The Bakersfield King
When you think of honky-tonk music, you think of Bakersfield, and when you think of Bakersfield, the fiddling sound of the name Buck Owens rings on your mind. Lastly, when you think of Buck Owens, you’re most probably starting to sing the line of his signature song “Act Naturally.”
Together with Merle Haggard, they lead the twangy, electrified, rock-influenced interpretation of hardcore honky-tonk sound that emerged in the 60’s. Owens was an important figure on country music during his era. His success spearheaded the national acceptance of the Bakersfield sound.
Through his creativity and innovation, Owens provided an edgy alternative to the string-laden country pop that was starting to dominate the mainstream in the 1960’s. His music brought significant influence to a couple of country stars that include Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakam. Owens’ techniques wounded up to be one of the blueprints for modern country music.
Written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison, “Act Naturally” brought Buck Owens and the Buckaroos on top of the Billboard Country Singles chart in 1963. The song is Owens’ first chart-topper hit in the history of his musical career. And until now, it remains one of his most popular songs.
The upbeat rhythm with a honky-tonk vibe might make you think it’s a feel good song. However, its lyric actually evokes despondency and self-effacing impression. The song was delivered in a fist person point of view. It’s about a jilted man. His situation made him perfectly qualified to play a role of someone who is sad and lonely. It won’t be hard for him to play the role since he can just “act naturally.” The buoyant delivery emblematically find the narrator acting in a way, as he tries to mask his pain.
“Act Naturally” has been recorded by many other artists including Lorretta Lynn, Mrs. Miller, and Dwight Yoakam, but the most popular version is from The Beatles released in 1965. It became a showcase song for the group’s drummer Ringo Starr. He boldly claimed to be a fan of country music. Interestingly, Ringo went on to act in various films after he recorded the song. He fulfilled what he sang about on the track.
Meanwhile, here’s a video of Buck Owens and The Buckaroos singing their original top hit, “Act Naturally.” Enjoy watching!