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Hardly Strictly Jazz

Your Past Will Come Back To Haunt You: Omnivore and Dust To Digital - Two Record Labels That Matter

By Published: October 9, 2012
Babylon, largely because it was Ledbetter's maiden voyage, took four and a half years to complete. He started the project while still employed full time as the main computer guy at a small Atlanta company in an office environment. He had previously worked at Table Of The Elements, an Atlanta indie label specializing in experimental music, and had learned a few things by the time he started DTD. Pawleski—because of her direct reissue experience and existing relationships—takes a much more streamlined approach to the process, but her affection for music arcana has also resulted in striking, joyous releases, and more of them than Dust To Digital is likely to manage anytime soon. Omnivore's mining of the Buck Owens catalog has been particularly interesting and gives an insight as to the real personality and imagination behind their releases .

Buck Owens has often been given short shrift by the people who knew him in the seventies as the inanely grinning co-host of Hee Haw, a show whose often agonizing cornball comedy too often obscured the high quality of its musical content. In the sixties, Owens was damn near a one man reign of terror against the Nashville establishment, with eighteen number one singles on the country charts, all of which were cut in Hollywood. His trebly California country music combined high lonesome harmonies (he and lead guitarist Don Rich were a magic frontline harmony duo) with big twanging Fender guitars (featuring Rich playing some of the most acrid, biting Telecaster ever put on record). Buck Owens and the Buckaroos were to Nashville the same type of perceived threat Dizzy Gillespie was to Louis Armstrong. And, as with Diz and Pops, Buck and the Nashville old guard eventually came to affectionate terms.

Buck was a big thinker, commercial opportunist, and very much a guy with an eye to technology (he bought the second Moog syntheszier ever sold). No doubt the opportunity to travel the spaceways appealed to him. When Omnivore decided to reissue Buck Owens Live At The White House... And In Space (a 1972 Capitol release of his 1968 performance done at the behest of President Lyndon Johnson), they included a special recording Owens and the Buckaroos did in 1972 for the astronauts aboard Apollo 16, . Patrick Milligan—who produced a great many of Rhino's best box sets—was doing tape research at the Owens estate when he happened across the largely forgotten Apollo 16 tapes. Country LP's of the era were notoriously light for minutes (quite often under thirty minutes), so here was a real coup of appropriate bonus material.

Knowing Owens' proclivity for technology (which lasted to the end of his life), he had to have taken a proud and special pleasure in playing a country show for a captive space crew. The performance is loose and joyous as well, Buck basically doing an old style live country radio show with jokes and music, and the band playing live in the studio. It's a sleeper classic, and captures Buck at the end of his great period, which ended officially in 1974, with Rich's untimely death (motorcycle accident).

(Buck was, by the way, an avid Republican, and the White House concert's '72 release date has lead many to incorrectly presume the performance happened at the behest of President Richard Nixon, a fellow California Republican. Owens did socialize with him as well as well as being quite friendly with Ronald Reagan, dating back to the latter's sixties stint as governor of California.)

By far the most unique and distinctive Owens item from Omnivore is The Buck Owens Coloring Book, which comes complete with an enclosed flexidisc of four songs from the White House performance.

Flexidisc?

Flexidiscs—records pressed on very thin vinyl and generally included in magazines—were everywhere in the seventies, but had become rare by the late eighties. Eventually, only the Evatone company still manufactured them, and they finally discontinued the format in August, 2000 (well into the post-vinyl era, it should be noted). In 2010, Pirates Press, a punk oriented pressing plant in Northern California, revived the format. The flexi most people knew was one of underground whale sounds, which came in the January 1979 National Geographic. Since it was included in every copy of that issue, it had an initial press run of 10,500,000, making it the largest single pressing of any record in history.


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