“The Winner” and other losers: country bar-fight songs

Elton John may have declared Saturday the night for fightin’ and Link Wray may have been ready to “Rumble,” but sure as red, white and blue the soundtrack to a bar fight is honky tonk country. And like all good country music, there’s a story in all the best bar fight songs.

Honky tonks have been a primary setting for country music since Hank Williams crooned “Honky Tonkin'” in 1948, and ground zero in the battle of the sexes ever since Kitty Wells’ responded to a Hank Thompson tune with “It Wasn’t God Who Made the Honky Tonk Angels” four years later.

Other country standards carry an implicit rowdy brawl — there’s no doubt, for instance, that Garth Brooks got his ass kicked after taking the groom’s glass and toasting his “friends in low places,” or that any of several Loretta Lynn hits (“Sweet Thang,” “Fist City,” etc) ended in anything short of a cat fight. Through all those years we were warned rap music would corrupt the youth of America country singers have been treating the tavern like a playground. You’re already familiar with the setting, so let’s introduce you to the redneck mother who’s going to kick your ass…

Oklahoma native Ray Wylie Hubbard wrote “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother,” and chose the tune to open his second album — but it what made it a country standard was a rendition on Jerry Jeff Walker’s live album, A Man Must Carry On. Hubbard’s own explanation of the song’s origin, at a birthday celebration for Walker, is just as funny:

Johnny Paycheck ran into the redneck mother in “Colorado Kool-Aid,” a tune from his hit album Take This Job and Shove It. It was on the flip side of the title track’s hit single, reaching #50 on Billboard’s country singles chart all by itself in 1977. Nearly a decade later, Paycheck walked into the North High Lodge in Hillsboro, Ohio and got into a similar disagreement. This very real bar fight ended with the country singer shooting a .22 at a fan, grazing his head. Paycheck, who was quoted as saying “Do you see me as some kind of country hick?” before firing the gun, eventually served a small portion of his nine-year sentence before being pardoned.

One of the very best outlaw country tunes of the seventies was Charlie Daniels’ “Uneasy Rider,” which tells the story of a ‘cosmic hippy’ as described by Hubbard getting into a fight with rednecks in a Jackson, Mississippi bar after his car breaks down.

Daniels himself drifted to the right so strongly that his 1988 remake of “Uneasy Rider” is just about the opposite of the original song: the counter-culture is then represented with the same disdain Daniel’s had reserved for the rednecks of the Dew Drop Inn in 1973.

Bobby Weir introduces a novelty number on the Grateful Dead’s Reckoning by saying, “From a song about tragedy impending we’re going to move swiftly to a song about tragedy narrowly averted,” and that’s a fine description for this next song. Lynyrd Skynyrd is, of course, more southern rock than country music, but there are shades of Nashville in all of our favorite of their songs, including “Every Mother’s Son,” “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe” and of course “Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Gimme Three Steps” is a song about a bar fight we can presume doesn’t happen.

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What better way to end a playlist of bar fight songs than with “The Winner” by Bobby Bare, a song written by prolific poet Shel Silverstein? Bare’s 1976 album The Winner and Other Losers is best remembered for producing one of the clumsiest country hits, “Dropkick Me Jesus,” but we think of “The Winner” as its best song. And to bring today’s post full-circle, the other side of the single was Bare’s version of “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.”

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