Buck Owens has put his mixed feelings about the Big Apple right out there. He called the city’s residents the best live audience he’d ever seen on that famous Carnegie Hall show record, but only a few years later informed us that “I Wouldn’t Live In New York City If They Gave Me The Whole Dang Town”. He would have had nothing at all to be ambivalent about at this rousing and fast-moving salute to his music by dozens of the area’s best country performers.
Staged at Downtime, a club in the Recording and Rehearsal Arts Building a few blocks south of Madison Square Garden, home to both impromptu performances by varied musicians recording upstairs and to regular late-night Goth shows, “Buck Off” was the second in a new, ongoing series of vaudeville (or Opry!) styled country-star salutes called the Chelsea Mountain Jamboree. Organized by downtown band the Chelsea Mountain Boys — leader Chal Pivik on guitar, Ethan Hein on funky harmonica, and young whiz Roland Satterwhite, out of British Columbia, on fiddle — with their producer Steve Halsey, the shows are aided and abetted by musical director Buddy Woodward, formerly of the Ghost Rockets and now a solo honky-tonk artist and bluegrass performer.
The initial Jamboree outing May 17 celebrated Dolly Parton, with such gusto and finesse that Parton sent her own producer to the scene to check it out, obtained a videotape of the performances, and sent back her appreciation. Owens gave the unofficial nod to this set, and Sundazed Records, which has brought back into circulation many of his key recordings, was a sponsor.
A packed house was offered over 30 Buck songs at Buckaroo-like speed, most in straightforward renditions, some with their own idiosyncratic turns. The basic Chelsea Mountain house gang was expanded onstage to include Mark Spencer in the Don Rich guitar role, Mark Boquist (brother of the Son Volt Boquists) on drums, Beat Rodeo’s Jon Graboff on pedal steel, Woodward (resplendent in his near-Nudie suit) and the Maudlins’ Rob Meador on guitars, and Ann Benkowitz (of the Monicats) on base. That’s a classy start, and the music they delivered was utterly lively while also seeming to have been practiced for years. Which it wasn’t.
Into the microphone spotlight came the Demolition String Band’s Elena Skye for spine-tingling duets with Mary Lee Kortes (of Mary Lee’s Corvette) on “Under Your Spell Again” and “Cryin’ Time”; the close harmonizing of brothers Rob and Ray Nissen of the Big Galoots on “Above And Beyond” and “Sam’s Place”; Amy Allison cooing slowly through “Only You” and “In The Palm Of Your Hand”; Spencer shuffling through “Foolin’ Around” and “Layin’ It On The Line”; and Laura Cantrell, appearing as a new sort of Teamster on “Truck Drivin’ Man”.
Particularly notable were rockin’ singer-songwriter Neil Cleary’s traditional but sly take on “Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line”; a rambunctious version of “Ruby Are Your Mad?” by the promising Courtney Lee Adams Jr. (of Courtney & Western); and the guest Texas-will-show-’em-how version of “Act Naturally” by Austin’s Matt Putman, a veteran of Buck salute shows down there.
Buck Off will be followed by new Jamborees every other month, including a salute to Loretta Lynn on October 4, with celebrations of Johnny Paycheck and the Stanley Brothers planned to follow.