Graded on a Curve:
Moe Bandy, The Very Best of Moe Bandy, Volume 1

Of all the honky-tonkin’ hillbilly shit-kickin’ country-western stars ever to write a song about occupying a lonely bar stool, Moe Bandy is one of my favorites. And not just because he has a name that would be more appropriate for a Borscht Belt comedian. No, I love him because he sings mostly about honky tonk infidelity, and who doesn’t love a good cheatin’ song? He’s the King of Barstool Mountain, says it right in a song. He also delivers one of the finest lines in honky tonk mythology, to wit, “I just threw my last bottle at the juke box.” That, friends, is country music poetry at its best.

Bandy, a former rodeo bronco-buster and bull-rider turned sheet metal worker—a job he held for 12 years while trying to get his music career on track–finally broke and was huge in the late seventies and early eighties, but it’s been a while since any of his new songs have been played on country radio, which is his fault because he sanded off all his rough edges and got slick in order to stay abreast of the times, and it backfired. Now he stays close to his club in Branson, Missouri, and plays for a crowd that still loves to hear such cheatin’ numbers as “I Just Started Hatin’ Cheatin’ Songs Today” and “I Cheated Me Right Out of You.” To say nothing of the great “Just Good Ol’ Boys,” a non-cheating song on which he was joined by Joe Stampley—the pair that gave us “Where’s the Dress?,” an amusing novelty tune about Boy George that pissed off a lot of people, including Boy George himself.

I’m not going to lie to you; when he isn’t bemoaning the women he’s lost due to his thirst for liquor and wandering eye, he’s fully capable of singing maudlin numbers that I can’t abide. Like “Americana,” a slice of slick patriotic treacle that causes my gorge to rise. So awful it got played at George Bush’s inauguration, “Americana” is a celebration of small-town America and the virtues of patriotism, and it makes me feel like an America-hating commie son of a bitch, especially since I grew up in a small town and know damn well that far from being idyllic places to raise your kids they’re hotbeds of boredom, bigotry, and in-bred ignorance.

“Til I’m Too Old to Die Young” is treacle too, but it’s likeable, an easy-listening plea to God to let Moe live long enough to watch his “children grow to see what they become.” 1981’s “Someday Soon” is more light fare, a too smooth song about his love and how her folks hate him because he works the rodeo. He loves those “danged old rodeos” as much he loves her, but he knows she’ll follow him on the rodeo circuit “someday soon.”

The album doesn’t really go honky-tonkin’ until the great “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life.” Piano, pedal steel guitar, harmonica, and some great lyrics conspire to produce the perfect jukebox number, and it’s wonderfully lacking in even the slightest degree of slickness. “Just Good Ol’ Boys” is a truly hilarious duet with Joe Stampley, with the pair swapping stories of misadventure (“I’ve been locked up for driving 120 through town”) followed by the lines, “Other than that, we ain’t nothin’ but good ol’ boys.” My favorite lines are,

“Threw my boss out the window and got fired from my last job.
Hot-wired a city truck and turned it over in the Mayor’s yard.
Well… I beat my brother-in law half to death… I lost 20 bucks on his football bet.
But other than that, we ain’t nothin’ but good ol’ boys.”

“I Just Started Hatin’ Cheatin’ Songs Today,” Bandy’s first hit, is a honky tonk classic, with great fiddle and wonderful lyrics (“I just found out my old woman is the Devil”) sung by a fella whose attitude towards cheating songs has undergone a radical change now that he finds himself wearing the cuckold’s horns. If there’s a better couplet than “I just threw my last bottle at the jukebox/When I heard that woman singing let’s go all the way,” I want to hear it. “Cowboys Ain’t Supposed to Cry” walks the fine line between touching and maudlin, but I like it. It features Bandy going back to Houston having come down in the world, from rodeo star to rodeo clown, and he’s finished: “So I’ve given it up/I’m layin’ it down/I’ve had enough/Of being a rodeo clown.”

“Barstool Mountain” has Bandy climbing a barstool, “high above your world where there’s no pain.” It’s got a nice melody, some fine fiddle, and while Bandy pronounces himself the King of Barstool Mountain he might as well be King Lear—he’s lost everything he loved, and while he climbs down from his barstool every evening he tells himself he’s “strong enough to make it without you,” he knows he’s “pretending I don’t love you once again.”

On “It Was Always So Easy (to Find an Unhappy Woman)” Bandy the womanizer has the cards turned on him; to the accompaniment of some truly maudlin pedal steel and fiddle he sings about how easy it was to pick up an unhappy woman “until I started looking for mine.” Because she’s sick of his straying and has decided to do some of her own, and Bandy can’t help but see her in the arms of some devil on the make just like him. “I Cheated Me Right Out of You” mines the exact same vein; through all his cheating he has managed to do nothing more than cheat himself, because his two-timing has caused his woman to “walk out and leave.” “I lost out at my own game,” he sings, “Cuz look who cheated who/I cheated me/Right out of you.”

Bandy may not be the best country artist around—the schlock factor is just too high—but you’ll be hard pressed to find a finer writer of cheatin’ songs, which when you come to think about it is the foundation popular country music was built on. Drinking enough to cheat, then drinking even more to forget the price paid for cheating, is what country music is all about, once you’ve subtracted faithful dogs, lonesome railroad whistles, pickup trucks, and how mama caught the midnight bus to Texarkana and she ain’t coming back. As Bandy sings in “That’s What Makes the Juke Box Play,” he sings, “So many disappointments/That’s what makes the juke box play.” Me, I’ll always love Bandy for throwing his boss out the window. That’s not a familiar country trope, and the same goes for turning a city truck over in the mayor’s yard. Bandy may not be outlaw country, but not even Waylon Jennings can say he’s done that.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

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