Donald Eugene Ulrich was born in Olympia, Washington, on August 15, 1941. The adopted son of Bill and Ann Ulrich grew up in nearby Tumwater and later lived in a log house near Trosper Road and Capitol Boulevard at his No. 6 Tumwater Hill and Ferry, where his father’s I lived next door to a barbershop.
His parents began teaching Don the violin when he was three years old, and his father built a small violin for him to play. His parents made him participate in numerous talent shows and perform at various events. He also started playing the guitar at an early age.
While attending Olympia High School (he graduated in 1959), Rich played in various local venues and high school orchestras. In September 1957, at 16, he opened for Elvis his Presley at the Lincoln Bowl in Tacoma. He also formed an early rock and roll band called the Blue Comets with friends, drummer Greg Hawkins and pianist Steve Anderson. By 1958, Rich played regularly at Steve’s He’s Gay ’90s restaurant in South Tacoma.
While working at radio station KAYE, Tacoma resident Buck Owens joined him on one of his shows and immediately spoke to him. Rich soon played fiddle with Owens at local venues. They were featured in his weekly BAR-K Jamboree on KTNT-TV 11, with Loretta Lynn guest starring in his television debut. Shortly after that, Owens’ “Under Your Spell Again” reached No. 4 on the country charts and returned to Bakersfield, California, to continue recording on his Capitol records.
Owens tried to persuade Rich to come to Bakersfield, but Rich chose the University of Centralia, where he was a music teacher. He also continued his performances at local venues. While in Centralia, he became acquainted with his future wife, Marlene Schindler. They met several years ago in Morton, a small town in East Lewis County, where Marlene was reigning as Queen of the Morton Loggers Festival. Decided to join Owens in December 1960 for $75 a week. Rich returned to Washington and escorted Marlene to Nevada, where they were married.