Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Don Rich played lead guitar in Buck Owens’s backing band the Buckaroos, laying down licks on huge hits like “Tiger by the Tail” (which he co-wrote) and “Act Naturally.” His rich tone and impeccable timing helped define the Bakersfield sound, which introduced electric guitar to the largely acoustic genre. In the early ’70s, Rich recorded an album of George Jones covers, with Owens producing in his new Bakersfield studio. For reasons that we’ll never know, however, the album was shelved; Rich died in a motorcycle accident in 1974, and Don Rich Sings George Jones collected dust for 40 years.
Now that the album is finally getting a proper release, it’s clear that Rich was never going to usurp either Owens or Jones. But his voice is robust and expressive, imbuing ballads like “She Thinks I Still Care” with heavy melancholy and skillfully maneuvering the tricky curves of rambunctious numbers like “Love Bug” and “White Lightning.” Rich excels at the latter actually, primarily because those barreling tunes give him more opportunity to show off his dazzling chops. In fact, between this release and Omnivore’s other Owens reissues (including Honky Tonk Man and Live at the White House), Rich emerges as one of the most inventive, most influential, and most unsung guitar players in country music.