Thursday, June 11, 2020


Late to the game as ever, here I am banging on about closing the honky-tonks, just as some sectors are begging for them to be opened up again, whether for the sake of the depleted hospitality industry or just from sheer thirst. But, wherever you are, OK, except Sweden, the bars and restaurants have been or were closed for a fair old while. Mainland Europe is now beginning to open 'em up again, but the merest hope we have here, in the U.K., is possibly of beer gardens by the end of the month, and with waitress service at that, something us bar standing brits abhor.


This song, an acknowledged classic of a country weepie, the alliance of tears to a jaunty beat, never fails to lift my heart. First penned back in the early 60s, by a Red Simpson, me neither, it became a 1964 country smash for Buck Owens and his Buckaroos. On researching, it seems ol' Red was a bit of name in the 50s, chiefly for songs about truck driving, a niche and specialist sub-genre that lives on to this day. (Well, sorta...) Based in Bakersfield, he seems interminably linked with the more famous Owens, originally taking Owen's place in a weekly session in Bakersfield, California. When he proved adept about writing songs about semi-trucks, he hooked up with Owens as his main co-writer, largely then neglecting his own performing career. The playing of Owens was integral to the Bakersfield scene and it's eponymous Bakersfield Sound, an altogether twangier version of Nashville's then somewhat syrupy drench of orchestral strings, with a greater reliance on electric guitar and pedal steel interplay, the bass and drums also writ large. And so with a far greater cross-over potential with the emerging rock music diaspora, resultant in the country-rock vibe that later begat americana.


Hardly surprising, then, that I first came across the song as I started to investigate the twangier side of the Byrds. Early 70s and entranced by that band, reading about their revolving door of players, I caught wind of of the Flying Burrito Brothers and of Gram Parsons. Thus, a month or so after buying 2-disc compendium History of the Byrds, I chanced upon Close-Up the Honky Tonks, another 2-disc compendium, this time of the Burritos. On getting it home, it was a whole more stark and severe an affair, with few of the radio friendly Byrdsian harmonies, and altogether more "and western" for my untutored ears. Side 3 contained the titular song, and was part of the body of songs that engaged me and some, sufficiently to then work harder on the first couple of sides. (Side 4 was just terrific, but that's another tale.)


The Byrds themselves, having anyway a somewhat incestuous relationship with the Burritos, later took it back into their own repertoire as well.


Fast forward a few years. Now a full card carrying country aficionado, a young buck named Dwight Yoakam was making a name for himself, and, finding his cut to my jib, I learnt that he was a huge fan of Buck Owens, to the extent that he made a full album's worth of songs either written, co-written or made famous by him, Dwight Sings Buck, in 2007. Of course the song was on it, the album itself significant enough the entice Owens back onto the stage and performing, just shy of his 60th birthday. Whist he died in 2006, Yoakam maintains a living epitome of his style and sound.


Listening to these, as well as to the myriad other you-tubed versions out there, I have to say it is the version by Gram's Flying Burrito Brothers that still lingers longest, with the perfect balance between delight and despair in his wracked vocals.

A truck load of Red in the link.

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