At 6:30 on the morning of July 17, 1974, Buck’s home phone rang. It was his son Michael, who managed KUZZ. He informed him that Don Rich had been killed earlier that evening when his motorcycle struck a highway divider. "He said , ‘Dad, I have to tell you something.’ And then he told me about Don. It’s something that I always wanted to forget and never to remember...and I had to call his wife and tell her --she was in Morro Bay."

Several of Buck’s musicians had bought motorcycles, and when other friends of theirs died in motorcycle mishaps, Buck repeatedly preached against them. Don promised Buck he’d ride his only on dirt trails. That night he was working late at Buck’s studio, planning to travel to Morro Bay to meet his wife and kids for some deep-sea fishing. He was heading from Bakersfield to Morro Bay on his bike when the accident occurred.

Buck was shattered. The alter-ego, the musical son who had blossomed under his wing, whom he depended on both in the studio and onstage, was suddenly gone. A huge void remained in Buck’s life and music and in his soul.

"After Don’s death, I don’t think I ever quite recovered. I had such a long period of shock and such a long period of being depressed and confused and hurt that I couldn’t talk about Don much for at least four, five, six years."

"Don was incredibly important as a human being. He was as much a part of the music as I was. He seemed able to read my mind. And a lotta times I would try to fool him on the stage: we had our little thing goin’. He was uncanny about catchin’ me so he could sing with me. There was never anything like that happened to me before or since. That’s the way I’ll always remember him. I finally got at peace with that."

Buck continued with Hee Haw after Don’s death, since he only had to tape in Nashville in June and October of each year. And in 1974, Buck was about to depart Capitol after 18 years. His records hadn’t been selling, so there was little or no thought of another Capitol contract.

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