Honky Tonk Man by Buck Owens

When it comes to “live” TV performances, there are often a lot of shortcuts—even on a show like Hee Haw. But the cornfield comedy’s shortcut is the fan’s gain, as this previously unreleased collection from Buck Owens proves.

Honky Tonk Man: Buck Sings Country Classics compiles the covers that Buck performed on TV, backed by his band the Buckaroos. The secret: Buck was singing live, but the music was previously recorded in the studio, where Buck would often lay down guide vocals to help his players. Those guide vocals appear with the finished musical tracks on Honky Tonk Man.

The title track, later recorded by Dwight Yoakam, announces the Bakersfield Sound that is to follow, as songs such as Hank Williams’ hallmark “Hey, Good Lookin’” and Waylon Jennings’ “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” benefit from a heavy dose of twang. And Merle Haggard’s “Swinging Doors” resonates with Buck’s aching delivery. 

However, some of the earliest selections, such as the 1928 Jimmy Rodgers lament “In the Jailhouse Now,” feel a bit hollow, almost as if the Buckaroos were treading a little too gingerly with a classic.

But Buck lets loose on Johnny Russell’s 1973 hit “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” turning in a performance that would make some of today’s white-trash-proud artists feel like country-clubbers. 

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