The Legacy of Don Rich: The Right-Hand Man of Buck Owens

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As country music lovers, we often celebrate the iconic singers and songwriters of the genre, but it’s not often that we give credit to the musicians who helped create the signature style that defines the sound. That’s why today, we’re going to take a deep dive into the legacy of Don Rich, the right-hand man of Buck Owens, and his unique approach to electric guitar playing. Don’t miss out on the chance to learn about one of the unsung heroes of country music and the impact he left on the genre we love.

Who was Don Rich?

Who Was Don Rich?
It is often said that behind every great artist, there is a right-hand man. For Buck Owens, that man was Don Rich. Don Rich was a multi-talented musician who played an essential part in Buck Owens’ band, The Buckaroos. He was not only the lead guitarist, but also a talented fiddler and singer. Don Rich’s signature style of electric guitar playing had a significant influence on country music and left a lasting legacy. Let’s explore his life and career, and how his innovative guitar techniques contributed to the evolution of country music. Before we dive deeper into Don Rich’s biography, it’s worth mentioning that he was a part of a generation of musicians who pushed the boundaries of traditional country music with the help of the electric guitar. If you want to learn more about how the electric guitar influenced country music, check out our article about the Journey of Electric Guitar in Country Music.

Early Life and Career

Don Rich, who became Buck Owens’ right-hand man and a legendary country guitarist, was born on August 15, 1941. He grew up in Olympia, Washington, and started taking classical violin lessons at the age of six. He also learned to play the guitar, electric bass, and pedal steel guitar, all of which he quickly became proficient in. However, it was the electric guitar that he would eventually master and become famous for.

At the age of 16, Don Rich started performing with his family’s band, The Tumbleweeds, which played at local dances and events. Soon after, he became a member of The Blue Boys, a popular group in the Pacific Northwest.

Throughout his early career, Don Rich drew inspiration from other legendary guitar players of the time, including Les Paul and Chet Atkins. Rich also learned from fellow musicians playing other instruments, such as Speedy West, a pioneer of the pedal steel guitar, and Buddy Emmons, who was widely regarded as a guitar master.

Rich developed his own unique style of guitar playing, which combined elements of country, rock, and surf music. He was particularly known for his speedy runs and innovative use of the B-Bender, a device that allowed him to bend the pitch of certain strings. His inventive use of this device would become a hallmark of his playing and influence other guitarists, such as Jerry Reed and Clarence White.

Don Rich’s early years performing in The Tumbleweeds and The Blue Boys provided the foundation for his later success as a guitarist with Buck Owens and The Buckaroos. His years of practicing and performing with various bands helped him hone his skills and develop his signature style of playing.

Joining Buck Owens’ Band

Don Rich met Buck Owens in 1960 when he was performing at a local bar with his band, the Blue Comets. Shortly after, Rich joined Owens’ band, the Buckaroos, as lead guitar player and harmony vocalist, and his electrifying playing style was an instant hit with fans.

Year Event
1960 Don Rich met Buck Owens while playing at a local bar with his band, the Blue Comets
1961 Don Rich joined Buck Owens’ band, the Buckaroos, as lead guitar player and harmony vocalist

Owens and Rich began writing and recording songs that would soon become country music classics, such as “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail” and “Act Naturally”. With Rich’s distinct guitar sound and vocal harmonies, the Buckaroos became one of the most popular bands in country music during the 1960s.

Don Rich’s partnership with Buck Owens brought a new sound to country music, blending elements of rock and roll with traditional country instrumentation. This style influenced many other guitar players and bands, including Chet Atkins, Les Paul, and Jerry Reed.

The Buckaroos and Don Rich’s Signature Sound

Don Rich’s stint as the lead guitarist of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos saw them rise to popularity during the 1960s. Their sound was characterized by energetic and upbeat country music that turned heads and amassed a large following. Don Rich’s guitar playing, in particular, was one of the defining factors that set them apart from other country acts of their era.

Some standout characteristics of Don Rich’s playing were his use of tight harmonies, fast and articulate licks, and creative use of double-stops. Together with the other members of the Buckaroos, they created a sound that was dynamic and hard-hitting, which earned them the nickname “The Bakersfield Sound.”

Rich’s seamless integration of the electric guitar into country music represented a departure from earlier styles that utilized instruments like the steel guitar, a staple of classic country music. While they undoubtedly borrowed from rock and roll in terms of energy and attitude, their sound was still rooted in the traditional country setting. The Buckaroos’ sound was a unique blend of several genres, which helped them stand out in a crowded market.

In addition to serving as Buck Owens’ right-hand man, Don Rich was a prolific songwriter and performed background vocals for many of their hits. The synergy between Rich’s guitar playing and Owens’ singing was unparalleled, making them one of country music’s most prominent duos. The two developed a musical bond that extended beyond the confines of the stage, playing off each other’s strengths to create memorable songs that have stood the test of time.

The Buckaroos’ sound was a masterful mix of different genres, with Don Rich’s guitar playing being one of the key components that set them apart from others in the country music scene. His style was original, creative, and helped to redefine what country music could sound like. Don Rich’s legacy has endured, inspiring countless musicians to follow in his footsteps and explore the potential of the electric guitar.

Note: To achieve the signature Buckaroos’ sound, Don Rich was heavily influenced by pedal steel guitar player Speedy West and a noted guitar master Buddy Emmons. However, he also took note of the electric guitar innovations introduced by Clarence White, which helped transform bluegrass music.

Don Rich’s Signature Style of Electric Guitar Playing

Don Rich’S Signature Style Of Electric Guitar Playing
Don Rich’s electric guitar style is legendary in the world of country music. He created a sound that was innovative, emotive and unmistakable. The distinct sound of Rich’s guitar playing was crucial to the success of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, and it continues to inspire musicians to this day. Rich’s playing was influenced by rock and roll, but it also incorporated country and western swing elements, as well as his unique techniques and gear. In this section, we will explore the signature style of Don Rich’s electric guitar playing and examine what made it so special. We will look at the influence of rock and roll, the importance of B-Bending, as well as other techniques and gear used by Rich. By the end of this section, you will have a greater appreciation for Don Rich’s contribution to country music and understand why he is hailed as such an accomplished guitar player.

As we delve deeper into the signature style of Don Rich’s electric guitar playing, it’s important to recognize the impact other guitarists have had on the genre. For instance, Speedy West’s pedal steel guitar playing and Buddy Emmons’ mastery of the steel guitar brought a unique sound to the world of country music. Similarly, the innovations of Clarence White’s electric guitar influenced bluegrass music forever.

The Influence of Rock and Roll

Don Rich’s signature style of electric guitar playing was heavily influenced by rock and roll music of the 1950s and 60s. He was fascinated by the fast-paced, high-energy rhythms and driving guitar solos that were popular in the rock and roll genre. Rich, who grew up in Olympia, Washington, was exposed to rock and roll music at a young age, and he quickly fell in love with the genre.

Here are some of the ways that rock and roll music influenced Don Rich’s guitar playing:

  • Fast-paced rhythms: Rock and roll music was known for its fast-paced rhythms, which often featured driving beats and lively guitar riffs. Rich incorporated these rhythms into his playing, creating a sound that was both energetic and complex.
  • Guitar solos: Rock and roll guitarists were known for their flashy solos, which often featured rapid-fire licks and impressive technical skill. Rich was inspired by the guitar solos of rock and roll legends like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, and he worked tirelessly to develop his own style of soloing.
  • Distortion: Many rock and roll guitarists used distortion to create a gritty, aggressive sound. Rich was no exception, and he often used distortion to add edge and power to his guitar playing.

Don Rich’s love of rock and roll music helped to shape his signature style of electric guitar playing, which was known for its energy, technical skill, and complex rhythms. Today, his influence can be heard in the playing of countless modern country guitarists, who continue to be inspired by his innovative and groundbreaking approach to the instrument.

The Importance of B-Bending

Don Rich’s signature style of electric guitar playing involved many techniques that set him apart from other country musicians of his time. One of the most distinctive techniques that Don Rich is known for is his use of B-bending.

B-bending is a technique that involves bending the B string on the guitar up two whole steps, or the equivalent of four frets. This results in a sound that is similar to playing the A string on the guitar, but with a higher pitch. This unique sound allowed Don Rich to create a signature style that was instantly recognizable.

B-bending requires a certain level of skill and precision. It involves using the ring finger to bend the B string upwards while playing other notes with the remaining fingers. Don Rich perfected this technique and used it extensively in his playing style.

In addition to being a key component of Don Rich’s style, B-bending also had a significant impact on country music as a whole. Many guitarists who were influenced by Don Rich’s playing style began incorporating B-bending into their own music, leading to a surge in its popularity. Today, B-bending is considered a staple of country guitar playing and is widely used by musicians in the genre.

To achieve the perfect B-bending sound, Don Rich used customized guitars with specific features that helped him to achieve the desired pitch and tone. He also used specific strings and picks that were well-suited to his playing style. All of these elements combined to create a unique sound that helped Don Rich to establish himself as one of the most influential country guitarists of all time.

Technique Description
B-bending A technique that involves bending the B string on the guitar up two whole steps, creating a unique sound similar to a higher-pitched A string. Widely used by Don Rich in his signature style of playing

Other Techniques and Gear Used

Don Rich’s signature style of electric guitar playing was not just defined by his use of the B-bender. He was also known for incorporating a variety of other techniques into his playing, making him one of the most versatile guitarists of his time. Here are some of the other techniques and gear that Don Rich used to achieve his distinct sound:

  • String Bending: In addition to the B-bender, Don Rich was also known for his impressive string bending techniques. He would often bend the high E string to give it a crying sound, creating an emotional and expressive effect.
  • Chickin’ Pickin’: This is a technique that involves using a pick and the fingers to pluck the strings in quick succession, creating a unique and distinctive sound. Don Rich was a master of this technique, and it was a staple of his playing style.
  • Volume Swells: Volume swells involve using the volume knob on the guitar to create a swelling effect, which is often used in ballads and slow songs. Don Rich often used this technique to create a dramatic effect in his playing.
  • Compression: Don Rich was one of the first guitarists to use a compressor pedal, which helped to even out his sound and give it a consistent, smooth tone.
  • Telecaster: Don Rich was known for playing a Fender Telecaster, which has a bright and twangy sound that was perfect for his style of playing. The Telecaster also has a sleek and simple design, which fit in well with the Buckaroos’ minimalist aesthetic.
  • Amplifier: Don Rich used a Fender Showman amplifier, which was known for its clean and powerful sound. This allowed him to play at high volumes without sacrificing clarity or quality.

These techniques and gear helped to shape Don Rich’s unique style of playing, which had a profound impact on country music. Don Rich’s playing was not just technically impressive – it was also emotionally expressive, and it helped to elevate Buck Owens and the Buckaroos to new heights of success.

Don Rich’s Legacy and Impact on Country Music

When it comes to the history of country music, few names stand out like Buck Owens and The Buckaroos. However, it’s crucial to remember the one person who made the band’s sound stand out: Don Rich. His time as Owens’ lead guitarist helped define the Bakersfield Sound, which forever changed the genre’s landscape. Although Rich passed away in 1974, his legacy has lived on. In this section, we’ll explore the lasting impact one person can have on country music history.

The Buckaroos’ Influence on Other Musicians

When it comes to the impact of Don Rich and The Buckaroos on country music, the influence extends far beyond just their signature sound. They are considered legends of the era, with their style and technique serving as inspiration for many other musicians in the industry. Let’s explore some of the ways The Buckaroos have influenced other artists.

Artist Impact
Brad Paisley Brad Paisley has cited Don Rich as one of his biggest musical heroes, and has even performed alongside Buck Owens himself. Paisley’s guitar playing is heavily influenced by Rich’s use of the B-bending technique, and he has used similar gear such as the Telecaster and the Fender amp.
Keith Urban Keith Urban is another country artist who has spoken about the influence that Don Rich and The Buckaroos had on his career. In particular, the band’s use of the distorted guitar and the combination of country and rock and roll elements helped shape Urban’s sound.
The Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey, founding members of The Eagles, have also spoken about the impact that Don Rich had on their music. The Buckaroos’ ability to blend country and rock and roll influenced The Eagles’ own unique sound, and they even covered Buck Owens’ song “Tiger By The Tail.”

These are just a few examples of the influence that The Buckaroos had on other musicians. Don Rich’s signature style of electric guitar playing has left a lasting impact on the country music industry and beyond, and his legacy continues to inspire new generations of musicians.

Don Rich’s Style Today

Don Rich’s style of electric guitar playing is still highly regarded today by musicians and fans alike. His legacy continues to inspire guitarists of all genres, including country, rock, and even metal.

The Versatility: Don Rich’s ability to play both lead and rhythm guitar made him a highly sought-after musician during his time with Buck Owens’ band. He was known for his crisp, clean, and precise playing that perfectly complemented Owens’ vocals. Today, many guitarists continue to study Rich’s technique and incorporate it into their own playing.

The Tone: Don Rich’s signature sound was largely due to his use of Fender Telecasters, which he famously referred to as his “crutches.” These highly sought-after guitars are still popular among country and rock guitarists today, as they offer a bright, twangy tone that is perfect for a wide variety of styles.

The B-Bending: One of Don Rich’s most distinctive techniques was his use of B-bending. This involves bending the B string up to mimic the sound of a pedal steel guitar. This technique is still used today, particularly in country guitar playing.

The Influence: Don Rich’s legacy lives on not only through his recordings and performances, but also through the many musicians he influenced. Guitarists like Brad Paisley and Keith Urban have cited Rich as a major influence on their own playing styles, and his impact can be heard in countless modern country songs.

The Gear: Much of Don Rich’s sound can be attributed to his gear choices. In addition to his beloved Telecasters, he also used Fender Reverb amps and Echo-Plex units to create his signature sound. Today, many guitarists still seek out these vintage units in an effort to replicate Rich’s sound.

Don Rich’s style and technique continue to be highly valued in the world of country guitar playing. His innovative use of B-bending, coupled with his precise and versatile playing style, have left a lasting impact on the genre and inspired countless musicians along the way.

Albums and Songs Associated with Don Rich

Throughout his career, Don Rich played on numerous albums with Buck Owens and The Buckaroos. Some of his most memorable work can be heard on the following albums:

  • Carnegie Hall Concert: This 1966 live album captures the band at the height of their prowess, with Rich’s fiery guitar work on full display
  • I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail: The title track of this 1965 album was a #1 hit and features Rich’s signature B-bender licks
  • Open Up Your Heart: Released in 1966, this album features the instrumental track “Chicago Policeman,” showcasing Rich’s innovative guitar-playing style
  • The Best of Buck Owens, Vol. 1: This compilation album includes some of Owens and Rich’s most popular songs, including “Act Naturally” and “My Heart Skips a Beat”

In addition to these classic albums, Don Rich also contributed to many hit songs throughout his career. Some of the most notable include:

  • “Together Again”: This 1964 hit features Rich’s driving rhythm guitar and a classic B-bender solo
  • “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line”: Rich’s creative use of the B-bender is prominently featured on this 1966 hit
  • “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass”: Released in 1969, this song showcases Rich’s ability to seamlessly blend country and rock sounds
  • “Streets of Bakersfield”: This duet between Owens and Dwight Yoakam was recorded after Rich’s death, but his influence on the sound of the song is clear

These albums and songs serve as a testament to Don Rich’s impact on country music and his enduring legacy as a guitar virtuoso.


In conclusion, Don Rich’s contribution to country music cannot be overstated. As Buck Owens’ right-hand man, he played an integral role in creating the Bakersfield sound that transformed country music in the 1960s. Rich’s signature style of electric guitar playing was extensively imitated and inspired many guitarists in the decades to come.

Despite his untimely death, Don Rich’s legacy continued to impact the country music industry. His style influenced a generation of musicians who went on to become country legends in their own right. Rich also left behind a body of work that continued to captivate fans of the Bakersfield sound.

It’s worth noting that Don Rich’s influence was not limited to country music alone. His unique blend of rock and roll and honky-tonk guitar techniques earned him admirers across genres. Today, his legacy is still celebrated, and his music continues to inspire a new generation of guitarists.

In summary, Don Rich’s contribution to music should be celebrated, remembered, and revered. He played a crucial role in shaping country music’s evolution in the mid-twentieth century and left a lasting impact on the genre. Although he was taken from us far too soon, his gifts to the world live on through his recordings, the musicians he inspired, and the fans who continue to cherish his music.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of guitar did Don Rich play?

Don Rich played a Fender Telecaster guitar.

How did Don Rich’s guitar playing influence country music?

Don Rich’s signature sound of mixing rock and roll with country music helped to modernize the sound of traditional country music and paved the way for other artists to incorporate different genres into their own music.

What is B-bending and why is it important in Don Rich’s style?

B-bending is a technique where the B string on the guitar is bent up a whole step to sound like a C#. It’s important in Don Rich’s style because it allows for more expressive playing and adds a unique flavor to his solos.

Did Don Rich write any of Buck Owens’ hit songs?

No, Don Rich did not write any of Buck Owens’ hit songs, but he was instrumental in creating and arranging many of the Buckaroos’ songs.

What are some of Don Rich’s most famous guitar riffs?

Some of Don Rich’s most famous guitar riffs include the intro to “Act Naturally,” the guitar solo in “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” and the riff in “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.”

What other instruments did Don Rich play?

In addition to guitar, Don Rich also played fiddle, mandolin, and bass.

Did Don Rich have any solo albums?

Yes, Don Rich released two solo albums: “Guitar Pickin’ Man” and “That Fiddlin’ Man.”

What is the significance of Don Rich’s contributions to Buck Owens’ music?

Don Rich’s contributions were significant in modernizing the sound of traditional country music and created the signature Buck Owens and the Buckaroos sound. His guitar playing helped to pave the way for modern country music in the 1960s and ’70s.

What awards did Don Rich receive during his career?

Don Rich did not receive any individual awards, but as a member of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, the band was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

Why is Don Rich still remembered today?

Don Rich is still remembered today for his influence in modernizing the sound of traditional country music and for his innovative guitar playing techniques. Many musicians and fans cite him as a major influence in their own music.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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