Today’s country artists aren’t rednecks, they just play them on TV. Twenty years ago was another matter. Moe & Joe, those were rednecks. Mickey Gilley was urbane in comparison, but he ran the world’s biggest honky-tonk, too. For better, for worse, they were the real thing.
The Ultimate Moe & Joe collects all the singles (plus some) from the 1979-85 duet phase of Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley, two mid-level Gene Watson/Hank Jr./Billy Carter morphs.
Trading verses about barroom brawls and beer-slinging honky-tonk mayhem, they made an amiable image of two bearded bubbas with a harmless wild streak and just enough brains to bait a hook. Their best-known track was “Where’s The Dress?”, a Boy George parody that I could swear used a musical quote from “Karma Chameleon” back then and doesn’t now. The song is included here, should you ever need to completely waste 2 minutes and 51 seconds of your life.
Far better moments are “Tell Ole I Ain’t Here, He Better Get On Home”, “The Boy’s Night Out”, and their last chart single, an unexpectedly sophisticated ballad, “Still On A Roll”, that’s head and shoulders above the rest of their buffoonery.
Much better than any of that are the first and fourth Mickey Gilley albums for the Playboy label, now reissued onto one disc. Room Full Of Roses and Gilley Smokin’, from 1974 and ’76, heralded Gilley’s grand and long-deserved arrival. After twenty years of indie-label Texas struggle, Gilley came to Nashville and conquered.
Most of his big singles are here: the aforementioned “Roses”, “I Overlooked An Orchid”, “Don’t The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time”, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, and “Bring It On Home”, along with Merle Haggard’s “Swingin’ Doors”, Bob Wills’ “San Antonio Rose”, and the gospel chestnut “I’ll Fly Away”.
As opposed to Moe & Joe’s attempts to breathe life into Music Row crankouts (with musicians who didn’t bother), Mickey stuck to classics and somehow (perhaps we can thank Playboy’s lack of interference) got away with murder. This stuff doesn’t sound like ’70s Music Row at all.
The pickers are playing like they mean it. The sound is rule-breaking, big-room and spacious; it’s part steel-guitar Nashville and part twin-fiddle Texas, with more passion in one Gilley right-hand key flutter than on Moe & Joe’s entire record.
If you want to put on a CAT cap and drink beer in a pickup truck with a buddy, Moe & Joe might kill 45 minutes for you before you put Hank Jr. back in. If you want a priceless collection of country classics from a master, go with Gilley.