Though he scored numerous No. 1 hits during his career, country legend Buck Owens is best known more for his style than his individual songs.
As the developer of the "Bakersfield Sound" -- a rock-influenced, electric version of traditional honky tonk -- Owens inspired countless musicians, including his well-known protege, Merle Haggard. Owens also brought attention to the Bakersfield, Calif., country music scene and stirred up the country music charts at a time when heavily produced, orchestrated pop-country dominated the radio. Owens began working with singer-songwriter Don Rich, who became Owens' lead guitarist and chief musical collaborator. By the early '60s Owens and Rich had switched from acoustic to electric guitars, a rare instrument in country music of the time, and began to use a more driving, rock-influenced beat. Now working with a full back-up band, the Buckaroos, which included local bassist Merle Haggard, Owens continued to score hits despite his radical sound, finally reaching No. 1 in 1963 with the smash "Act Naturally" (later covered by the Beatles). For the next few years Owens continued to crank out No. 1 hits including "Before You Go," "Love's Gonna Live Here," "My Heart Skips a Beat," "Together Again," "I Don't Care (Just as Long as You Love Me)," and many others.
Though a musical superstar, Owens was also a keen businessman, maintaining complete control of his publishing rights and master tapes, forming his own booking agency, building a recording studio, and purchasing several country radio stations. By the end of the 1960s, Owens' string of 20-plus No. 1 hits was finally broken, though he remained enormously popular among both country fans and also some rock fans, who admired his electrified sound and individuality. In 1969 he successfully translated his fame to TV with the country comedy show "Hee Haw," his second TV show (the first being the minor show "Buck Owens' Ranch"). Following the tragic death of collaborator Don Rich in a 1974 motorcycle accident, Owens stopped reaching the Top 10 and later recorded a few little-heard country-pop albums for Warner Bros. In the early 1980s he virtually abandoned music to work on "Hee Haw," but found his popularity renewed towards the end of the decade when Dwight Yoakam performed "Streets of Bakersfield" on TV, returning it to the charts. Though he rarely records or performs (1993 throat surgery damaged his voice), Owens remains one of the most respected and acclaimed country stars of the past 50 years, his presence still felt in the country music industry.