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Buck Owens often called his guitar player and harmony singer Don Rich his "right arm," and for good reason. Don's high-pitched, piercing vocals and distinct guitar picking helped define Buck's unique "Bakersfield Sound," a style that combined Western swing, R&B and honky-tonk.
Don also served as the leader of Buck's band, the Buckaroos, and even co-wrote a couple of No. 1 hits for Buck, "Waitin' in Your Welfare Line" and "Before You Go." When Buck joined the cast of the TV show Hee Haw in 1969, Don and the other Buckaroos went with him.
Buck and Don enjoyed not only a musical partnership, but a close friendship as well. It all came to a tragic end, however, in the early morning hours of July 17, 1974. Don was killed near San Luis Obispo, Calif., when his motorcycle struck a highway divider. He was only 32 years old.
The accident hit Buck especially hard because he constantly warned his band members of the dangers of motorcycles. So as not to worry his boss, Don had promised that he would ride only on dirt roads. But after a day of recording in Bakersfield, Don wanted to get back to his family in the California town of Morro Bay, and he apparently broke that promise.
Several years later, Buck was still distraught over the loss. "I think my music life ended when his did," said Buck in the liner notes for the album, Country Pickin': The Don Rich Anthology. "I carried on and I existed, but the real joy and love, the real lightning and thunder, is gone forever."