On This Day: Merle Haggard ‘Drags’ Clint Eastwood to the Top of the Country Chart With ‘Bar Room Buddies’ in 1980

by Jim Casey

Merle Haggard “dragged” Clint Eastwood to the top of the country chart with “Bar Room Buddies” on July 26, 1980. Or did Clint drag Merle? Stick around, buddy. Let’s uncork this tune.

Country music has had its fair share of unlikely duos score hits. Lawrence Welk and Red Foley topped the charts with “Shame on You” in 1945. Leon Russell joined Willie Nelson in 1979 for a No. 1 remake of the Elvis Presley classic “Heartbreak Hotel.” Scottish rocker Sheena Easton and Kenny Rogers teamed up on the Bob Seger-penned “We’ve Got Tonight” in 1983.

However, Clint Eastwood and Merle Haggard may be the most unlikely duo to reach No. 1. Of course, by 1980, both Merle and Clint were established stars in their respective genres. Merle was a bona fide country superstar, having topped the chart with iconic tunes “Mama Tried” (1968), “Okie From Muskogee” (1969), “The Fightin’ Side of Me” (1970), and more. And Clint? Well, by 1980, he had starred in dozens of TV shows and movies, depicting everyone from Rowdy Yates to “Dirty” Harry Callahan. In addition, Clint had segued into directing films, including Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and more.

That brings us to 1980’s Bronco Billy, a film Eastwood both starred in and directed. And when you do that, Clint proved you can put yourself on the soundtrack.

Bronco Duo

The movie featured Clint playing an ex-shoe salesman from New Jersey who turned to running a Wild West show of quirky misfits. The movie’s soundtrack boasted a country-heavy contingent, including Merle Haggard, Ronnie Milsap, The Reinsmen, and more. And by more, we mean Clint.

Merle and Clint released a duet called “Bar Room Buddies.” While Merle crooned, Clint basically did a little spoken-word singing.

While the film was a modest box-office success, “Bar Room Buddies” was a knockout on the charts. Penned by Milton Brown, Cliff Crofford, Steve Dorff, and Snuff Garrett, “Bar Room Buddies” was released in April 1980. The tune debuted on the country charts on May 17. The film was released three weeks later on June 11. “Bar Room Buddies” reached the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on July 26, 1980.

“I think you can say Merle Haggard had a hit and sort of dragged me along,” said Clint to Rolling Stone in 1985.

“I told him before we started, ‘I hope you’re a better singer than I am an actor,’ but I believe I’m a better actor than he is a singer,” quipped Merle Haggard, according to a Country Weekly article in 1998.

Clint Keeps Crooning

“Bar Room Buddies” was Clint’s first and only No. 1 hit. However, it became Merle’s 25th of 38 No. 1 singles. In addition, Mere’s “Misery and Gin,” which was also featured on the Bronco Billy soundtrack, reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1980.

Of course, Eastwood super-fans may recall Clint showing off his pipes by singing “I Talk to the Trees” in the 1969 musical Paint Your Wagon.

So, can we close the book on Clint’s singing career with “Bar Room Buddies”? Nope. Later in 1980, Clint teamed with another legend, Ray Charles. The duo recorded “Beers to You” for Clint’s Any Which Way You Can soundtrack. A few years later in 1984, Clint joined forces with T.G. Sheppard to record the novelty song, “Make My Day,” which became a Top 20 hit.