See Ringo Starr and Buck Owens in 'Act Naturally' Video - Rolling Stone
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Flashback: See Ringo Starr, Buck Owens Play Cowboys in ‘Act Naturally’

Western-themed 1989 clip unites former Beatle and country legend for spirited take on a Sixties pop-and-country classic

In the early Sixties, the Beatles were unquestionably the biggest band – and cultural phenomenon – in the world. But aside from crafting their own brand of spectacularly catchy pop tunes, the Fab Four were influenced by other musical genres, and that certainly included country music. Their hometown of Liverpool, dubbed the “Nashville of the North,” was populated with folk, blues and country-music clubs which predated rock & roll venues. As a teenager, John Lennon would often imitate Hank Williams and it’s no coincidence that after the Beatles’ popularity exploded in 1963, George Harrison bought his “dream guitar,” a Gretsch Country Gentleman, the signature model of Nashville musician-producer Chet Atkins.

Throughout their recording history, Ringo Starr created or contributed to only a handful of original songs in the Beatles’ catalog, but all of them had a distinct country flavor, from 1965’s “What Goes On,” to which he added a handful of lyrics, to his first solo composition for the group, “Don’t Pass Me By,” in 1968. He also sang lead on the band’s version of “Matchbox” by Carl Perkins. But it was Starr’s vibrant take on a Number One country song by Buck Owens that would become one of the Beatles’ drummer’s most enduring tunes in live performance.

“Act Naturally,” written by Johnny Russell, was a tune the songwriter couldn’t get anyone interested in recording, until a writer friend of his named Voni Morrison pitched it to rising country superstar Buck Owens, who recorded it at Hollywood’s Capitol Studios in February 1963, the same month the Beatles recorded the bulk of their debut LP, Please Please Me. The song would top the country chart for Owens in June of that year, becoming the Bakersfield-based musician’s first Number One. In 1965, when the Beatles released their second film, Help!, the song, led by Starr’s twangy vocal, was included on the soundtrack LP’s non-film-related B-side. The song was something of an in-joke about Starr’s then-budding acting career, but it would also achieve legendary status as the flipside of the McCartney-dominated single, “Yesterday.”

On March 27th, 1989, 28 years ago today, Buck Owens joined Ringo Starr at Abbey Road Studios in London, where the Beatles had recorded so many of their iconic recordings, to update “Act Naturally” as a duet. The tune was accompanied by an elaborate music video with a Western theme, as Starr and Owens, decked out in cowboy garb ride into a dust-filled ghost town on horseback, enter a saloon and order a couple of whiskeys from bartender Vic Tayback, best known for his role as Mel in the TV series, Alice. The ghost town, it turns out, is actually a movie set and as the tune begins to play, Owens emerges from a trailer strumming one of his famous red, white and blue guitars. At the start of his own verse, Starr, dressed in black and wearing a cowboy hat similar to Owens’, descends on a movie-camera crane and the two ham it up, play-fighting about which performer will be the bigger star. The song, of course, has nothing to do with Hollywood ambitions, it’s really all about a dejected man and not having to act the part in the movie about his “sad and lonely” life.

Just two months after recording the song together, Starr would perform with his All Starr Band, the supergroup that would, in its first incarnation, include among its ranks Joe Walsh, Nils Lofgren, Dr. John, Billy Preston, Clarence Clemons and The Band members Rick Danko and Levon Helm. Still going strong, on October 13th the All Starr Band will kick off its latest tour this fall with eight shows at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The trek is currently slated to run through November 16th in Newark, New Jersey. Since 2012, the band has included Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie, Steve Lukather, Richard Page, Warren Ham and Gregg Bissonette, the longest-serving All Starr Band in the group’s nearly 30-year history. 

In This Article: Buck Owens, Ringo Starr


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