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Songwriter Johnny Russell turned an off-the-cuff joke into a serious country classic - along with the first No. 1 for Buck Owens. The unlikely saga began when some friends asked Johnny to come to Los Angeles and help them with a recording session.
"I had to break a date with a girl I'd been seeing," Johnny recalled. "When she asked me why I was going to L.A., I told her that they were going to put me in the movies and make me a big star. We both laughed."
Johnny didn't laugh for long. As he thought about the idea of becoming a Hollywood star, he began to play with a hook that could actually make a country song out of his joke. He wrote the song in one day and titled it "Act Naturally."
Johnny's writing partner, Voni Morrison, often worked with Buck Owens and knew she could pitch the song to him. She brought Buck a five-song demo, which included "Act Naturally." But Buck sent back some bad news - of the five tunes, "Act Naturally" was his least favorite.
Buck's guitar player, Don Rich, however, loved the song. He eventually convinced his boss to give it a try. Johnny remembered, "I was singing at a hotel club one night when I got a call from Buck. He asked if he could record 'Act Naturally.' I told him that was fine with me."
Good decision. The lighthearted, clever tune hit the charts on April 13, 1963. In June, it became Buck's first-ever No. 1 record. "Act Naturally" was also recorded by the Beatles, with a rare vocal turn by drummer Ringo Starr.
"That song," Johnny would later declare, "fed my family for years."