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Don Rich Biography

Don Rich Biography

 Donald Eugene Ulrich was born in Olympia, WA on August 15, 1941. His parents had him taking violin lessons beginning in grade school. As he grew through adolescence, he became a formidable fiddler. In 1958, Buck Owens (on the advice of a friend) relocated to Puyallup, WA. He was recording for Capital at the time, but had yet to find a hit. He played around the area and became part-owner of tiny KAYE Radio and hosted a local TV show. Don was a freshmen at nearby Centralia College when he was introduced to Buck in 1959. He fiddled behind Buck until June of 1960 when Buck, enjoying a hit single with "Under Your Spell Again", divested his Washington business interests and headed home to Bakersfield. Soon after returning he got a letter from Don, who was tired of college and ready for a musical career. Buck brought him south and hired him for $75 a week. Don returned home, married his girlfriend Marlene and the couple set up house in Bakersfield. Don's first appearance on a Buck single was the 1960 hit "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got A Heartache)". The pair toured the country in an old Ford, playing clubs with whatever house band they found. Don quickly found he preferred Telecaster picking to the fiddling his folks had encouraged. He not only mastered Buck's snappy, aggressive guitar style, but began improving on it. Buck was happy to let Don take over the lead guitar. It allowed him to focus on his singing, and Don's vocal harmonies (always singing the high third) also became an integral part of Buck's onstage sound. Offstage, he was Buck's musical alter ego. He suggested, as they listened to a demo of songs by lyricist Voni Morrison, that Buck check the last song, one Morrison thought Buck wouldn't like. The song, "Act Naturally", became Buck's first #1 single in 1963. When Buck formed The Buckaroos around that time, it was only logical that Don lead the band. Of those days, Buck affectionately recalled how Don "seemed able to read my mind. A lotta times I would try and fool him. He was uncanny about catchin' me so he could sing with me. He loved to pick the guitar, hated the fiddle. I'd say 'Don, get that fiddle!' He'd say 'Aw, no, Chief, not the fiddle!' He'd say, 'Ohh, Chief.' I'd say "Don, I'll make ya tell jokes!' That's the only thing that could get him to get the fiddle."

 Given the pressure of Buck's lengthy tours, Don's laid back attitude on the road helped keep his boss stress-free. "Sometimes I'd get upset with things, I'd say 'Goddamn that so and so', and Don would say "Aww, Chief, hell, he don't know.' I'd be mad at the bass player, maybe he was late or I couldn't find him and Don would say, 'Let me look for him. Don't be upset.' That was his way of talking to me." Don added one brilliant solo after another to Buck's records. There were hot licks on "Gonna Have Love", his throbbing break on "Tiger By The Tail" and an interlude on Buck's 1969 revival of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" that Buck called "the greatest live chorus on guitar I ever heard." Don's purity of tone and clean, concise lines left nothing hanging; he made a few notes speak volumes. He was a musician with considerably greater depth, one who didn't confine his listening to country alone. Well-versed in jazz guitar, he was particularly devoted to the playing of jazzman Howard Roberts and, like Buck, appreciated the Beatles as well. New ideas didn't faze him. He created the percussive licks on "The Kansas City Song" by fingering chords as Buckaroos drummer Jerry Wiggins tapped the strings with his sticks.That smooth violin ensemble on "Made in Japan" isn't some trio of studio musicians. It's Don, overdubbed times three. He may have hated the fiddle, but he never lost his skills with the bow. After Hee Haw's 1969 premiere, with Buck and Roy Clark co-hosting, the Buckaroos became the show's house band, giving Don even wider exposure. Buck felt his friend could take his talents wherever he chose. "Different people at different times through the years wanted to do something with Don, wanted to hire Don for their band, wanted to record Don. But I recorded Don whenever he wanted." Besides, Buck added, Don had his own priorities. "He'd say, 'Aww, Chief, I kinda like it the way it is. You got all the pressure. If I get to wantin' to do somethin'. I'll let you know.'....and that was his very simple answer. Don had a wife and two boys and he just didn't want to do that. He liked it just the way it was, he was very comfortable being a little bit in the shadow and yet anytime he wanted, he was in the spotlight. He had the best of both worlds, he used to tell me."


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