Fuzzy Owen has been looking forward to his 90th birthday celebration at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace since at least the fall. That's when the Bakersfield Sound pioneer reminded friend and birthday buddy Carol Knapp about their upcoming birthdays.
"This last October, he called me and said, 'Carol, I just wanted to remind you we have birthdays coming up,'" Knapp said. "I asked him if he was talking about our April birthdays."
Now, it's finally time to celebrate. The party will happen at the Crystal Palace on Thursday at 5 p.m., with performances by Vince Galindo and Country Deluxe. This is the third year Owen and Knapp have held the birthday party.
Owen turned 90 on April 30, while Knapp turned 67 on April 29. Knapp grew up listening to the Bakersfield Sound and watching related TV programs of the time. As a banker at Wells Fargo for 34 years, she often helped Owen and his wife, Phyllis. Owen was also Merle Haggard's manager, so Knapp got to talk with Haggard on the phone a few times.
"Since I was basically his banker and saw his birthdate on Fuzzy's bank records, I would wish him a happy birthday for years and I also would recall Billy Mize's birthday, which was the same as mine," Knapp said, adding that Owen never sought much attention for his musical accomplishments. "I wanted him to be recognized for his part in our rich country music history. He is too modest."
Knapp said she had to talk Owen into that first birthday party, where she was able to get Ed Shelton and the CRS Riders to perform. She said the venue was packed with people Owen hadn't seen for years. Among the attendees were fellow Bakersfield Sound musicians Norm Hamlet, Tommy Hays, Jimmy Phillips, Larry Petre and Jerri Arnold.
"After he had so much fun and seeing so many of his old friends that first year, these last two years it has been his idea to have another party," Knapp said.
There's no cover charge for Thursday's party, and anyone who wants to attend is welcome to join. There will be cake. Guests just need to call the Crystal Palace to make a reservation. (If they want to eat or drink, Knapp pointed out, they are on their own there.)
Knapp said there is always a mix of people who know Owen personally, those who know about him and a few who just happened to be at the Crystal Palace on the night of the party.
Though Knapp said she wanted to "fade away" on acknowledging her own birthday for the annual party, "Fuzzy keeps bringing it up the last two years."
"It is a party for Fuzzy," she continued. "He is so remarkable. I feel he has kept himself in better shape physically and mentally than most of the famous musicians he spent over 60 years with."
Knapp encouraged people to come out to celebrate Owen, whom she called an icon of country music. In addition to being a musician himself, Owen also started Tally Records with his cousin Lewis Talley, recording many musicians, including Haggard.
"I don't know if any of our old Bakersfield Sound creators are 90 or over," Knapp said, noting that Tommy Hays isn't far behind Owen. "There are very few of the great Bakersfield Sound icons left."