Most people won't remember his name alone. If you tell them he was Buck Owens' guitarist, the leader of the Buckaroos, some people might recall the handsome, talented guy who died too soon. But mention this name to a guitar player who's been around awhile, and you'll see a look of utter amazement. They'll remember the fast fingers and ''chicken pickin''' that made the Buckaroos so famous.
Don Rich was born Donald Eugene Ulrich on August 15, 1941. He began playing violin at the age of three. As a teenager growing up in Tumwater, Washington, he picked up the guitar as well. During those years he caught the ear of Buck Owens, then a DJ and musician in Tacoma. After Don graduated from high school, he planned to become a music teacher. He quit college after a year or so to join Buck's band, named the Buckaroos by Merle Haggard.
Don and Buck were an amazing combination. Buck has been quoted as saying that their two voices joined to make more than the sum of their parts. It takes only a short listen to their music to see what Buck means by this. There was something magical about the way their voices blended together.
From the 1950's through today, many Buckaroos came and went, but Buck only had ONE "right arm" and that was Don Rich. Together they went from playing one night stands to the top of the charts. In the late 1960's, the Buckaroos won "Band of the Year" awards several times. Through TV shows like "The Buck Owens Ranch" and "Hee Haw," the Buckaroos' audience grew. There were several Buckaroos albums without Buck.
Don's talent was not limited to the guitar and his singing voice. He was an excellent fiddle player as well. He cut an album in 1972 (unfortunately this is not available on CD) called "That Fiddlin' Man."
Over the years I have had the pleasure of hearing from several people who knew Don Rich personally. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM has told me that Don was about the nicest person they've ever known. NOT ONE has had anything bad to say about him. Recently someone e-mailed me with a link to an interview with Doyle Holly, another Buckaroo, in which Doyle tells a story about Don's true personality. You do have to scroll way down the page to read this interview, but if you are a big Buckaroos fan or just getting into that kind of music, you really owe it to yourself to stick around awhile on that site. It is extremely informative and entertaining. Why, I could waste all day sitting in front of the computer looking at those pictures!!!
On July 17, 1974, after an evening in the studio, Don rode his motorcycle toward Morro Bay, California, where he planned to join his wife Marlene and their two sons, Vic and Vance, on a fishing trip. Don never made it to Morro Bay. Somewhere near San Luis Obispo he crashed his motorcycle and left this world way too soon. He was buried in Bakersfield.
The Rockabilly Hall of Fame has a page called Echoes of Bakersfield where you can see a photo of Don's final resting place.
photos above are treasures from my collection. (And
they're not for sale!) At the top is a publicity photo
from Don's solo work in the early 70's, and beneath that,
a photo of Don and Buck performing in the '60's. I found
these at a flea market booth full of country music
memorabilia. This man had dozens of publicity photos in
those old cheap goldtone frames like you used to find at
Big K and Dollar General Store. I wonder if maybe they
were displayed in a store or truck stop somewhere, though
they were in pretty good shape and didn't look faded or
I found the photos one afternoon and didn't buy them because my husband was with me, and I was afraid he'd would think I was spending too much money on "some old country music crap." (This was back in the days before I had the Hee Haw page. If I found something like this now, he'd know without a doubt that those pictures were going home with me!) The next day I drove back to the flea market and bought the photos anyway. The man running the booth looked me square in the face, and said, "You know, I'll NEVER find another picture of Don Rich again." I'll bet he was right.
This is a photo of Don's album "That Fiddlin' Man." This is a really hard-to-find collectible (though it IS a cut-out) AND IT'S NOT FOR SALE either! It took me way too long to find it. Though I think the artwork makes him look like a psychedelic Conway Twitty wielding a chain saw instead of Don Rich with a bow, it's one of my prize possessions. I think if my house was on fire, I'd get the kids and the pets out first, and then this! (My husband can fend for himself!) This is the only copy I have ever seen of this album.
buy this and other Don Rich albums
Former Buckaroo Jerry Brightman has made a great tribute page for Don
Here is a link to a page I just found - LOTS of pictures of Don!