Don Rich Motorcycle Accident – Most would agree that Mick Jagger would have been nothing without Keith Richards. The same could be said of Buck Owens, regarding his musical relationship with Don Rich. Both men were instrumental in the development of what became known as The Bakersfield Sound. Don learned to play the violin and guitar at an early age, and was playing bars by the time he was 16 in his hometown of Olympia, Washington.
His band, a three-piece rock and roll group, later landed a regular gig in South Tacoma at a place called Steve’s Restaurant. It was there that Buck Owens, who was also living in Washington at the time, caught him playing the fiddle one night. Buck became so enamored with this young musician that he asked Don to join him at local venues. The two formed an instant friendship and a budding musical bond. With Buck on guitar and Don on fiddle, the two became regulars on BAR-K Jamboree, a local music program that aired on KTNT-TV 13.
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Buck’s career had already begun to take off. With Don, it seemed to speed up. But after “Under Your Spell Again” reached No. 24 on the country charts in 1959, Capitol Records executives asked Buck to return to Bakersfield.*
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Buck didn’t hesitate and asked Don to join him. Don had other plans, though. He enrolled at Centrailia Community College in Centrailia, Washington, where he began studies to become a music teacher. Meanwhile, he taught other music students and continued to play local concerts. After about a year, in late 1960, Don decided to move to Bakersfield to resume playing with Buck.
The first single he played was “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache)” which went to No. 2. Don and Buck played broken bars up and down the West Coast. Most of the time they played with a house band, but sometimes it was just the two of them together on stage. Meanwhile, they continued to record singles in Bakersfield. Don, now employed by Buck, earned $75 a week.
In 1961, “Foolin’ Around” spent 8 weeks at No. 2. Over the next year, the two began to refine (and define) their sound. Up until this point, Buck stuck to playing in the style of Texas Shuffle, with Don mainly playing fiddle. That all changed in 1962 with the release of Buck’s “You’re For Me,” a song he had written several years earlier. The mix in the drum became a tight hat. The mismatch was accentuated with a quick half-click on the drum. This hard, upbeat 2/4 beat made all of Buck Owens’ singles instantly recognizable. Don likened her to a “runaway locomotive.” Buck described it as a “freight train”.
In 1963, due to touring and recording, Buck decided to hire a full-time band to back him up. Naturally, Don was chosen as the leader of the group, and in the early days, the group resembled a revolving door with members coming and going. One such member was Merle Haggard, who dubbed the group “The Buckaroos.” While Haggard left after a short time, the name remained.
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Shortly after forming this new group, Johnny Russell’s “Act Naturally” was introduced to Buck. Buck initially turned him down, but Don took to it. Buck eventually got there and the Buckaroos recorded it on February 12, 1963. It became Buck’s first No. 1 hit that summer, spending weeks (non-consecutive) at the top.
“Act Naturally” also marked the first single where Don played lead guitar. Over the years, Buck taught Don his signature guitar style and by 1963, Don was ready to put down the fiddle and pick up Buck’s Telecaster. Buck was more than happy to call it quits, knowing he could focus on his songwriting and honing his skills as leader of the Buckaroos.
Things really started to take off for Buck, Don and the Buckaroos. Everyone who recorded seemed to shoot straight to the top of the charts. “My Heart (Skips a Beat).” “Together Again,” “I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail” and “Before You Go,” are among the songs that reached No. 1. “Buckaroo” also did, becoming the first instrumental of country music to do it. Don’s guitar style, while integrated from Buck’s teaching, became his own. That answering machine ring became the signature of the Bakersfield Sound.
In 1966, the group went to New York to record a live album at Carnegie Hall. Many have called it the greatest live country album ever recorded. Buck later revealed that The Buckaroos played so hard at Carnegie that the band didn’t need to go into post-production to correct mistakes. There was none.
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In 1969, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos released “Tall Dark Stranger” and “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass”. Don recorded the latter with a heavy fuzz tone, which up to that point was generally used by garage bands of the 1960s. Fans of traditional country music were shocked and even angry at Buck for tarnishing the music country with such an obvious rock and roll sound. Buck essentially dismissed these criticisms. He was never limited by status, and anyone who knew Buck would know that his entire career was a musical evolution.
“Purists never like any kind of progress.” Buck said years later. “I’m a purist, and usually I don’t like progress in anyone but myself. A true purist wants everyone else to stay the same, but he wants to change himself.”
Regardless, “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” climbed the charts and reached No. 1, where it stayed for two weeks in 1969. It became a cult classic among Buck Owens fans, and is still seen today as an innovative gear. in the development of the Bakersfield Sound.
Ironically, the next song to top the country music charts was a live version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” from Buck Owens’ London ‘Live’ Lp. Buck always seemed to be one step ahead. of his audience, and always seemed to have the last laugh.
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The last No. 1 song the two recorded together was “Made in Japan,” which reached the top of the charts in 1972.
On July 17, 1974, Don finished work at Buck’s Bakersfield studio and left on his motorcycle to meet his family on vacation in Morro Bay, California. Earlier in the day, Buck suggested that Don not take his bike, but instead drive a car. Maybe it was a premonition, but Buck had been asking Don to stop riding for years because it was something that worried him deeply. Don took her down and said goodbye to his friend. Later that night, Don hit a center divider on northbound Highway 1. He was thrown from his motorcycle and suffered serious head and body injuries. An ambulance took him to hospital, but he died before arriving.
Police investigating the scene later said there were no skid marks and the improbable hit the divider at high speed. Other than that, it was unclear what caused the crash.
Buck was absolutely devastated. Not only did he lose his creative partner, but also his best friend. In an interview in the late 1990s, Buck said of Don: “He was like a brother, a son and a best friend. One thing I’ve never said before, maybe I couldn’t, but I think my musical life ended when he death.”
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Buck continued, “I went on and existed, but real joy and love, real lightning and thunder, were gone forever.”
Don was buried at Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Bakersfield. His tombstone commemorates him as “Always Smiling”.
Don Rich was only 32 years old. His musical influence has been felt throughout the world in rock and roll, country and other genres. He is considered by many to be the most innovative country guitarist who ever lived. A helmet sits near a motorcycle after a June 4 crash that killed the rider at the intersection of Main Street and Hilltop Road. PAUL RUHTER/Newspaper Staff
There have been more fatal motorcycle accidents in Yellowstone County in the past two months than in the past three years combined.
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At least four people have died in motorcycle crashes in the county since June 4, and according to the Montana Department of Transportation, there were three in 2008 and none in 2007 and 2006.
Those numbers come after an all-time high of 36 motorcycle deaths in Montana last year and despite the fact that total traffic deaths statewide decreased by 20 percent during the same time. The numbers do not include a crash in Billings earlier this month in which a 4-year-old boy was killed when the car he was riding in and a motorcycle collided.
“The bottom line is when you fall off a motorcycle, you fall off the side or the front,” said Montana Highway Patrol Capt.
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