Dusty Owens was born on September 2, 1930 in Fairdealing, Missouri as Robert James Kucharski. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Flint, Michigan where he spent most of his childhood. When he was 6 years old, Robert took violin lessons in school but he later moved to accordion which seemed to be more to his liking. In 1947, while in High school, he joined a local western band called the O.K. Boys to play the accordion. Later that year Robert became their front man and changed the band’s name to Dusty Owens and his Rodeo Boys.

In 1947 Owens entered Flint Technical High School but he soon dropped out and moved to Saginaw, Michigan, to find a job as a professional musician. It was in St. Joseph, Missouri, while working for radio station KFEQ that he received his first official pay as a musician. When Glen Harris of Shenandoah, Iowa radio station KMA asked Dusty to come work for him, he moved to Iowa. At KMA he got acquainted with the famous Blackwood Brothers Quartet and with Ike Everly, the father of Everly Brothers Don and Phil. Ike was largely responsible for Dusty’s later career: he stimulated Dusty to concentrate on a singing rather than on playing the accordion and he helped him to get his own weekly 15-minute radio show at KMA. Ike treated Dusty as his pupil and took him to all kinds of events that might be helpful for Dusty’s singing career.

In 1949 Dusty Owens recorded several radio transcriptions for « Mother’s Best Flour » as well as for « Lassie Feeds » but when he got married later that year, he returned to Flint to work as an accordion teacher at a local school of music. In 1951, he and his former band the Rodeo Boys regrouped and briefly worked for radio station WHO, Des Moines. Apart from doing their regular weekday radio shows, the Rodeo Boys also were part of the « Iowa Barn Dance Frolic” that was broadcasted on Saturday nights.

In 1953, Dusty and his band joined the Wheeling Jamboree from Wheeling, West-Virginia, which was one of the most famous barn dances at the time. That same year Owens signed a songwriters contract with Acuff-Rose and on October 1, 1953 he signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. It was a standard contract for one year against a royalty rate of 2% of 90% and two one-year options.

On October 28, 1953 Dusty Owens did his first recording session for Columbia, with Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys and Chet Atkins providing the back-up. During the session at the Castle studio in Nashville’s Tulane hotel, he recorded four songs that were all self penned. Columbia released « Hello, Operator » and « The Life You Want To Live » (Columbia 21202) in January, 1954 and in May they released « Just Call On Me » and Somewhere She’s Waiting » (Columbia 21260).

The second recording session for Columbia was done on June 3, 1954, and again, Columbia released all four songs.

Don Law decided to exercise the first option in Owens’ contract and on June 21, 1955, he did his third recording session for the label. Only two songs of this session were eventually issued and Columbia didn’t exercise the second option.

In 1956 Owens recorded six songs for his own Admiral label, including his most famous song « Once More » that was later cut by many others including George Jones, Melba Montgomery, the Osborne Brothers, Roy Acuff and Dolly Parton. During the 1960’s he recorded for Wynwood, but the quality of those recordings was inferior to his previous output.

Dusty Owens, a music appreciation (by bopping’s editor)

The Columbia sides (1954-1955) are generally of high standard. Although Owens is more at ease with medium paced tear-jerkers, he offers also some very good fast boppers. Let’s investigate his records side by side.

« Hello, operator » (# 21202) is a fast uptempo with fine fiddle and bass. A steel solo and a brisk vocal. Its flipside «The life you want to live » is a sincere medium paced shuffler.

Billboard April 30, 1954


« Hello, operator »

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« The life you want to live »

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Billboard June 26, 1954

More of the previous one with the follow-up « Just call on me » # 21260) : a warm voice over a fine fiddle. Its flipside « Somewhere she’s waiting » is an uptempo which shines the steel of Don Helms in.

« Just call on me »

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« Somewhere she’s waiting« 

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A good song is « They didn’t know the difference (but I did) » (# 21310), an uptempo with fast fiddle and bass. « A love that once was mine » is a weeper that can be remoted.

Billboard Oct. 23, 1954

« They didn’t know the difference (but I did) »

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The last 4 Columbia sides are all medium paced weepers, sometimes very sincere, but excitement is gone, and no song really comes to light.

The Admiral sides are in comparison far superior than the Columbias.

A very great early 1956 fast duet first « It’s goodbye and so long » (# 1000) with Donna Darlene (1938-2017), paired with the all-time hit « Once more » : an energetic blend of duet vocal, fiddle and steel.

« It’s goodbye and so long »

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« Once more »

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« Cure that shyness » (# 1002) has Don Owens solo and is a fast bopper. « A place for homeless hearts » is a medium paced tune with great ‘hillbilly’ voice. « Hey honey » ( 1004) is a good version of the Wiley Barkdull song (Hickory 1074) and dates from 1957. The flip « Our love affair » is a fast shuffler with strong bass.

« Cure that shyness« 

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« A place for homeless hearts »

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Wiley Barkdull, « Hey honey »

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Dusty Owens, « Hey honey »

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I am putting aside Dusty Owens last sides (Admiral 1008) once his label was relocated in Florida : both songs are really poppish and outside the scope of this blog.

I added the very fine Rockabilly/bopper « You’re not doin’ me right » (Admiral 1003) by Donna Darlene, certainly backed by Dusty Owens’ Rodeos.

« You’re not doin’ me right »

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And mention must be made of the Abbie Neal Rockabilly platters on the label: « Newton’s law » (# 1001), « If again » (# 1006) and « Hillbilly beat » (# 15000). They may come in later fortnight’s favorites.

Biography and Columbia songs taken from W. Agenant « Columbia 20000 serie » blog ; Admiral songs from various sources, mainly YouTube. Labels from 45-cat or 78rpm-world. Dusty Owens pictures from Hillbilly-Music site.