fuel the band.

Besides the Dirty South tunes, the Truckers also include some of their greatest older tunes, including “Sinkhole” and “The Southern Thing” and their wild-eyed Southern boy version of Jim Carrol’s “People Who Died.”

My only complaint: No “Steve McQueen.”

The Pretenders Greatest Hits
(to be released June 7). One of the first videos I ever saw on MTV featured guys in business suits jumping up and down in slow motion on “Back on the Chain Gang.” It’s true, Chrissie Hynde’s sad and soulful voice is the main draw of that beautiful song, but the video imagery, Chrissie in her denim jacket and windswept sheepdog bangs, helped burn it in my mind forever.

This collection includes classic late ‘70s/early ‘80s Pretenders works as well as increasingly less essential products going up to the late ’90s.

I started losing interest in The Pretenders’ music almost 20 years ago, and have been disappointed with all their post Learning to Crawl albums. But seeing a scowling Chrissie with graying hair and a black cowboy hat in the 1999 “Human” video, looking like some criminally insane cousin of Lucinda Williams makes me want to give some of her more recent stuff another listen.

1 comment:

  1. Hey man, I am from Chandler, OK and remember the Buck Owens Show and Jude N Jody Shows for sure. Both shows were always a favorite to watch. I wish Jude would make available all their shows on dvd too. There are not enough of the Buck Owens Shows out there either. If you ever find any let me know or call 405-240-3956. My name is David Hayes


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