- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Singer Buck Owens, the flashy rhinestone cowboy who shaped the sound of country music with hits such as “Act Naturally” and brought the genre to TV on the long-running “Hee Haw,” died yesterday. He was 76.

Mr. Owens died at his home, family spokesman Jim Shaw said. The cause of death was not known. Mr. Owens had undergone throat cancer surgery in 1993 and was hospitalized with pneumonia in 1997.

His career was one of the most phenomenal in country music, with a string of more than 20 No. 1 records, most released from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.

They were recorded with a honky-tonk twang that came to be known throughout California as the “Bakersfield Sound,” named for the town 100 miles north of Los Angeles that Mr. Owens called home.

“I think the reason he was so well-known and respected by a younger generation of country musicians was because he was an innovator and rebel,” said Mr. Shaw, who played keyboards in Mr. Owens’ band, the Buckaroos. “He did it out of the Nashville establishment. He had a raw edge.”

Mr. Owens was modest when describing his aspirations.

“I’d like to be remembered as a guy that came along and did his music, did his best and showed up on time, clean and ready to do the job, wrote a few songs and had a hell of a time,” he said in 1992.

Among his biggest hits were “Together Again” (also recorded by Emmylou Harris), “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “My Heart Skips a Beat,” “Made in Japan” and “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line.”

And he was the answer to this music trivia question: What country star had a hit record that was later done by the Beatles?

Ringo Starr recorded “Act Naturally” twice, singing lead on the Beatles’ 1965 version and recording it as a duet with Mr. Owens in 1989.

In addition to music, Mr. Owens had a highly visible TV career as co-host of “Hee Haw” from 1969 to 1986. With guitarist Roy Clark, he led viewers through a potpourri of country music and hayseed humor.

“It’s an honest show,” Mr. Owens told the Associated Press in 1995. “There’s no social message — no crusade. It’s fun and simple.”

Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. was born in 1929 outside Sherman, Texas, the son of a sharecropper. With opportunities scarce during the Depression, the family moved to Arizona when he was 8.

He dropped out of school at age 13 to haul produce and harvest crops, and by 16 he was playing music in taverns.

Mr. Owens’ first wife, Bonnie, sometimes performed with him and went on to become a leading backup singer after their divorce in 1955. She had occasional solo hits in the ‘60s, as well as successful duets with her second husband, Merle Haggard.

One of her two sons with Mr. Owens also became a singer, using the name Buddy Alan. He had a Top 10 hit in 1968, “Let the World Keep on a-Turnin,’” and recorded a number of duets with his father.

In addition to Buddy, Mr. Owens is survived by two other sons, Michael and John.

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