Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. was born in Sherman, Texas, the son of sharecroppers. He chose the nickname "Buck" after a family horse (or a mule — reports seem to vary). In 1937, his family joined many others fleeing the hardships of Dust Bowl farming during the Great Depression. They packed 10 family members in a Ford sedan, and left Texas for California. Their trailer hitch broke in Mesa, Arizona, and there they stayed.
Owens worked the fields while teaching himself to play several instruments with the aid of his mother, father, and uncles. At age 13, Owens dropped out of high school to earn a living. He worked a number of odd jobs, and eventually found work playing music in bars for $5 a night. In the late 1940s, he began running produce between Arizona and the San Joaquin Valley of California, and was impressed by Bakersfield, finally settling there to work the gritty honky tonks populated by Bakersfield's oil workers. He developed a reputation as one of the best pickers around. He signed on with Capitol Records in 1957, but didn't do as well as he'd hoped. He moved to Puyallup, Washington to work at a radio station. There, he learned radio business from the ground up, and where he met and teamed up with Don Rich, who became his partner and close friend until Rich's death in 1974.
Owens and Rich had some success with a few songs, including a Top 10 with "Under Your Spell Again." They decided to return to Bakersfield, and there, Owens's backup group "The Buckaroos" was put together in 1959.
Four years later, Owens began to enter the top of the charts with regularity. He scored 15 #1 hits between 1963 and 1972. He started a production company called "Buck Owens Productions," which developed a syndicated TV show. Excerpts from the show, "The Buck Owens Ranch Show" were used as country music videos a decade later. He landed a spot as a co-host of the comedy show Hee Haw for seventeen years, sharing the spotlight with Roy Clark. This exposure brought Owens to the attention of a wider audience, but viewers tended to see him as a comedian, rather than a musical talent. He left the show in 1986. By this time, his recording career was in a slump, as audiences were becoming enamored of pop-influenced music coming out of Nashville.
Unlike many fellow artists, Owens avoided drugs and drink, living as a quiet family man. Owens was a rebel at heart doing his music his way, shunning the conventions of Nashville. Health problems such as a stroke and cancer of the tongue have drastically limited his musical activity in the 2000s, but he still occasionally performs in his Bakersfield club "The Crystal Palace" and, on rare occasions, elsewhere in California.