A country-music traditionalist, Moe Bandy stands with guys like Johnny Bush and Johnny Paycheck as one of the true masters of the three veins of honky-tonk that matter most: loving songs, drinking songs, and cheating songs. If Bandy does a cover, he goes straight to the source code: Hank Williams and George Jones. The influence of both artists can be heard in Bandy's vocal delivery, and was enough to gain him ten No. 1 country hits while placing 40 songs in the charts during his career.
"I'm a traditionalist," says Bandy from his home outside Branson, Missouri. "I went into music wanting to sound like Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Ray Price, George Jones, the guys who set the bar for what I think of as country music. I just never saw myself venturing very far from those old-school artists."
As younger men, both Bandy and his brother Mike had a strong jones for rodeo, but Moe eventually found himself more interested in the entertainment that went on at rodeos than the bumps, bruises, and broken bones that are par for the course for men who ride wild broncs and bad bulls. Both Bandy brothers are members of the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame.
"Mike was a serious rider," Bandy explains. "He's made the national finals several times. Me, I rode my share of horses and bulls, but I was always more interested in music than in being a rodeo hand.
"But being around rodeos was a very important element in my ever having a singing career. I knew so many people around the rodeos everywhere that I started getting gigs to play the afterparties that go on, and that's certainly a part of how I put my career together."
Bandy's family moved to San Antonio in 1950, where his dad had a honky-tonk band. He finally gave up rodeo his senior year of high school to concentrate on music in 1962 and recorded his first single in 1964, but fame was slow to find Bandy. He labored another ten years in his father's metal-fabrication shop by day and played the joints in and around San Antonio at night before finally being discovered by the country music machine.
Late in 1973, with the help of a small loan, Bandy recorded "I Just Started Hatin' Cheatin' Songs Today." The tune was picked up by Atlanta's GRC label, which pushed the single to country radio stations.
It climbed to No. 17 on the country charts, and the label rushed out two more singles in 1974. Both "It Was Always So Easy to Find an Unhappy Woman (Till I Started Looking For Mine)" and "Don't Anyone Make Love at Home Anymore?" became minor hits. The next year he switched to Columbia Records where he hit the big time with "Bandy, the Rodeo Clown," written by Lefty Frizzell and Whitey Shaffer.
"Whitey loved the way I pronounce 'woe-min,' he just couldn't get over it," laughs Bandy. "But I tell you, with the rodeo elements and the strong honky-tonk base that song has, it was a perfect vehicle for me and it came along at the just the right time."
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By the time he became a honky tonk hit machine, Willie and Waylon had already begun the Outlaw Movement, but Bandy was never considered a part of that rebellion against Nashville.
"That whole thing kinda happened without really affecting me or Gene Watson much," Bandy recalls. "I loved what Willie and Waylon were doing, but that wasn't me. I'm a strict traditionalist musically, and so is Gene Watson. We just kept plodding along our path and luckily it worked for us."
Bandy left a trail of cowboy and cheating songs in his wake as he closed out the '70s with a handful of charting hits. And in 1979, he finally had his first solo No. 1, "I Cheated Me Right Out of You." That also marked the year that Bandy teamed up with Joe Stampley for a series of tongue-not-so-in-cheek tunes. Their first attempt, "Just Good Ol' Boys," also hit No. 1 in 1979.
Above: Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley got in some legal trouble with "Where's the Dress" but they did look good in drag.
The duo ran into trouble with their Boy George parody, "Where's the Dress," in 1984 when Boy George sued for copyright infringement.
"Man, that was a weird deal," Bandy laughs as he recalls the situation. "I honestly didn't even know the song, but Joe and the producer sampled that guitar intro from 'Karma Chameleon' without getting permission. We finally settled, but that little mess up cost us $50,000."
As traditional country singers were forced off the airwaves in droves, Bandy joined in the movement that made Branson, Mo. a center for older, traditional country acts. He had his own theater there for a while, but eventually got out of that, although he still lives just outside Branson.
"It's very centrally located for touring," says Bandy. "The country is nice, we have all four seasons but it's not terribly cold."
These days Bandy is back at it, making the casino circuit, playing the nicer halls. Friday will mark his first time at Dosey Doe. When told that the venue is known as an intimate listening room with high-dollar tickets, Bandy laughed and said, "Well, I guess I better get my seventy dollar show ready."
What really gets Bandy excited these days, as he approaches 70, is the thought of recording another album.
"I'm working on a new album with Jimmy Capps, the great Nashville session guitarist," says Bandy. "Right now, we need about two more good songs and we'll be ready to record. Radio won't play it, but satellite sure will."
Bandy hopes to have the new album out next year. Meanwhile, he continues to tour. He also has an annual cruise that departs from Galveston.
"My cruise is a little different," Bandy explains. "It's just me and my band, and we do a show every night. Then in the daytime, we either sightsee or just cruise to the next port. That's become something I really look forward to every year. Last year was a blast."
A man who is certainly terse and thoughtful in his answers to questions, Bandy thinks carefully while framing his thoughts about country star Blake Shelton's dismissive rant regarding old-school country singers a couple of months back.
"Look, I idolized guys like George Jones, Hank Williams, Ray Price, I even had my hair cut like George Jones's when I first started in this business," Bandy explains. "Now I don't begrudge anyone making a living, and I think the guys in this new-country stuff do work hard. But when you start disrespecting the artists that came before you, you don't deserve their respect in return."
As for new country, Bandy just shrugs.
"I can't listen to it," he says. "It doesn't touch me in any way."
Moe Bandy plays Dosey Doe, 25911 I-45 N., The Woodlands, at 8 p.m. Friday, October 18.
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