Gagsters Pinkard and Bowden Tickle Country Music into Satirical Submission
06/04/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
The tune's as familiar as a broke-in pair of boots. Yup, it's that old Willie Nelson classic, the one about blue eyes cryin' in the rain. Only that burly, bearded guy singin' it ain't Willie, and neither's that shrimp standin' next to him in the secondhand cowboy suit. And the song—it's the same melody all right, but these two ain't doin' no lullaby lament. They're singin' about little old ladies on the interstate: "In the tail-light's glow I see 'em/Blue hairs driving in my lane/ When she hit me and departed/I knew there'd be no insurance claim."
The two progenitors of parody are Sandy Pinkard, 37, and Richard Bowden, 38, a pair of music-business veterans who have come to country audiences with puns blazing. Pinkard, who had penned such Nashville hits as You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma and Coca-Cola Cowboy, and Bowden, once a backup player for Linda Ronstadt, first joined forces two years ago. The collaboration has kindled a comedy act that now puts the heat to many of country music's icons.
Who else, for instance, would write "Elvis was a narc/In rhinestones after dark/He did his best to keep Memphis drug free/He knew every pill he'd eat/Would be one less on the street/Elvis took them all for you and me"? That ditty has yet to be recorded, but other such gems have been collected on Writers in Disguise, the duo's first album, released in March. Among the LP's spoofs: Delta Dawg, Drivin' My Wife Away and the aptly titled Somebody Done Somebody's Song Wrong.
For the two songwriters, the trip to the top has been as skewed as their lyrics. Pinkard, a half-Cajun native of Louisiana, played with folkie Ramblin' Jack Elliott, worked as an opening act for country singer John Anderson and cranked out a string of movie tunes for Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. Bowden, who hails from Linden, Texas, toured with Ronstadt, Roger McGuinn and Dan Fogelberg, and once was a member of Shiloh, an early 1970s band that included soon-to-be Eagle Don Henley.
Even before they met both musicians had shown a well-developed sense of the screwball. Pinkard once brought three guitar cases full of baby chicks to Motown's L.A. headquarters and sent the critters by elevator to the record company's offices. "I wanted to get the chickens adopted," he explains with a smile. Bowden, for his part, pulled his most memorable stunt while traveling with the Ronstadt band. Clad only in shaving cream (two cans' worth), he walked through a hotel lobby and calmly asked a flabbergasted desk clerk for a razor blade.
In April 1982 the kindred would-be comics met in the Nashville offices of producer Jim Ed Norman. "We walked out 15 minutes later and went for a ride," recalls Pinkard. "A hell of a long ride." Indeed. The two now spend 200 days a year on the road, often traveling in an ancient Airstream trailer pulled by a black '68 Caddy they bought for $600. At the wheel sits "Rugged" Robb Strandlund, their ex officio driver, roadie and accompanist (and co-composer of the old Eagles hit Already Gone). Off the road the pair spends time in the rustic house near Nashville where Bowden lives with Karen, his wife of 12 years.
Not everyone has greeted Pinkard and Bowden's act enthusiastically, and Jimmy Dean, for one, refused to give the necessary permission for a parody of Big Bad John. Still, the pair had little trouble roping in some famous friends for help on their Writers album. Henley contributes some lead guitar work, his fellow former Eagle, Glenn Frey, and Jackson Browne and Dan Fogelberg kick in with some background vocals, and even the Osmond Brothers appear for some professional knee slapping. For the starchy few who might object to the Pinkard and Bowden parodies, the partners have already penned a reply on one of their album cuts: "Frankly, scallop, I don't give a clam."