Last year, in the heart of the pandemic, Buck T. Edwards got a phone call from the guy managing Hank Williams IV: How would he feel about opening for Hank on a tour through the Bible Belt?
Buck didn’t need much convincing. They even handed him a list of his own songs they wanted him to play.
“He said, ‘We want the funny songs,’” Edwards said, across the table from me in a Portland coffee shop, sitting behind a pile of notebooks that hold about 1,000 of his original pieces. “They wanted me to be funny and engaging and warm the crowd up for Hank – and Hank was great. He was flawless with all the Hank Williams and Hank Jr. stuff.”
And Buck wasn’t just watching from the wings afterward.
“He got pissed at his bass player,” Edwards said. “He was an old guy and was complaining he wasn’t getting paid. So Hank fired him. And he comes over and says, ‘Buck, do you know how to play bass?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and I was the new bass player.”
After a life in bands that goes back more than three decades to groups like Treehouse (with Jason Phelps and the late Mark Waldon), picking up the chords on old-time country songs he’d heard a million times wasn’t that tough. Heck, there’s a song on his new album, “Temporary,” called “Things in a Country Song,” where he makes it clear he knows how the formula works.
But didn’t online math teacher Pete Buckley create this fake Buck T. Edwards persona as a way to, well, make fun of country music?
“There’s a touch of comedy,” he allowed, but he insisted he’s not taking the piss.
“It’s what I grew up on,” he said of his life in the County before he came down to Portland. “All my relatives were naturally like this. The taking the piss was being a principal and teaching math. Being Buck is not taking the piss. That’s how I grew up in rural Maine, but you have to put all that aside when you become an adult.”
Educated company perhaps isn’t amused by a song like the bluesy bar-band number “A Really Nice Rack” – even if the “rack” in question refers to the six-pointer hanging on the wall.
Buckley, who also released three well-received indie-pop records as part of the trio WOW in the early 2000s, says he created the Buck T. Edwards character as a way to lead a double life, hoping the high school kids he was teaching didn’t catch on. It didn’t quite work out.
“Parents were saying, ‘You can’t allow him around children!,” he said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Have you ever heard what your kids are actually listening to? Go listen to some Jay-Z or Dua Lipa.’”
With tunes like “Redneck Baby Blues,” “The Redneck Stomp,” and “Redneck Paradise,” all on his debut “Loaded Gun” album, it probably should have been obvious Buckley was doing performance art, but there’s a reason people are so eager to declare satire dead.
No one could really be offended by “put your finger on my trigger, babe,” right?
Rather than making fun of country music and its fans, though, Buckley’s Edwards persona is laughing right along with them, plying on the tropes and stereotypes that resonate and get a smile because of how close to home they hit. Sure, some of the stories he tells on stage are made-up nonsense, but some of them are really things that have happened and been passed down through his family in the classic oral tradition.
Like the rock-stomp “The Legend of the Buckley Mahaney Feud,” where, Buckley said, “those weasel Mahaneys” really were a rival family from across town who fired bullets into the Buckley home and had their camp burned down in retribution.
“One of the Mahaney brothers just got out of prison,” he added. “They were bad dudes.”
And none of it would work – at all – if it all wasn’t so well done. That “Really Nice Rack”? It’s got a ripping piano solo from Lindsey Montana and is boot-scootin’ infectious. Cajun Aces frontman Rob Sylvain slathers dobro all over the pathos-filled “Lubbock,” a legit alt-country number. Rustic Overtones’ Jason Ward drips sax solos all over the goofy R&B-lite “Summertime Fun” and pops the swinging “Girl from Havana” full of great riffs.
“I just wanted to write a Latin tune,” Buckley said. “That’s a cool chord progression. Maybe Bruno Mars will hear it someday and try to cover it.”
It’s an album full of authentic country. And it isn’t. Just look at the woman on the album cover, in a crop top, American flag hip-huggers, and cowboy boots, cigarette in hand, standing in front of a pick-up truck and a double-wide. Now that’s real country. But who is she?
“Oh, just photo I found on Shutterstock,” Buckley said. “It’s just some woman I found on the internet.”
Sometimes you just have to make sure you look the part.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Dan Sonenberg, “Time” — USM’s composer-in-residence releases the fourth in his 10-year project of songs only released on New Year’s Eve, culminating in the full album being released in 2027. This piece is trippy and prog-rock, with odd yodeling, soaring operatic vocals, and a general vibe that would be right at home in the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
• Zeme Libre, “Hourglass” — Known for their danceability and upbeat nature, this finds Zeme Libre in a darker and more aggressive mood, with crunchy electric guitars, a sneering vocal, and a chorus that pulls back rather than goes big.
• Myles Bullen, “Still Be Friends” — A quiet and thoughtful little piece that acknowledges our current time and place: “When this whole world burns we’ll still be friends.” It’s cynical, but it’s also somehow full of heart and beautifully warm.
• Scott Labbe, “The Halo Project: Not the One To Blame” — Fifth Freedom’s Labbe continues with his solo project releases, knocking out another hard-rocking piece with grinding guitars, soaring vocals, and plenty of low end.
• Seahorses, “Is This Just Survival” — Flying a bit under the radar last year, this six-song EP is worth revisiting, full of extended rock instrumentals that manage to be melodic and inviting even as they’re caustic and bombastic. This is an album you can sink your teeth into.
— Sam Pfeifle