Guitar Workshop: Beside the Music
Earlier this month, the music world was saddened to hear of the loss of tenor saxophonist Clarence "The Big Man" Clemons, for nearly forty years the backbone of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. Though unassuming about his fame, he was a fixture in the legacy of his frontman.
In the world of popular recorded music, whether pop, rock, or country, single-name recording artists are often only as formidable as the regular group of sidemen who back them, whether in studio recordings or in live performances (often one and the same). This is no less true of guitarists in the supporting role. In the world of country music, one outstanding example is Donald Eugene Ulrich, better known by his stage name of Don Rich (1941-1974). He was best known as the lead guitarist and fiddler of The Buckaroos, the backup band for Buck Owens, that "born and bred, cornbread fed, California Okie" who originated "the Bakersfield Sound." A fixture on the road as a teenager in the early days of rockabilly, Rich stayed with Owens from 1960 onward, even as other sidemen came and went. From rambling in a pickup truck from one dance hall to another as the fiddler, to national television appearances as Owens' guitar player and co-author of their signature Telecaster twang, Rich carved his own place in the world of country music.
Rich died tragically in a motorcycle accident in July of 1974, about a month shy of his thirty-third birthday. Owens was never the same after that, and neither was country music. Rich's legacy survives today in his recordings, and in videos of TV appearances, such as this one in 1969, from the syndicated "Hee Haw" show, where Rich plays a Fender Silver Flake Telecaster given to him by Fender Guitars in 1966.