Classic Americana Albums: Buck Owens and his Buckaroos “I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail”

It’s difficult to find a classic album representative of the quintessential Bakersfield sound without delving into the early records of Buck Owens and his Buckaroos. ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail,’ Owens’ breakthrough 1965 album, in particular showcases how pioneering and timeless Owens and his band really were.

The Buckaroos line-up on ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’ is the classic one of Don Rich, Owens’ long-time friend and collaborator on guitar and fiddle, Doyle Holly on bass, Tom Brumley on pedal steel guitar, and Willie Cantu on drums, assisted by various studio musicians. The album was recorded in December 1964 at Capitol Records in Hollywood.

Owens’ own term for what would later be called the Bakersfield sound was “freight-train music.” All of the defining elements are here: Owens’ and Rich’s tight vocal harmonies, stripped-down arrangements, unmistakable twangy Telecaster riffs, and an upbeat rhythm section. Owens and his band played a major role in shaping the genre and influencing generations of younger artists who followed, including Merle Haggard, who was briefly a Buckeroo. Owens and Rich, both of whom had diverse musical backgrounds that included rockabilly, had a guitar sound that blended traditional country, Western swing, and rock and roll, offset but not overshadowed by Brumley’s pedal steel guitar style. Their vocal harmonizing skill extended to their guitar playing, as they often added harmonized guitar lines and counterpoint melodies in their songs.

The title track, co-written with Harland Howard, was a hit in 1965 on both the country chart (Owens’ sixth #1) and the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was inspired by an Esso gasoline advertising slogan “Put a tiger in your tank!” ‘Cryin’ Time’ was the B-side to ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’ and another hit. Ray Charles’ version became a crossover hit in 1966.

‘Wham Bam,’ with Don Rich on vocals, includes the line “wham bam thank you ma’am” fifteen years after the song ‘Wham! Bam! Thank You Ma’am’ by Hank Penny and seven years before Bowie nabbed the line on ‘Suffragette City.’ Owens’ and Rich’s melodic lead and rhythm guitar playing roles were somewhat interchangeable, as they were skilled in both styles of playing. Although primarily known for his rhythm playing, Owens showcased his skills as a concise lead guitarist on ‘Wham Bam.’

Owens’ lively, Latin-influenced version of Marty Robbins’ cowboy ballad ‘Streets Of Laredo’ sets it apart from other artists’ sombre renditions, with bass player Doyle Holly and his subterranean range on vocals. An instrumental version of the Western swing standard ‘Maiden’s Prayer, made famous by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and originally a mid-19th century Polish folk song (‘Modlitwa dziewicy’), has impeccable interplay between the fiddle and pedal steel guitar.

The energetic and catchy ‘We’re Gonna Let the Good Times Roll’ showcases Owens’ undeniable charisma that made him such a great honky-tonk performer and television personality. Chuck Berry’s ‘Memphis’ is done here as a seamless vocal duet between Owens and Rich. The choice to include this song shows the creative influence of early rock and roll on Owens’ sound. The earlier single ‘Act Naturally,’ famously recorded by The Beatles — and again in 1988 as a duet by Owens and Ringo — was included as an extra track on later album reissues.

Artists like Dwight Yoakum, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Marty Stuart, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and The Mavericks have all expressed admiration for Owens’ style. He has long appealed to traditionalists and genre-crossing artists alike. During a time when Nashville was in full thrall to a heavily orchestrated, sometimes overwrought sound, ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’ stood as a simpler alternative. It firmly established Owens as a trailblazing force, embracing country music’s roots while creating a modern sound uniquely his own.

About Kimberly Bright 85 Articles
Indiana native, freelance writer specializing in British, Canadian, and American music and cultural history, flyover states, session musicians, overlooked and unsung artists. Author of 'Chris Spedding: Reluctant Guitar Hero.' You can contact her at
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Martin Johnson

Great choice Kimberly. Don Rich was a seriously influential guitarist, just ask Jerry Garcia for one. Tom Brumley played with the latter-day Desert Rose Band, and the Beatles even covered Buck.