July 18, 1977 12:00 PM

It’s so wild it’s almost funny,” says country fiddler Jana Jae Greif (rhymes with strife) of her now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t marriage to Hee Haw host Buck Owens. “But deep inside, it’s not so funny.”

What it is, she might add, is bewildering. No sooner had the twice-divorced Owens decided to risk a third fling at matrimony last May than he and Jana Jae (as she is known professionally) were off to Las Vegas. A few hours later, the knot securely tied, horse lover Owens began fighting the bridle. As Jana, 33, and her two young children from an earlier marriage were preparing to move to the 47-year-old millionaire’s 150-acre Bakersfield, Calif. ranch, he suddenly filed for annulment. He cited “unsound mind” (without saying whose) as grounds.

His indecision was merely a prelude. A few days later Owens dropped the legal action and took out a series of newspaper ads begging forgiveness. “I love her and want her back,” he insists. “If I thought it would help, I’d find a World War II tank and drive it up in her front yard waving a white flag.”

That is exactly what Jana fears he may do—if only for the publicity. “I’ve watched Buck before. He’s a chess master with people,” she says. “He doesn’t love me, he just wants to control me, period.” Embarrassed and angry, she quickly cross-filed for annulment, charging Owens with fraud. She also got a court order banning his plaintive lonely-hearts advertising. “People keep saying, ‘Give Buck another chance,’ ” she says, “but it’s not a second chance—it’s the two millionth chance. He’s using me and…there are other girls in his life.”

Owens doesn’t deny that but claims “there has never been a girl like Jana.” When they met in 1974, she was teaching music and he was touring with his band, the Buckaroos. She joined the group, and the two began romancing. Even then, Jana says, she should have been wary of Buck’s “suffocating possessiveness.” He wanted his whole musical family to live near his plush Bakersfield offices (from which he exercises dominion over four radio stations and a recording studio). Once, Jana remembers, he called her during a family Thanksgiving celebration near Sacramento and demanded that she return for an important dinner. “So I drove back for six hours, leaving my family behind,” she recalls. “It turned out that the ‘important dinner’ was with a car dealer friend of Buck’s from Bakersfield. It wasn’t important at all, but that’s just the way he was.”

Last January, while cutting her own album, Jana was summoned to Buck’s office, where he shoved a new 14-year contract in front of her. When she asked for a chance to look it over, Owens angrily said it was “non-negotiable” and accused her of disloyalty. “He fired me and hired me back,” she says. “All told, he fired and hired me three times while I worked for him.” Eventually, Jana says, she had enough. She obtained a release from Buck and scraped together $5,000 to buy her album tapes. A few days later, in another about-face, Buck called her back to his office. “When I got there,” she recalls, “he asked me to marry him. He said he loved me and was sorry for all the trouble he had caused. I gave him the benefit of the doubt,” she explains, “because I thought we could finally get all this behind us and settle down.”

It was not to be. Over coffee the morning after their Las Vegas wedding, Jana says, Buck suddenly looked up and said, “Now I’ve got your album, your $5,000 and you. I own you lock, stock and barrel.” She laughed it off, reminding him that she still hadn’t signed the new contract. When they returned to Bakersfield, Buck “was very loving” and told her to go to her home and wait for him. “He didn’t show up,” she recalls. “I called everywhere. I was about to go crazy.” The next morning Buck’s lawyer appeared. “I was shocked,” she says. “And when the children came home from school, they were crying. They said they’d told the other kids that Buck Owens was their daddy, but the other children made fun of them because they’d heard on the radio—over Buck’s station—that he had filed for annulment. It was a very mean thing to do.”

Owens’ explanation? “Cold feet,” he says. “I was scared to death. I kept thinking about how I was going to have to change my whole life.” But Owens, who in 1974 received 20,000 letters after announcing on The Tonight Show that he was looking for a third wife, insists that wanting Jana back now is not a publicity stunt. “I wasn’t trying to humiliate Jana with the ads,” he insists, “but to exonerate her. Jana filled a great void in my life, and now I realize what I’ve lost. For an entertainer, there’s no end to the girls; you just pick up the phone. But she’s the only one who could, as they say in the horse business, turn me around.”

To prove it, Owens recently flew his private plane to tiny Weiser, Idaho, where Jana, the 1973-74 National Ladies Fiddling Champ, was performing. She ignored him as he sat cow-eyed in the front row, but later at a local pub she was persuaded to introduce him to the audience. Bounding to the microphone, he crooned Together Again with his arm draped around her affectionately—though skeptics serenaded his exit with a dubious “Hee-haw!” “If he wants to get together on a straight business deal,” Jana conceded later, “we might work it out.” Owens says he may be willing. “Our emotions would be at a pitch that wouldn’t do either of us any good,” he observes ruefully, “but Sonny and Cher do it, don’t they?”

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