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The Last Time I Saw Buck Owens:
Saying Good-bye to the Heart and Soul of Bakersfield
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT

The last time I saw Buck Owens
He was walkin’ down his boulevard
On a hot summer’s day
With his red, white, and blue guitar…

Buck Owens: 1929-2006

Where do I begin?  How do I begin to describe the man who has been the very heart and soul of Bakersfield?  How do we begin to say good-bye to a larger-than-life legendary figure­the one who, with a little help from his friends, defined the Bakersfield Sound and paved The Streets of Bakersfield with gold?  I guess I’ll begin by describing The Last Time I Saw Buck Owens:  June 29, 2005.  I wrote about it here: 

And I sang about it, “hear”: 
(Feel free to download this song for free): 
The Last Time I Saw Buck Owens
From the forthcoming CD, Confessions of a Buckaholic
as aired on the Jaz McKay Show)
Words and music by Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT ©2006 

His streets were the streets that welcomed and embraced strangers.  His streets were streets that redefined heartbreak and loneliness.  His streets knew no artificial boundaries between rock, country, and rhythm and blues.  His streets were big enough for the rich, for the poor, and for the middle-class working man and woman.  His streets wandered through the good times and the band, and made even the worst day of our lives seem bearable.  His streets reached out to younger, underground artists like John McCrae of Cake, who regarded Owens as his mentor: 

The news came crashing into my heart like a hit and run head-on collision.  I knew it was inevitable, but yet, oddly, I didn’t see it coming.  And now that Buck is gone, 

The Streets of Bakersfield seem empty.  I suggest we begin filling them up with memories and music­memories of Buck and the music of Buck.  

Buck was born in Texas, where everything is either born super-sized or in the process of growing on you.  Buck was once a little bitty baby, but boy, did Buck become big!  He seems to have become the apotheosis of rags to riches stories.  

He became a man with just a simple plan, and a guitar in his hand.  The guitar, along with his twangy vocal chords, were the primary tools he used to dig himself out of poverty, shape the face of country music, and maneuver his way into the hearts and minds of millions of fans across the world.  He was destined to be a big country rock star.  He dreamed big and made all of his dreams come true.  Though he was born in Texas, he made it big in Bakersfield, California.  And boy, did he make it big!  I’m not saying that there would be no Nashville West movement, if it were not for Buck, and I’m not saying that there would not be something called The Bakersfield Sound without his presence.  With its overly-produced songs, and its penchant for the prosaic, ountry music had turned into a diabetic that had just binged on sugar.  But he and Merle Haggard were at the helm of the movement that would turn country music on its ear and wake the world of country music up from its sugar-induced country coma.  

While other country rebels were either drunk as a skunk, doing drugs, or doing time, Buck was making the most of his time, staying out of trouble, and making all of his dreams come true.  While Merle was still stuck in San Quentin (not to be released until the day I was released from my mother’s womb), Buck was busy landing his first national hit, Under Your Spell Again. 

Buck Has Joined Johnny in Heaven
From the forthcoming CD, Confessions of a Buckaholic
Words and music by Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT, ©2006

While Johnny Cash was busy hammering out his own hits, (often while in the midst of being strung out on uppers and downers), and while I was busy hammering on the plastic strings of the Bugs Bunny guitar my parents bought me for Christmas, Buck was busy beginning a string of 15 consecutive #1 records.  When I was old enough to know that there was a musical life beyond Bugs Bunny, I began to change the channels away from my favorite cartoons.  I graduated from Bugs Bunny to Hee Haw, the show Buck co-hosted from 1969-1986.  Somewhere within that same time frame, I began to watch The Monkees (The television show) and The Johnny Cash Show, where Johnny Cash once teamed up with my then-favorite band, The Monkees, to perform Everybody Loves a Nut.  By that time, Johnny Cash had faced some of his darkest demons.  Buck, on the other hand, (with the exception of growing up poor, and then struggling with a rocky first marriage) never really got up close and personal with his dark side until 1974.  That’s when his lead guitarist, backup singer and close friend, Don Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident.  That accident, and that profound loss, really seemed to take the wind out of Buck’s sail.  It was as if everything came to an abrupt halt.  His music suffered, his personal life suffered, and his mood sunk to a new low.  

Never forgetting his roots, and never forgetting that he was the “Captain Crunch” among boring bowls of soggy country Corn flakes coming out of Nashville, Buck gradually began to pick up the pieces again, and put his life back together.  He remarried in 1979, and made a huge comeback in 1988 with his Grammy-award-winning signature hit, The Streets of Bakersfield, performed with Dwight Yokam.  I'll never forget singing that song with him as we walked down those very streets in 2005.  

In 1996, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and, in 1996, he opened the Crystal Palace, the museum and dinner club that would be the performing arena for scores of ineffably talented country and rock stars, the place that would house a legion of bronze statues representing such country icons as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Owens himself.  Though it will likely survive, with donated funds and the legacy of its founder, as I drive by it now, all I see is a haunted castle without a king, framed in a shrine of flowers, cards and balloons.  

When Buck Owens passed away on March 25, 2006, we lost more than a multi-millionaire multi-media mogul.  We lost the King of the Crystal Palace and the King of Kern County.  I said it one before, and I’ll say it again. Buck Owens was, and is, the heart and soul of Bakersfield.  We will really miss him.  I’d like to ask the rest of the world to listen to Buck's signature song, The Streets of Bakersfield, to envision Buck walking down those streets with his red, white and blue guitar in hand, and then, to graciously bow your head in a moment of silence to remember one of the world’s greatest country singers, one of the world's most heart-warming entertainers, one of the world's most magnanimous charitable givers, and one of the greatest creative forces in the history of Western civilization---period.  I'll see you later---I'm on my way to the closest juke joint to play some of my favorite Buck songs.  Now, let's see, how much change do I have in these pockets of mine?  Great, four quarters, and, it seems that's about all the spare change I'll need.  After all, 

Four Quarters Gets Me Two Buck Songs

(From the forthcoming CD, Confessions of a Buckaholic)
Words and music by Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT ©2006 


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