Back when he was growing up on a Texas ranch, Moe Bandy’s dream was to be a singing cowboy. You know, like Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter and the rugged roundup of Western stars who galloped across theater screens from the 1930s through the mid-’50s. Bandy had the horse-riding part down pat at an early age, and as a teen he would go on to compete in rodeos as a bull and bareback bronc rider. His dream of following Roy and Tex down the dusty trail would not materialize the way he’d pictured it, but his chart-topping success as a country singer would fulfill a dream held by his father, a working musician in the San Antonio area.
“He wanted a bull rider and a singer, and he got both,” says the entertainer, explaining that his brother Mike filled the bull-riding bill, going on to ride seven times in the national finals. Like Mike, Moe is in the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, as the singer’s pork-chop-sized, embossed gold belt buckle gleamingly attests. But getting “beat up so bad” by the horned hotheads put an end to Bandy’s rodeo days, or the riding part, anyway. His 1975 hit “Bandy the Rodeo Clown” quickly established an ongoing association between his music and his ranching and riding background, leading to gigs “playing every rodeo in the world. I’d have my bus full of cowboys,” he says, “so I used to test new songs out on ’em; ‘What do you cowboys think about this?’ And cowgirls, of course.”
Among the 14 tracks on Bandy’s brand-new album, “Lucky Me,” are a pair of tunes that reprise the rodeo theme: “Broken Bones” and “The Horse You Can’t Ride.” With his audience these days comprised of fewer cowboys, though, it’s fitting that the songs are in fact love songs with rodeo-themed titles and imagery. “Usually, [rodeo songs are] about the rider and the cowboy itself; this includes the ladies, you know,” Bandy points out with a smile.
He’s especially fond of a new song written for him by Opry legend Bill Anderson, “(I Did) Everything Hank Williams Did but Die.” The traditional-styled tune threads together a number of direct references from Hank’s own compositions, so, as Bandy explains, Anderson asked the publishers of Hank’s catalog how to proceed. “And they said, ‘You give Hank a third.’ So, I tell everybody that Bill and Hank Williams wrote this new song for me,” says Bandy with a big laugh. Hank, in fact, looms large in Bandy’s history: his dad played and sang many of Hank’s songs, giving young Moe his first taste of Hank Williams and, equally important, an early clue as to how to forge his own musical identity. “Hearing my dad sing [those songs], it kinda gave me a style that wasn’t exactly Hank, but it was my style. I used part of [my dad’s] styling.”
Bandy and longtime Nashville session guitarist Jimmy Capps spent about a year, he says, searching for songs that fit the singer’s tried and true Dad-and-Hank-influenced country style before cutting the new album. With Capps and classic-country pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins rejoining him, Bandy set out to capture the spirit of the ’70s and ’80s records they cut together, which netted him more than 40 Top 10s, including 10 No. 1 singles. After his lengthy hot streak cooled in the latter part of the ’80s, Bandy turned his attention to Branson, Missouri, moving there and performing shows semi-regularly for more than two decades. Now, he’s in a recently purchased bus and traveling the U.S., happily reconnecting with longtime fans. For them, he says, “I try to be myself and think back over the years and how my sound was created. And that’s what I hope we’ve got here [on the new album].”
A largely laid-back affair blending elegant Western swing, ballads and gently mellowed honky-tonk, “Lucky Me” represents all the characteristics by which Moe Bandy has come to be recognized. A centerpiece track on the album, not surprisingly, is a tip of the Stetson to the cowboys who so strongly influenced him as a youngster. Titled “Long Live the Cowboy” and featuring cowpoke crooners Riders in the Sky as special guests, the nostalgic number, as Bandy explains, “talks about the old Western cowboys and the movies they did.”
While Bandy intended only to pay tribute to the film stars of yore who stood for something pure, honest and rooted in American lore, the song’s concept can be applied just as readily to the stable of country music elders who, like Bandy, are preserving traditions by carrying the classic-country torch. In that sense, at least, Bandy―whose past experiences atop bulls and broncs have earned him the right to wear his wide-brimmed hat as more than a mere stage prop―might just have reached that childhood dream of being a singing cowboy after all.