“The most outrageous of ’em all” is the tag line of the 1980 Clint Eastwood film Bronco Billy. The tale of a poor man’s Buffalo Bill Cody and his rag-tag traveling show fits that description. Oddly enough, Eastwood’s duet with co-star Merle Haggard, “Bar Room Buddies,” avoids being as outrageously corny as some might’ve feared. Instead, it’s the textbook example of how a country legend should approach a celebrity’s musical cameo.
In the same year Haggard reestablished his mastery of drinking songs with his Back to the Barrooms album, featuring another Bronco Billy soundtrack cut in “Misery and Gin,” he topped the American and Canadian country music charts with this tale about a couple of old friends’ roadhouse reputations. At a time when big-time duets were common, a guest appearance by Willie Nelson or even someone like Ray Charles could’ve fit the lyrics by Milton Brown, Cliff Crofford, Steve Dorff and Snuff Garrett. Haggard worked instead with Eastwood, who’s usual deadpan, hyper-masculine delivery on the verses and surprise harmonizing talents on the chorus somehow don’t sound dated nearly 40 years later.
It’s off a solid country music soundtrack from Elektra Records, released the same year as the more famous Urban Cowboy. Ronnie Milsap sings a couple of cuts, “Bronco Billy” and “Cowboys and Clowns,” with additional tracks by the lesser-known Reinsmen and Penny De Haven. Instrumentals include the cleverly-titled b-side to “Bar Room Buddies,” “Not So Great Train Robbery.”
Read More: 12 Rare Gems from Merle Haggard
Eastwood’s Musical Peak
For Eastwood, the song and film kept him on the minds of country fans who’d loved him since his days as Rowdy Yates on Rawhide. It wasn’t his only big-time musical pairing. Other soundtracks include the Ray Charles duet “Beers to You” from Any Which Way But Loose and collaborations with Marty Robbins for Honkytonk Man. It’s fair to say that “Bar Room Buddies” remains Eastwood’s peak when it comes to his Hot Country Songs chart history and his quality of work. Sadly, he didn’t collaborate with Haggard again–imagine a deadpan Eastwood reading of “Things Aren’t Funny Anymore” or “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room.”
A Gem From The MCA Years
On Haggard’s list of nearly 40 No. 1 hits, it rests among other memorable songs from his late ’70s and early ’80s output. Beginning with 1977’s Ramblin’ Fever, the Hag had a really solid run with MCA Records. Between then and his Epic debut, 1981’s Big City, he matched his outlaw peers’ creativity with such memorable classics and deep cuts as “The Way I Am,” “Leonard,” “I’m Always on a Mountain When I Fall,” “Make-Up and Faded Blue Jeans,” “If We’re Not Back in Love By Monday,” “It’s Been a Great Afternoon,” “My Own Kind of Hat,” “Red Bandana,” “Dealing With the Devil” and “From Graceland to the Promised Land.” None of those are on the “Mama Tried,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “If We Make It Through December” or “The Fightin’ Side of Me” level, but it was a great run of success that helps define a legend’s career.