My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Retro Album Review: Buck Owens – ‘Ruby and Other Bluegrass Specials’

51TCPbXowNLBack in the days writing for The 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

Give Buck Owens credit – he knew that the “freight train ” sound was growing a bit stale and he was willing to experiment. I’ve Got You On My Mind Again was the first album to feature background voices and strings, something he continued on the next studio album Tall Dark Stranger (both 1969). In 1971 Owens took a more contemporary turn with his Bridge Over Troubled Water album, which was recorded without fiddle or steel guitar and featured songs by the likes of Paul Simon and Donovan. Later in 1971 came Ruby and Other Bluegrass Specials.

Not exactly bluegrass in it’s instrumentation (marred by drums and organ) it nevertheless is a fun romp through eight bluegrass classics plus two from the Buck Owens catalogue recast as bluegrass. Both singles issued from the album, “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “Ruby (Honey Are You Mad At Your Man)” went to #1 on the more sales-oriented Cashbox charts (Billboard had them at #2 and #3 respectively). The title cut was a hit the year before for the Osborne Brothers, so it was still fresh in the public memory as was “Rocky Top” the Osborne Brothers big hit from 1968. “Ole Slew Foot” was part of both the country and bluegrass repertoire and so was familiar to fans of both genres although the only hit on the song was by Porter Wagoner. “I Know You’re Married But I Love You Still” was one of the most requested tunes for the beloved bluegrass duo of Don Reno & Red Smiley. Of course, everyone knows “Uncle Pen”.

Owens didn’t stray too far from bluegrass with his next album Too Old To Cut The Mustard, with son Buddy Alan. but Owens never again returned to the genre after that. Good clean fun – equal emphasis on all three words.

Grade: A

2 responses to “Retro Album Review: Buck Owens – ‘Ruby and Other Bluegrass Specials’

  1. Ken July 24, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Buck Owens bluegrass recordings took me completely by surprise. As Paul pointed out from late 1968 until through early 1971 Buck had drifted far away from his trademark Bakersfield Sound. Buck stated years later that shift was combination of his desire to update his sound to appeal to new audiences and his boredom with performing the same musical style for more than a decade. By 1970 his band The Buckaroos no longer included a steel guitar player which had been a centerpiece of the core Buck Owens “sound” from the start. He occasionally hired steel player Buddy Emmons for selected sessions but that slot in his band had been replaced by keyboard player Jim Shaw on piano & organ. I feared that Buck’s early 1971 “Bridge Over Troubled Water” folk/pop album coupled with the single release of the title track was proof that Buck had fully embraced a different musical direction and that any type of traditional country music was in Buck’s rear-view mirror.

    So imagine my surprise in the spring of 1971 when I heard Buck’s new single “Ruby (Are You Mad)” on the radio! I can honestly say that I never saw that one comin’! In June the “Ruby” album was released and I immediately purchased my copy. It was my most-played album during the summer of ’71. Though I was a long time country music fan I was not a huge fan of bluegrass at the time. I enjoyed it albeit in small doses. But Buck’s approach really appealed to me and encouraged me – and likely many others – to explore more of bluegrass music According to the album’s liner notes Buck listened to bluegrass on the radio as a child and was influenced by the sound of artists like the Monroe Brothers.

    Recorded at Buck’s new state-of-the-art Bakersfield studio the production was fresh & crisp. I loved the full sound of Don Rich & Doyle Singer’s tight vocal harmonies. Don Rich’s fiddle absolutely sparkled as did the 5-string banjo played by new Buckaroo Ron Jackson who was recruited for the project. Drums, electric bass and organ are not traditional bluegrass instruments but I thought they worked very well on this album. One instrumental misstep in my estimation was the honky-tonk piano solo on “Salty Dog Blues” that seemed oddly out of place.

    Song selection was excellent. Both singles “Ruby” and “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” are highlights. Beyond those “Ashes Of Love” is my next favorite track. Don Rich’s precise acoustic guitar runs alongside Ron Jackson’s rolling banjo licks are superb. Buck’s bluegrass adaptation of his song “Heartbreak Mountain” first recorded on his 1968 album “It Takes People Like You To Make People Like Me” sounded like it could have been a bluegrass standard. Buck’s remake of son Buddy Alan’s song “Corn Liquor” was also an inspired choice.

    Happy to say that this album is on CD. Reissued by Sundazed in 2004 [Sundazed SC 6215] a digital download is also available. A great choice for the summer of ’16.

    I rate this one A+

    • Paul W Dennis July 24, 2016 at 7:10 pm

      In a sense, Buck was somewhat following the path laid down earlier by the Osborne Brothers and Jim & Jesse, both acts that used some electric instruments (such as electric guitar and steel guitar) in their bluegrass recordings

      Like you, I did not see this album coming, although I suppose that both of should have perhaps not been totally surprised, given Buck’s performances on HEE HAW. I wish someone would reissue the next album TOO OLD TO CUT THE MUSTARD (with son Buddy Alan) which flitted between bluegrass and vaudeville

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