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April 19

Why today? The chart-topper was released on this date 45 years ago.

About the record: Capitol 5410, recorded March 25, 1965, at the Capitol Tower studio in Hollywood. Released on April 19 that year, reaching No. 1 on Billboard‘s country chart. Also appeared on Before You Go / No One But You, Capitol ST 2353, released July 26, 1965. It went to No. 1 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

You might say this song, written by Owens and his guitar-and-fiddle-slinging right-hand man Don Rich, is a tribute to Owens’ previous single. The verses have the groove of “(I’ve Got A) Tiger By The Tail,” while the chorus suggests its flip side, “Cryin’ Time.” Interesting arrangement — and it worked.

In my opinion, the Buckaroos were second — barely — to only one band: Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours of the same period. (E.T. and his boys, by the way, were on this very date laying down a classic of their own, “Waltz Across Texas,” in Nashville.) Here, Rich provides the searing harmony and the jangly Telecaster lead guitar, with the great Tom Brumley sweetening the chorus with his steel guitar.

Nothin’ but the honey, as Eddie Stubbs might say.


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April 6

Why today? It was on this date in 1958 that Merle Haggard turned 21 in prison. (He wasn’t, however, doing life without parole.)

About the record: Capitol 2219, recorded on May 9, 1968, in the Capitol Tower’s studio in Hollywood. Released the following month, eventually topping the Billboard country chart. Also appeared on Mama Tried, Capitol ST 2972, released Oct. 3, 1968. It reached No. 4 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

In the first few years of his career, Merle Haggard made no mention of his record of arrests and, in 1957, a sentence to San Quentin prison on a robbery conviction. But in the mid-’60s, he started writing songs about it — “Branded Man,” “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive,” “Sing Me Back Home,” and “Mama Tried.” On this great record, I think it’s Roy Nichols, longtime axeman for the Hag, providing the nimble acoustic picking, and James Burton on the brief but piercingly effective electric lead licks. (Anyone with info to the contrary, please advise.) And, as always in those days, then-wife Bonnie Owens provided the harmony voice.

About the artist: If you’d rather not do the math, today is mighty Merle’s 73rd birthday. He’s been a force in country music for close to a half-century. Check out this bio and see what I mean.

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March 25

Why today? It’s the fourth anniversary of Buck Owens’ death – an event that came 47 years and two days after the release of “Second Fiddle,” his first charted single.

About the record: Capitol F4172, recorded Oct. 9, 1958, at the Capitol Tower studio in Hollywood. Released March 23, 1959; reached No. 24 on Billboard’s country chart. Also appeared on the album Buck Owens, Capitol T 1489, released Jan. 30, 1961.

As the liner notes to the reissue of that eponymous 1961 album attest, “[t]he sound that became the legend starts right here.” This was a few years before the classic Buckaroos lineup of Don Rich, Tom Brumley, Doyle Holly and Willie Cantu was assembled; the pickers you hear include the great Ralph Mooney on steel and Jelly Sanders on fiddle. Gotta love that shuffle, too. It may be forever associated with Ray Price, but Buck’s early Capitol sides did that familiar beat proud.

I’ve always liked the line “Like an early morning paper / the news you get just part.” These days, I have to say, it’s never been more true.

About the artist: Check out this and that previous 3 Chords a Day posts on Buck Owens and follow the links.

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Feb. 28: Remember a couple of weeks ago, when in a discussion of country drinking songs I said this was one of the best? Today, on the 44th anniversary of its release as a single, you get to judge for yourself.

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Click to hear "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)"

Click to hear "Above And Beyond"

Dec. 23: Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. gave the world a great Christmas present 50 years ago today, when he recorded these honky-tonk classics in the same session. They’re both so great that I couldn’t choose just one. So, as Ernie Banks once said, let’s play two.

It was Buck’s fourth trip to the Capitol Tower studios in Hollywood as a solo artist, and a killer lineup of musicians — Ralph Mooney (steel guitar), Rollie Weber (guitar), Al Williams (bass), Pee Wee Adams (drums) and George French Jr. (piano) — helped him shine. And let’s not forget the fiddle player: Don Rich, in his first session with his friend Owens. Before long he would learn to play lead guitar, adding his hot Telecaster to the Buck Owens mix. He became chief Buckaroo and his boss’ right-hand man and best friend.

“Excuse Me” was a Buck composition; Harlan Howard is responsible for “Above And Beyond.” Both appeared on each album depicted here: Buck Owens (1960) and The Best of Buck Owens (1964). My father had a monaural copy of the latter, and I have fond memories of him playing it regularly. Its tracks represent the beginnings of the Bakersfield sound that helped put Buck Owens in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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