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Doyle Holly and the Buckaroos are together again

By Jon Johnson, June 2003

Of the great country bands of the 1960's, none was more successful than Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.

Although the band's lineup shifted from time to time during the '60s (even employing Merle Haggard as the group's bassist during one brief period in early 1962), their classic '64-'67 lineup - Owens, lead guitarist Don Rich, drummer Willie Cantu, steel guitarist Tom Brumley and bassist Doyle Holly - is today revered as one of country music's all-time great bands, thanks to the driving rhythms of the group's singles, the tight vocal harmonies of Owens and Rich and Rich's virtuoso lead guitar work.

"I think what it boils down to was that combination," says Holly - who released his new solo album, "Together Again," in early May - in a telephone interview from his home in Hendersonville, Tenn. "Everybody was in the right place at the right time."

Holly, 66, was born in Oklahoma and spent his young adult years working in the oil fields of Oklahoma, Kansas and California.

Upon landing in Bakersfield, he discovered that the city had a music scene as rich as its oil wells and soon found himself performing with a wide assortment of country and rock 'n' roll musicians, including Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, Jimmy Wakely and Johnny Burnette and also touring the rodeo circuit with the pre-"Hawaii Five-O" Jack Lord.

Holly says that he was brought into the band by Don Rich in August 1963, adding that it was common practice for them to collect the phone numbers of musicians who impressed them as possible future Buckaroos should the need arise.

"I was playing in a band at the Lucky Spot, got to be friends with Don, and Don hired me when Kenny Pierce quit. I really don't know who hired Tom Brumley. It could have been Buck and Don. Me and Don hired Willie Cantu."

During Holly's tenure in the Buckaroos - 1963 to 1971 - the act batted over 30 singles into the country top 40, more than half of which went to number 1, usually staying there for several weeks.

During what was arguably the band's peak year - 1966 - Buck Owens singles occupied the number 1 position for 17 weeks or about one-third of the year.

Holly's time as a Buckaroo wasn't continuous: He left the band for a 9-month period between late 1966 and the summer of '67. During those months, Holly went to Washington and was replaced by Wayne Wilson, who appears on the 1967 live album "Buck Owens and His Buckaroos in Japan" and a few studio recordings.

"I recommended Wayne for the job when I left. Me and Buck had a love/hate relationship. He'd fire me a couple of times a month, and I'd quit a couple of times a month. And this was one of those times where neither one of us made up until nine months later. I always regretted leaving Buck. That was the Buckaroos' heyday."

"Buck made a film during the time that I missed out on," adds Holly. "There was a film crew that traveled on the bus with them. I've never seen it to tell you the truth. I don't think he's very proud of it."

After returning to the band, Holly remained with the group for another 4 years, leaving for the last time in November 1971 and forming his own band, the Vanishing Breed.

"I just wanted to try it on my own. I felt I went just as far as I could go (as a Buckaroo), although Buck was featuring me on a couple of songs on every album. He was always good like that. I can't think of anybody that had Buck's stature that would do that."

Although Holly had a small degree of solo success in the early '70s, scoring 2 top 40 country hits under his own name and releasing 2 solo albums on the Barnaby label, he eventually grew tired of life on the road and in 1982 opened a musical instrument shop in Hendersonville, where he concentrated his energies for the next couple of decades.

"I just quit all of a sudden; stopped touring and stopped recording. And Johnny Russell wanted to do this CD, so I said, 'Well, why not?' I didn't have anything else to do."

Though Russell enjoyed a string of solo hits during the '70s, during his life he was known primarily as a songwriter, his calling card being "Act Naturally," which was a hit for Owens in 1963, for The Beatles in 1965, and for Owens and ex-Beatles drummer Ringo Starr when they teamed up to re-record the song as a duet in 1989.

Russell proposed to record an album of bluegrass-influenced versions of Buck Owens hits with Holly on vocals. Unfortunately, Russell's health declined sharply when recording was about two-thirds completed, and the album was shelved until OMS label head Hugh Moore stepped in to revive the project following Russell's death in 2001.

"Hugh Moore (who also contributes banjo to the album) is a bluegrass producer," says Holly. "His forte is bluegrass, and I love bluegrass. It was supposed to have been a little more bluegrass than it was. I tried to get more of Del McCoury's band on there."

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