Tuesday, March 28, 2006


There are a lot of country artists I came to know and love while sitting and drinking coffee with my grandma in her kitchen, listening to her tell stories of how she grew up, how she fell in love, built her house from the ground up with her husband, how they tamed their little corner of the world, how he died tragically, and how she managed to carry on. Those artists, and their subject matter, and their style of playing—roots country, honky-tonk and folk—all became intertwined, the tales of romantic entanglement, heartbreak and loss and religious redemption merging with my grandma’s own stories to provide the soundtrack for my vivid imagining of her life story. Buck Owens was one of those artists, and he died this past Saturday at the age of 76. Here are the first five reasons why I’ll miss him.

1) “(I’ve Got a) TIGER BY THE TAIL” (1964; Harlan Howard, Buck Owens) from the album I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail

A classic Bakersfield stomp. My grandma and I used to dance to this one in her living room-- one time we jumped up and down so hard that we loosened the stovepipe from the wall fitting.

I've got a tiger by the tail, it's plain to see
I won't be much when you get through with me
Well, I'm a-losin’ weight and I'm turnin’ mighty pale
Looks like I've got a tiger by the tail

Well, I thought the day I met you, you were meek as a lamb
Just the kind to fit my dreams and plans
Now the pace we're livin' takes the wind from my sails
And it looks like I've got a tiger by the tail

Well, every night you drag me where the bright lights are found
There ain't no way to slow you down
I'm about as helpless as a leaf in a gale, and it looks like I've got a tiger by the tail

2) “PHFFT! YOU WERE GONE” (1966; Susan Heather) from the album Too Old to Cut the Mustard, Buck Owens and Buddy Alan

Buck and Buddy cut this one in 1966, but it went on to greater fame when it was adopted as the signature tune for one of the most enduring comedy bits on Buck’s extremely popular country variety show Hee Haw.

I know that you loved me, here's my way of knowin’
The proofs hangin’ out right there on the line
When I see the snow and feel the wind blowin’
Your nighties huggin’ them long-johns of mine

The noises you made at our supper table
Your habits, my dear, were surely absurd
But how many times do I have to tell you
Soup is a dish to be seen and not heard

Where, oh, where are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over and I thought I'd found true love
You met another and—Phfft! You were gone

3) “TALL DARK STRANGER” (1969; Buck Owens) from the album Tall Dark Stranger

Its imagery possibly influenced by the films of Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood seemingly returned the favor with the tall, dark stranger of his own film, High Plains Drifter. And I don’t remember if Stephen King made specific mention of this song in his novel The Stand, but it’s hard to believe he didn’t at least have Owens’ song rattling in the back of his mind somewhere when he conceived of the terrifying Randall Flagg.

They say a tall dark stranger is a demon
And that a devil rides closely by his side
With no warning he can strike like the thief in the night
Then jump up on his pony and ride, ride, ride
So beware of a tall dark stranger...
So don't let no stranger hang around

4) “CRYIN’ TIME” (1964; Buck Owens) (from the album I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail

Another classic weeper that my grandma used to spin for me. She used to tell me that she thought Buck Owens looked kind of goofy, but his voice told a different story. I like to think this is one of the songs she was thinking of when she said that.

Oh, it's cryin’ time again
You're gonna leave me
I can see that far-away look in your eyes
I can tell by the way you hold me, darlin’
That it won't be long before it's cryin’ time

5) “ETERNAL VACATION” (1965; Buck Owens) from the album Dust On Mother’s Bible

Buck, like many a great country artist, knew about old-time religion, and it’s hard for me not to hear this one on the wind these days…

Some people are taking vacation traveling both far and near
Never stop and think about Jesus, never say him to have a care
It seems that I cannot be like them while on Earth life's burdens I bear
And I prepare to meet Jesus and rest eternally there
Yes, someday I'll take a vacation one that never will end

And now, thanks to the good folks at YouTube.com, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, featuring Don Rich on guitar and harmony, Doyle Holly, Willie Cantu and Tom Brumley on the steel, from 1966— a live version of “(I’ve Got a) Tiger by the Tail,” just because.

R.I.P., Mr. Owens.


Anonymous said...

Ah, that video is great, and loved reading your memories of listening to Buck Owens with your grandma. I can just see the two of you dancing and stomping around to that song in her wonderful old house. Thanks for a touching piece.

Lester said...

Sounds like you had a cool grandma! Bless her for all of those memories!

Mr. Middlebrow said...

Man, that's heartbreaking. Thanks for a sweet tribute/obit, Dennis.

One of my fondest--or most vivid--memories of childhood involves lying prone on my living room floor, chin propped on my hands, staring up at Buck and Roy and the whole Hee Haw Gang (Archie Campbell! Grandpa Jones! Lulu Roman! The Hagar Twins!) pickin' and grinin' on the TV.

Even though I didn't fully appreciate it at the time--watching was basically a mandate from my Dad--the music was truly first rate (even if the comedy was pretty corn-pone).

Consequently, after a breif period of denial in my teens, I had kind of an old-school country renaissance in my 20s, spearheaded by Steve Earle and Dwight Yokham. Needless to say, Buck Owens was, and remains, at the center of it.

If I might be so bold, I'd like to offer a reason #6; one I think you'll find dovetails nicely with the theme of your blog:

They're gonna put me in the movies
They're gonna make a big star outta me
We'll make a film about a man who's sad and lonely
And I'll I gotta do is act naturally.

Well, I'll bet you I'm gonna be a big star
Might win an Oscar, you can('t) never tell
The movie's gonna make me a big star
'Cause I can play the part so well.

Via con Dios, Buck.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks, Mr. M. Of course you're right about "Act Naturally." I don't know why I didn't think about it myself!

I had the same experience with Hee Haw. I loved (most) of the music, but the comedy was pretty lowdown. Was it Archie Campbell and Gordy Tapp that did "Phfft! You Was Gone", or was that someone else?

Anonymous said...

"I remember the night you went possum huntin'
You said you'd get one and you wouldn't be long
Well, it's ten years later, and as I sit here
Sometimes I wonder if somethin' went wrong

Where, oh, where, are you tonight?
Why did you leave me here all alone?
I searched the world over and I thought I'd found true love
You met another, and phfft! You was gone"

Ah, the corny memories. I always felt bad that "Hee Haw"'s tacky reputation superseded the plain fact that Buck Owens and Roy Clark were/are world-class musicians.


P.S. Does anyone else remember one night many years ago when a public radio station in L.A. played nothing but "El Paso" for hours one Sunday night?

girish said...

Great post, and tribute to your grandma, Dennis.
I'm currently listening to "Streets of Bakersfield" by Yoakam with Buck Owens on it.
I like Buck Owens a lot but don't have one of his CDs.
Care to recommend one?

Anonymous said...

Hey, girish, I love that "Streets of Bakersfield"--thanks for reminding me it has Buck Owens on it. Dennis, i, too, would appreciate your recommendation for an Owens album.

Lester said...

girish & blaaah, I am not Dennis, but I share the same sweet grandma that Dennis did, and I highly recommend "The Buck Owens Collection" (1959-1990) from Rhino Records which features the following songs: "Second Fiddle", "Above and Beyond", "Act Naturally", "Together Again", "Ive Got a Tiger by the Tail", "Cryin Time", "Rollin in my Sweet Baby's Arms", "Streets of Bakersfield", and more. I recently saw this set advertized on Amazon.com for around $40.00. They might not last long now.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Girish: That box set is undoubtedly grand-- I never got around to picking it up, though I was mighty tempted on more than one occasion. But assuming you're not looking to go for a whole career overview right off the bat, I'd have to recommend I've Got a Tiger by the Tail for a superb studio representation of Owens' Bakersfield brand of crisply cut honky tonk (many of the same Buckaroos on the album, including Don Rich, were also featured in that video clip). I Don't Care is an excellent showcase for the Buckaroos. If you're interested in Owens' gospel leanings, Dust on Mother's Bible is a terrific record. And Owens' catalog features a trifecta of live albums-- In Japan, In London and Live at Carnegie Hall that are outstanding documents of his band's musicianship and the clarion folksiness and authority of his vocals. (Here's a link to his entire discography, complete with track listings and assessments of each album.)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Blaaagh: Those recommends go for you too, you know! Although you might also some of his newer stuff too, if you like the collaborations with Dwight Yoakam. (I do!)

girish said...

Thank you, gentlemen!
[Writing down furiously].
Think I'll begin with Tiger, and if I take to it (which I doubtless will), spring for the big ole box.

girish said...

And thanks too for the discography link, Dennis. Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the recommendations! I will definitely check 'em out.