Being Buck Owens
C&I chats with Randy Poe, a writer and industry vet who pieced together the late country music icon’s recorded memoirs and interviews for a new “autobiography.”
PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY BUCK OWENS PRIVATE FOUNDATION
Cowboys & Indians: Buck Owens passed away in 2006, so it must have been challenging to produce Buck ’Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens without his personal guidance. What was the most difficult aspect of putting the influential singer and Hee Haw host’s life on paper?
Randy Poe: As I explained at the beginning of the book, I was working with cassette tapes that Buck had recorded from the mid-1990s to September of 2000. If he interrupted himself in the middle of an anecdote, which he did frequently, there was no one sitting there in the room with him to get him back on track. And, of course, under the circumstances, I couldn’t ask him follow-up questions, which I would’ve certainly done if I’d been working with a living subject. I could only delve as deep as Buck chose to go on any subject — although I think he was pretty open and forthcoming throughout.
C&I: Were there other materials that became useful, apart from the tapes?
Poe: Luckily, Buck kept a lot [of stuff], and in the boxes I sifted through in his office were tons of newspaper and magazine articles about him — interviews and quotes that I was able to draw upon. Like all of us, Buck had a lot of stories to tell, and frequently I’d find in those newspapers and magazines the complete versions of many of those stories he hadn’t finished telling on his cassettes. It’s a good thing I’ve always enjoyed jigsaw puzzles, because putting this book together was like putting together the most complicated jigsaw puzzle in the world.
C&I: There had to be some complicated outlining in the early stages.
Poe: I ended up creating a 35-page timeline of events in Buck’s life because he didn’t record his life story on the tapes in any kind of linear fashion. Over the course of several years, I slowly checked off the hundreds of events on the timeline until I had the preliminary manuscript. The next challenge was filling in the holes. If there was an important event in his life that didn’t exist on the tapes, it was back to the newspaper and magazine articles, or other writers’ unpublished interviews with Buck.
C&I: Now that it’s out, what can you say is the project’s biggest personal reward?
Poe: As far as rewards are concerned, I’m reminded of Dorothy Parker’s famous quote: “I hate writing. I love having written.” As you know, writing can be a pretty lonely profession. You don’t get a round of applause every time you finish a paragraph. So, the first reward is having reached the finish line. The next one is when you get that box of author’s copies of the book in the mail. And then, after that, it’s always a total unknown. I’ve written a half-dozen books at this point, so I’m now at that stage where I can only hope that people will like my latest. In this case, for once, the burden isn’t entirely on me. In fact, if I’ve done my job well, except for the introduction and the afterword, the reader won’t even know I’m there.
— Hunter Hauk