Wild Country: Rodeo Clowns

It's not surprising that country music looks to the rodeo with some frequency, but I must confess to being a little surprised at how often country songwriters turn their gaze to the rodeo clown.

But, then, as this collection of songs demonstrates, country artists have repeatedly found metaphoric value in this humble profession. Perhaps a little too much metaphor, as musicians tend to paint the clown as a sad, pathetic figure. But, then, finding the sadness and pathos in a story is often country's raison d'etre.

“Bandy the Rodeo Clown,” Moe Bandy (1975)

A strangely chipper alternative history of Moe Bandy in which he imagines himself a rodeo star destroyed and humiliated by bad love. Features both Spanish guitars AND 70s melancholy country harmonica.

“I Love a Rodeo,” Roger Miller (1975)

Dixieland-by-way-of-honkytonk, a wry but genuinely affectionate look at attending the rodeo, staring with a description of a rodeo clown named Jacob Brown who traveled from event to even in a trailer lugged by a ragtop 1955 Chevy.

“Rodeo Clown,” Mac Davis (1980)

Davis sings mournfully of his experiences in Hollywood, “living on dreams and swizzle sticks.” Davis is so unhappy with his small successes and larger failures that he’d rather do anything else, even be a rodeo clown.

“Rodeo Clown,” Li’l Cap’n Travis (2002)

Alt country rock featuring vamped organ and guitar talk box. Travis starts by vividly describes getting gored by a bull and then segues into an unflinching look at being at the bottom of a rodeo pecking order.

“Rodeo Clown,” Reed Foehl (2014)

Over a steady cowboy guitar and Neil Young-style harmonica, Foehl sings of being an “east Jersey cowboy lost in the West.” Cowboys often sang of loneliness and isolation, but this one places those feelings on empty highways and dive bars.

“Rodeo Clown,” Doug Moreland (2015)

Hard-swinging, Dixieland-by-way-of-Harry-Nilsson number with buoyant mandolin, in which Moreland tells of a traveling cowboy circus and the dance that follows the rodeo. Moreland complains that he, the rodeo clown, can’t find a dance partner.


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