Hee Haw country star Buck Owens – whose string of songs hits dating back to the ’60s included “Act Naturally,” “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” and “Streets of Bakersfield” with Dwight Yoakam – died Saturday at his home in Bakersfield, Calif., said a family spokesman. He was 76.
Though no cause of death has been reported, Owens had undergone throat cancer surgery in 1993 and was hospitalized with pneumonia in 1997, according to the Associated Press.
“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 the spokesman, Jim Shaw, who played keyboards in Owens’ band, the Buckaroos. “He did it out of the Nashville establishment. He had a raw edge.”
Hee Haw made a TV star of Owens when it premiered in 1969. It eventually ran until 1986, despite the continual groaning of critics at the show’s intentionally corny humor. “It’s an honest show,” Owens told the Associated Press in 1995. “There’s no social message – no crusade. It’s fun and simple.”
Owens, born Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. in Texas, the son of a sharecropper, played music from the time he was 16. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, though he never let his fame go to his head. “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.
Owens’s first wife, Bonnie Owens, occasionally performed with him and went on to become a leading backup singer after their 1955 divorce.
One of Bonnie’s two sons with Owens also became a singer, under 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, Buck is survived by two other sons, Michael and John.