Fuzzy Owen
Screengrab via YouTube

Bakersfield Sound Legend and Merle Haggard Manager Fuzzy Owen Dies at Age 91

Fuzzy Owen, a key player in the development of the Bakersfield Sound and the longtime manager of Merle Haggard, passed away on May 11 at the age of 91.

Charles "Fuzzy" Owen was born in Arkansas, but he'd lived near Bakersfield, California since the 1940s.

"To all fans and friends: Today Merle's lifelong manager Charles Fuzzy Owen passed away," read a post by Haggard's official Instagram account. "He managed Merle through his career. He also was the first one to record Merle. We will miss him dearly. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. God bless you Fuzzy!"

Owen's first major contribution to country music came through the song "A Dear John Letter." Owen cut the original recording with Bonnie Owens, the former bride of Buck Owens, future wife of Haggard and, more importantly, a great talent in her own right.

By most accounts, Owen and his cousin Lewis Talley received co-writer credits from another Bakersfield tastemaker, Hill Billy Barton, in an exchange for $150 from Owen and either Tally's scooter or car, depending on the source.

As Barton's co-writers, Owen and Tally made bank when Ferlin Husky and Jean Shepard turned "A Dear John Letter" into one of the biggest crossover hits of 1953.

This sudden cash flow solidified the cousins' Tally Records, the first label to release songs by Haggard.

After Haggard's renown outgrew a regional label, a 1965 deal to bring him to Capitol Records positioned Owen as Haggard's manager and co-producer, with the latter role shared by Capitol's Ken Nelson. Owen remained by Haggard's side for his entire career as a mainstream artist, from the success of "Mama Tried" and other hits to Haggard's final album, the 2015 Willie Nelson collaboration Django and Jimmie.

Beyond the various jobs he performed for Haggard, Owen co-wrote "Apartment #9" with Fern Foley and Johnny Paycheck. In 1966, it became Tammy Wynette's debut single.

Read More: Watch George Strait's Flawless Cover of a Merle Haggard Classic

Owen's memoirs, Merle Haggard, Bonnie Owens & Me, came out last year. A quote on the back cover from Marty Stuart best sums up Owen's legacy.

"From the first song Hag ever recorded until the last, Fuzzy Owen was there," Stuart wrote. "Fuzzy is Bakersfield, California. He is country music aristocracy, a king among men, a beloved monarch of twang and a true statesman— as well as being the contributing inventor of the California sound."

There's no word yet on Owen's cause of death.

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