Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Buck Owens & Susan Raye - Merry Christmas From

Finally, after nearly two years!

Way back on December 15, 2005, Ernie (of Ernie Not Bert) first posted this album at his blog. How I missed it the first time, I'm not sure but I spent a few days smacking myself in the head over my failure to download.

Ernie reposted the album (you da man, Ern!) and I got my copy last year on November 23rd, 2006.

For those who only Buck from his days on "Hee Haw", here's the quick story:

Born Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr. in 1929, he grew up on a Texas farm whose family mule was named Buck. At the age of three, he announced to the family that his name was Buck too. No one thankfully objected.

While working as a truck driver in the late-1940s, Owens found himself driving through the picturesque San Joaquin Valley in California on his way to Bakersfield. The beauty of the land convinced Buck that this was the place where he wanted to settle down and did so in 1950.

Meanwhile, up in the state of Oregon, a girl named Susan Raye was born in 1944. While she attended high school, she discovered her flair for singing. She auditioned for a local radio station and got a job as a disc jockey. This led to work on television on a Portland TV station where she hosted a show called "Hoedown".

While Raye was finding her voice, Buck found his. He gave up his truck and became one of Capitol Record's busiest session musicians, recording for the likes of Tennessee Ernie Ford, Faron Young, Gene Vincent, and Del Reeves. Just as Buck was getting ready to launch a career for himself, something happened.

A new music craze called "rock-n-roll" hit and Owens took to it immediately. If you're searching the record bins and come across an obscure rockabilly hit called "Hot Dog" by Corky Jones, grab it. Buck recorded it under that name and it was the only rockabilly song he ever released!

In 1959, Buck launched his country music career. At the time, Chet Atkin's "countrypolitan" sound was the main thing - lush strings, Mitch Miller-like background vocals, and slow ballads accompanying crooners like Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, and Patsy Cline. Also known as the Nashville sound, it dominated country music, slowly made in-roads onto the pop charts, and left a void for authentic country music.

Buck created the Bakersfield sound. Two Fender Telecasters, both picking and not strumming, a big backbeat, lots of steel pedal guitar, and a hot fiddle thrown in for good measure. The sound was totally unique and it filled the gap that the Nashville sound abandoned. A former bandmate of Buck's (who coined the name Buckaroos) went on to have his own established career with the Bakersfield sound. His name was Merle Haggard!

Back in Oregon, Susan Raye was singing in clubs, at fairs, and took any singing job she could take. She was still waiting for her big break. It would be some time before it would happen.

Buck Owens & His Buckaroos' had a string of hit after hit, peaking with his 1963 #1 hit, "Act Naturally". Owens was so influential in country music that the Beatles took notice, covering "Act Naturally" on their "Help!" soundtrack album in 1965.

At Christmas, 1965, Buck released his first Christmas album. Entitled "Christmas With", it's a perfect mix of Buck, the Bakersfield sound, and Christmas all wrapped into one. With such songs as "Blue Christmas Lights", "It's Christmas Time For Everyone But Me", and Buck's signature "Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy" to complement the standards, it's a great album of country and Christmas.

The following year, Buck released his live "Carnegie Hall Concert" album which captures Buck conquering New York City. For his next "live" album, Owens travelled to the metropolis of Tokyo, Japan where his music was immensely popular. "Buck Owens & His Buckaroos in Japan" was the first country album recorded outside of the United States and was a huge international success in 1967.

In 1968, Buck decided to record a wholly new Christmas album. "Christmas Shopping" features mostly original Christmas songs. Some of these songs are beautiful sentiments of Christmas ("Merry Christmas From Our House To Yours"), others are tongue-in-cheek ("Christmas Shopping"), even a country/tragedy song ("All I Want For Christmas Is My Daddy". Some fans of Buck's prefer his first Christmas album to this one. Not me. This is the one I reach for.

Later that same year, Jack McFadden, Buck's manager, travelled to Oregon and caught a show featuring Susan Raye. He was so impressed he invited her to travel to Bakersfield to audition for Buck himself. She made the trek to Bakersfield, Owens loved her style of singing, and promptly invited her to join him on tour. Raye had gotten her big break.

At Christmas, 1968, Buck & His Buckaroos' took a trip around the moon. They recorded a special cassette for the crew of Apollo 8 for their orbital mission. If you find a space documentary called "For All Mankind", you'll hear a snippet of the recording.

Around this time, Buck began co-hosting "Hee Haw" on CBS and began recording with Susan Raye. Many of their singles were hits on the country charts, including "The Great White Horse", "Togetherness", and "We're Gonna Get It Together" as well as solo singles that were moderate successes on the country charts. Raye's popularity was on the rise and she soon joined the cast of "Hee Haw" as well.

In 1971, CBS pulled the plug on "Hee Haw" but the show was picked up for syndication. Both Owens and Raye stayed with the show while working on their recording careers.

Raye's first top ten hit in 1971 was "Willy Jones", a song written by Buck. She followed it up with "L.A. International Airport", another top ten country hit that reached #53 on Billboard's Top 100. This song became a certified international hit when it reached #1 in Australia. Raye had become a full fledged country star without ever stepping foot in Nashville - just like Buck and Merle.

This 1971 Christmas album you see contains a mere ten songs; three songs are from "Christmas With", the other seven are off "Christmas Shopping". The addition of Susan Raye adds a new dimension to these tunes with her rich voice expertly handling both lead and background vocals. Buck and Susan fit together quite nicely and after hearing just Buck sing these songs repeatedly over the years, this is a wonderful new way to hear them again.

Raye's career continued to flourish during the early 1970s. She had her biggest solo hit in 1972 with "(I've Got A) Happy Heart" which reached #3 on the country charts as well as another top ten hit with "My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own", a Connie Francis cover. Her success continued through 1974 which fate stepped into both Raye's and Owens door.

Don Rich, longtime guitarist, harmony partner, and best friend of Owens, died in a motorcycle accident. Rich's death caused Buck to semi-retire from recording and ended his collaboration with Raye. Raye signed with United Artist Records and continued to record, never again having the same success as when she recorded under Buck. She retired in 1978 to devote more time to her family.

Buck tried to revive his country career. In the late 1970s, he recorded several albums (in Nashville of all places) and the results were not well received by Buck's longtime fans, the country charts, country radio, even Buck himself. By the mid-1980s, he was no longer recording and was forever known as a a country comedian on "Hee Haw". Owens quit the show in 1986 after co-hosting for nearly 17 years.

Susan Raye had decided at this time to head back to college. She received her degree in psychology and tried to strike gold again in the music industry in 1985. She recorded two albums and charted a few singles but instead of building on that, she took her college degree and began working successfully as a psychologist.

Around this time, a young country singer named Dwight Yoakam came along. A total disciple of the Bakersfield sound, he asked Buck to help him record a song entitled "Streets Of Bakersfield". It went to #1 and Buck was back on the music scene again.

Owens had shrewdly bought back all his published rights from Capitol Records in 1974, all remaining copies of his albums in Capitol warehouses worldwide, and controlled his music like a hawk. No music of Buck's was on the shelves for nearly 15 years. He began reissuing his albums through a deal with Sundazed Records and began performing again. While on the road, Owens began selling original, shrink-wrapped copies of his albums at premium prices (clever, clever guy!).

Throughout the 1990s, Buck divided his time between Bakersfield and the road. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1996 and at decades' end, he celebrated his 70th birthday with a reunion concert of the original Buckaroos at Buck's Crystal Palace in Bakersfield.

Susan Raye made her final public appearance (to date) at the 75th anniversary of the Los Angeles International Airport on August 6, 2003. She sang "L.A. International Airport" naturally with a Bakersfield band backing her up. She continues to work as a psychologist.

Well into his 70s, Buck was still appearing on stage. Such was the case on March 24, 2006 when he joined his bandmates for a chicken-fried steak dinner before a show at the Crystal Palace. He wasn't feeling well and was planning on skipping then show when Buck encountered a group of people from Oregon. They had driven all the way down to see Buck that very night.

Buck told a friend "if somebody's come all that way, I'm gonna do the show and give it my best shot. I might groan and squeak, but I'll see what I can do." Buck Owens died the following day of a heart attack in his sleep.

Country Music Television ranked him #12 in their "40 Greatest Men In Country Music" special in 2003 (why so low?) while voting "The Buckaroos" the 2nd greatest country music band of all time.

If you get a chance to buy Buck's two solo Christmas albums, they're well worth the money. And this little gem is great to hear Susan Raye in her prime.

UP NEXT: What I downloaded on November 24, 2006 at 1:30 AM



Ernie said...

I'm not sure why this LP hasn't see the light of day on CD...

Anonymous said...

Hi, I don't know if you're going to read this or not but I just wanted you to know that I really love your blog as I think it's the very best Christmas music related one on the web!

Anyways, I have a request of sorts. I've been looking for the Something Festive A&M Christmas album for download for ages and all I could find so far was the Sergio Mendes track. Beautiful as it is, I want the whole album, of course! Any chance that you may have it and could please post it?



CaptainOT said...

Ernie - Good question. Not sure if Capitol just forgot about it or not. Thanks for saving it from the landfill!

Lino - Thank you for the kind words but I don't own a copy of "Something Festive" and I'm sure many of those tracks off the album are available on CD somewhere.

Start searching your local Goodwill and Salvation Army vinyl bins!


Anonymous said...

Hi Came across this looking for This album tonight. I really enjoyed reading this. I grew up on this Christmas album (which we had on 8track) I wish it was on CD. I do have a question that maybe you could answer: I was very young then 6 or 7 but I remember a song that I thought was on this called "Christmas in November" But I can see that it isn't. Do you happen to know what album it was from?
Thank you so much

CaptainOT said...

Anon - The only song I know called "Christmas In November" is by Elton Britt, a totally different country singer from Buck Owens!

It might be available on a Christmas compilation somewhere. If I can find a comp before one of our loyal readers beats me to it, I'll post the link here!


Laura said...

December 22, 2007
Thank you for that history you've posted on Buck Owens.
I grew up listening to the Susan Raye and Buck Owens Christmas album. I would love to own it on cd. I saw on the Buck Owens website that they have the other two albums on CD now. While they're good, it's just not the same without Susan Raye.

CaptainOT said...

Laura - Glad you enjoyed the post and still love Susan Raye!


Sherri Walker-McCann said...

OMG! I have been looking for this album too! I grew up listen to "I want some of this and some of that...." and "all I want for Christmas is my daddy.." How can I get a copy-can you help??

CaptainOT said...

Sherri - In the second paragraph of this review, you'll find a link to the world of Ernie (Not Bert) where I found this album and many others!

Thanks for stopping by!


Daylight said...

My uncle bought this in 71...the ear I was born. From the time I was two until I turned 18 , I went with them on their summer vacations in their motor home that he built from the chassis up. Looking at it you would have sworn it came off an assembly line. We would drive eight hours straight, sometimes more. I always snuck the 8 track of Buck O. and Susan R. in with us.About an hour into the trip I would start begging to listen to it. This was in JULY!! He always gave in and we would listen to it over and over and over....with me singing along. Finally the motorhome became where that 8 track was kept. It went on 16 years of vacations. When I would visit them at other times, is git out and get it and listen to it inside. Then it always went back to the motorhome. When I was 22, my Uncle passed away from cancer. But before he died, he made sure to give me that 8 track. I treasure it, and it stays in a safe place. I bring it our each year at Christmas and listen to it another hundred times.