Richard Bowden is “America’s Most Famous Unknown Entertainer”
Richard Bowden admits to, once upon a time, in the wee hours of the morning, walking into the lobby of a Washington hotel nude except for the shaving cream on his face. and asking anybody who would listen, “Do y’all know where a man can get a razor blade this time of night?”
That was back in the mid 1970s, when he was lead guitarist for Linda Ronstadt.
It wasn’t the first time he was nude, he claims.
“My mother once said, in response to some of my reported behavior, ‘The first time I ever saw him, he was naked and hungry.’ I guess I didn’t change much during those years.”
Bowden, who bills himself as “America’s most famous unknown entertainer,” made a lot of music before his years with Ronstadt and a lot of music in later years. He also served on the city council in Linden, Texas, where he was born, and is one of the founding instigators of Music City Texas Theater — all just part of a long and continuing resume.
He’s still most known— outside Linden, and maybe within — as half of the successful musical comedy team Pinkard and Bowden.
Bowden’s career began in high school when he joined his dad’s country music jams at home. Soon, he and some friends began picking up some instrumental gigs playing with the Ventures, Herb Alpert, and similar groups until, when the Beatles came along, they decided to add vocals.
“Nobody wanted to step up and sing,” Bowden remembers. “We were rehearsing at my parents’ house one night, and my dad suggested we write down the titles of four songs we’d like to do, and then everybody would draw a song and sing it whether we want to or not. We did it.”
So the primary singing job fell to young drummer Don Henley; yes, that Don Henley, eventually of the Eagles. Bowden sang some Johnny Rivers and Sam the Sham songs.
The guys’ band, after a chance meeting with Kenny Rogers in Dallas, eventually moved to Los Angeles and became Shiloh. That eventually led to a four-year gig with Ronstadt, which Bowden said was “great training. I was singing background with her. Her phrasing was impeccable, and some of that rubbed off on me. I was blessed to be with somebody that good.”
Henley and Glenn Frey also became part of Ronstadt’s band before forming the Eagles.
Bowden later played with, among others, Roger McGuinn and Dan Fogelberg before moving to Nashville and meeting another songwriter, Sandy Pinkard, a partnership that lasted 16 years and through four Warner Brothers albums – Writers In Disguise, PG-13, Live In Front Of a Bunch Of D-dkh—ds, and Cousins, Cattle and Other Love Stories – sealing Bowden’s reputation as a comic.
“I’ve been known for being funny for years, more known for being funny than as a guitar player,” he said.
The duo’s first big song parody hit was “Mama, He’s Lazy,” a takeoff on The Judds’ popular “Mama He’s Crazy.”
“Just as theirs was coming down off the charts, ours came out,” Bowden said. “It went way up on the charts, and Warner Brothers said ours sold more singles than the average #1. We were off and running. They put us out opening for everybody you could think of including Eddy Rabbit and Chrystal Gale.”
Pinkard and Bowden began playing comedy clubs next, rolling into town and doing the morning shows at classic rock radio stations.
“That’s where we found our audience, by getting up at 4:30 in the morning and then going into comedy clubs that night,” Bowden said. “We’d be there the whole week and get up every morning on the radio shows, and began packing the comedy clubs.
Other popular parodies included “Help Me Make It Through the Yard,” “I Lobster But I Never Flounder,” “Blue Hair Driving in My Lane,” “What’s That Thing (on Aaron Neville’s Head?), “Please Come to New Boston,” and more.
Over the years, the group did one serious piece: “Christmas Evergreen,” a recitation of a poem that Bowden wrote with a quiet guitar solo version of “Silent Night” behind the recitation.
In 1998, Bowden returned to Linden to help take care of his aging mother.
“My mother had been widowed for several years and her health had started to go down,” he said.
Music City Texas had already been formed, but didn’t have a venue. Bowden helped raise $25,000 from the Lions Club and the Linden Economic Development Corporation, and the group leased the virtually abandoned American Legion hall. Henley came home for a show, and Bowden called on old friends Rogers, Jackson Browne, Michael Martin Murphey, John Anderson, T. Graham Brown, Robert Earl Keen, and others to perform.
“I made a lot of friends, so I started calling people and started bringing in these national acts to Linden,” he said. “Michael Granbury wrote an article on the theater in The Dallas Morning News and we began drawing people from Dallas, Houston, Austin, and everywhere in between. That was a good thing because it boosts the local economy. People leave a lot of money at the theater, local restaurants, and motels here and in Jefferson.”
Bowden ended up as a four-term city council member in Linden, and last year filled out someone else’s two-year term.
He’s also helped with the annual Wildflower Trails of Texas Festival, the establishment of the annual “T-Bone” Walker Blues Fest, and remains a more-than-popular emcee for local events.
In 2010, Bowden had double bypass surgery and later fell in the rain and shattered a knee that took extensive repair with pins and metal plates. He also remarried in 2012, to Holly Joy Bowden, inheriting six-year-old and month-old granddaughters.
“I’m fine, so far,” he said. “Holly makes me eat all the right stuff.”
He doesn’t have to spend much time anymore with people confusing him and same-named fiddler Richard Bowden, who used to get Linden’s Richard Bowden’s royalty checks; that Bowden saved the checks because they weren’t his, and finally got them to Linden.
Rather than slowing down, though, he’s got responsibilities with Music City Texas Theater, with the blues festival, with the Pinkard and Bowden website, and with his band Moon & the Starz. He has a role as “the kindly faced Dr. Earl” in a movie, “Open Gate,” that’s available on Netflix. He also played guitar on three songs on Henley’s soon-to-be-released new album, Cass County, because Henley “wanted some of these B-Bender licks on his guitar,” Bowden said.
The B-Bender is a device, somewhat like a capo, that Bowden patented years ago to raise the pitch on a single string, creating a steel guitar effect. The company that manufactured the B-Bender began, he said, skimping on the quality of the parts, which affected durability, so when the contract ran out Bowden took control again. He opened his own shop where he’s in charge of quality control, created his own internet business, and sells the devices in, so far, the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
Today, the man who calls himself “America’s most famous unknown entertainer” is far from his days — but not too far — from the lobby of that Washington hotel lobby where he showed up wearing nothing but the shaving cream on his face.
For more information visit www.bowdenbbenders.com, www.pinkardandbowden.com, and www.richardbowden.com.