"The most outrageous of 'em all" is the tag line of the 1980 Clint Eastwood movie Bronco Billy, co-starring Sondra Locke. The tale of a poor man's Buffalo Bill Cody and his ragtag traveling Wild West show fits that description.
The Warner Bros. motion picture was written by Dennis Hackin. It stars Eastwood as "Bronco" Billy McCoy and Locke as Antoinette Lily.
Fortunately, Eastwood's duet with co-star Merle Haggard, "Bar Room Buddies," avoids being the most outrageously corny of 'em all. 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 over 40 years later.
It highlights a solid country music soundtrack from Elektra Records, released the same year as the more famous Urban Cowboy album. 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."
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Eastwood's Musical Peak
For Eastwood, the song and film kept him on the minds of country fans who'd loved him since his early Hollywood days as Rowdy Yates on Rawhide. Shot in Boise, Idaho, the movie also featured Geoffrey Lewis as John Arlington, Scatman Crothers as Doc Lynch, Bill McKinney as Lefty LeBow, Sam Bottoms as Leonard James, Dan Vadis as Chief Big Eagle, Sierra Pecheur as Lorraine Running Water and Haggard as himself.
Still, 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, "Bar Room Buddies" 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 added another riveting chapter to a then-unwritten legend.
This article was originally published in July of 2018.
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