Looking Back at Clint Eastwood's Musical Career

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Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort, an adaptation of the Broadway show Jersey Boys, which opened Friday. While Dirty Harry might not be the first name you think of when it comes to musical extravaganzas, we would argue that Clint’s been heading towards this his whole career. Below, we catalogued his not-so-secret past as a music maestro:

Rawhide (1963)

Eastwood got his big break playing Rowdy Yates on the long-running CBS western (he was 28 when the series premiered in 1959). This saloon scene, in which Rowdy croons a love song as he plays the piano, aired the same year that Eastwood released his first album, Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites.



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Paint Your Wagon (1969)

This notoriously bloated movie musical features Eastwood warbling a Broadway tune. “I Talk to the Trees” might well be the song that inspired Billy Crystal to sit on Eastwood’s lap at the 2004 Oscars and beg him never to sing again.



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Play Misty for Me (1971)

Eastwood was a jazz lover from childhood. “That whole mid-’40s be-bop scene, that was a terrific era for a young kid who was interested in music,” he recalled in the LA Times. His directorial debut, a proto-Fatal Attraction stalker film, had Eastwood playing the host of a jazz radio show. The song “Misty” is woven throughout the film, which also contains a somewhat superfluous 15-minute concert scene filmed at the 1970 Monterey Jazz Festival. 



"Bar Room Buddies" (1980)

Eastwood unexpectedly became a moderately successful country singer in 1980, thanks to two alcohol-themed tunes. “Bar Room Buddies,” a duet with Merle Haggard from Eastwood’s movie Bronco Billy, climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. He also did a duet with Ray Charles, “Beers to You,” that was heard during the bareknuckle-brawl comedy Any Which Way You Can. The song didn’t take off, but the movie soundtrack debuted at no. 5 on the country albums chart. Growing up, Eastwood has said he “developed a love for country music, which was gradually taking the place of old-time pop music, where they told a story and you could actually understand the lyrics.”



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Honkytonk Man (1982)

Eastwood took a deep-dive into country music for the Depression-era drama Honkytonk Man. The director starred as Red Stovall, a singer who wants to perform at the Grand Ole Opry before he dies of tuberculosis. Like the character played in the film by his son Kyle, Eastwood came of age in piano bars. “I used to fall into a joint called the Omar Club in downtown Oakland,” he told the LA Times. “I’d go in there when I was 16 years old, play piano and get a beer for a quarter…They’d give me free pizzas and meals, and I’d hang out there and play.”



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Bird (1988)

A major boon to his reputation as a director, Bird was Eastwood’s passion-project biopic about the troubled life of saxophone great Charlie “Bird” Parker (Forest Whitaker, in a breakthrough performance) — released the same year as the Eastwood-produced documentary Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser.



"Eastwood After Hours: Live at Carnegie Hall" (1996)

Eastwood once told Vanity Fair of his love of piano: ”If I’ve had any regret in life, it was not paying more attention to it and not practice, practice, practice.” Nevertheless, the actor-director had the opportunity to play Carnegie Hall alongside Joshua Redman and Phil Ramone at Eastwood After Hours, a jazz concert held in his honor.



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Mystic River (2003)

After years of writing instrumentals for his films — including “Claudia’s Theme” from Unforgiven — Eastwood composed his first complete score for Mystic River.  ”I didn’t want a jazzy thing because I didn’t see it as that kind of movie, but went with the three guys who were haunted by their past and the problems they were having in the present, and built a sort of triad on the piano, and just worked it out from there,” Eastwood told Billboard. Eastwood would go on to score a number of movies including Million Dollar Baby, Grace is Gone, and Hereafter.



Gran Torino (2008)

Having written the music for the previous year’s missing-child mystery Changeling, Clint left the scoring of Gran Torino to his musician son Kyle. Clint did, however, contribute a gravelly first verse to the theme song, written by Jamie Cullum. “Gran Torino” was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song, putting Eastwood in the odd position of competing with Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé. (Bruce Springsteen eventually won for the title song from The Wrestler.)

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Photo credits: © Everett Collection