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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Howard


Harlan Howard and Buck Owens were “starvation buddies” in the early 1950’s. Harlan had moved from Michigan to California where there was a burgeoning music scene. His plan was to get a factory job by day and work the music scene by night. He and Buck along with pals like Bobby Bare and Wynn Stewart would hang out at the Palomino Club in LA and at the Blackboard in Bakersfield.

Harlan lived with Buck in a small apartment with a three-legged spare bed thus the term “starvation buddies” because they were poor and hungry. Harlan found a brick-o-block to support and level out the bed. From there, their life-long friendship began.

Harlan told me a story about being on the road in a car with Buck crisscrossing the state of Texas for five long days. Buck was driving and Harlan was in the back seat stretched out. Buck was pestering Harlan about the slogan, “Put A Tiger In Your Tank” which was the slogan for Esso Gasoline stations. Buck thought it was a great idea for a song. Harlan was uninspired.

By the end of the fifth day, the trip nearing the end, Harlan said he tossed the lyric to “Tiger By The Tail” to Buck in the front seat and said, here’s your lyric. About a week later Harlan gets a phone call from Buck saying that he was going in to cut their song. Harlan tried to persuade Buck not to cut it. He said it was a joke and not a good idea. Harlan tried his best to stop Buck from cutting, he honestly thought it would ruin his booming career.

Buck called Harlan and said our song is coming out. So when the next Billboard Magazine arrived, Harlan nervously looked at the bottom 10 songs. “Tiger” was nowhere to be found in the 90-100 top song. He was worried. His gut was right. Oh well, he thought, I wonder what my buddies are doing in the Top 10. His eyes scanned upward to the Top 10. Low and behold there sat sweet little ol, “Tiger By The Tail” at number 8 the first week of release. Harlan belly laughed while dialing Buck. He admitted he was wrong and Buck was on fire!

Respectfully written, 6.4.19

Melanie Smith-Howard

Harlan Howard (click on picture)

Buck Owens (click on picture)

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