THE BEAT FARMERS--THE BEST ROCK AND ROLL BAND EVER
AND NOW: BIGGER STONES
HOW THE BEAT FARMERS CHANGED MY LIFE
Bodie's was a dirty, green storefront bar in the middle of University Avenue, sandwiched between a manufacturer of prosthetic devices and an Alberto's taco shop. My old high school buddy, Doug, was in town for the weekend and we were looking for something to do for the night. Doug said an old friend of ours from college, Buddy Blue, was playing in a band and they were playing at Bodie's that night, so we decided to check it out.
The Beat Farmers, as they were called, were onstage pounding out a sweaty set of rhythm and blues. I heard pieces of Bo Diddley one minute, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, and Led Zeppelin the next. The music was raw and alive, and it gave me a chance to blow off the steam I was accumulating in the halls of academia as a student at San Diego State University.
It was 1984, my third year in college. And The Beat Farmers were everything I wasn't.
THE HISTORY AND PERSONNEL
The Beat Farmers consisted of Buddy "Blue" Seigal and Jerry Raney on guitar. They also covered most of the vocals. Rolle Love, the bassist, was the quiet one, who seemed to enjoy staying in the shadow and plucking his huge upright bass. Drummer Country Dick Montana cultivated a hip western look. He wore a big, black cowboy hat, black boots, and a long, brown leather coat. Country Dick, whose real name was Dan McLain, was a cross between Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Sammy Davis, Jr.
The band started out when Country Dick made invitations to local musicians to join "a rolling pleasure machine." With an invite like that, who could resist? Jerry and Buddy signed on and then they found the then under-age Rolle to help them keep rhythm.
After a few years of playing small clubs around San Diego and putting out their debut album Tales of the New West on indie lable Rhino Records, Buddy left the band due to those pesky "artistic differences." He was replaced by local guitar hero Joey Harris.
Unfortunately, after several albums, an exhaustive touring schedule, and a troublesome record deal with Curb Records, Country Dick died while playing the drums in the middle of a set whlie The Beat Farmers were in a club in Whistler, British Columbia. One of the most colorful live performers I'd ever seen was the victim of a massive heart attack.
About ten years later, however, the three surviving members--Buddy, Jerry, and Rolle--agreed to reunite and play again, newly christened The Farmers, in deference to Country Dick. Opinions around the circuit differ (and often result in very heated exchanges) as to why Joey Harris was not in this line-up.
Seeing three-quarters of the original line-up live again over twenty years after discovering the band was a miracle--something not too many people get to say they experienced. They also put out a fantastic album called Loaded , which included a song called "Watching the River." This is the tune I call the "lost" Beat Farmer song. I told Buddy once that I thought that song would have been were the band would've gone if he'd stayed all those years ago.
I saw them play again probably four or five times before I got the e-mail from a friend saying that Buddy's heart gave out and he died in his bed at home one afternoon.
It was truly, and once again, the end of an era.
Typically, Country Dick was in charge of the novelty songs. Just before he died, he did, however, release a solo album entitled The Devil Lied to Me, where he attempted a more mainstream approach.
While playing with The Beat Farmers, however, he did four or five tunes that were so much of his persona, they were like rock and roll fingerprints. His cover of the Johnny Cash hit "Big River" was legendary, but I also liked "Beat Generation," "Lonely Blue Boy," and of course, the Beat Farmer original "Happy Boy," a cheery little tune about a guy's love for his dead, dead dog:
"My little dog Spot got hit by a car (hubba, hubba, hubba)
Put his guts in a box and put 'em in a drawer" (hubba, hubba, hubba)
'Cause I'm a happy boy. (happy boy). I'm a happy boy (happy boy)
Ain't it good when things are going your way?
And then there was "Big, Ugly Wheels," another Country Dick classic, this one about a truck driving girlfriend which contained the immortal line "She wants me to be true to her/She comes home once a month/Her mustache caked with vomit/and teethmarks on her butt." What's not to like? Those nights with the Beat Farmers allowed me to approach the abyss of my youth and spit over the edge. There was always a sense of freedom, wild abandon, and reckless fun.
The Country Dick songs were ALWAYS entertaining--especially if he was poised above your cocktail table, balancing a beer on his head, scaring you to death that he might fall and crush you like a bug--but they were not, however, my favorite tunes by this band. I loved Buddy's deep blues ("Dallas," "Missing You," "Sunday Morning") and his quirky country ("Lost Weekend," "Goldmine," "Lonesome Hound,"). I also liked Jerry's straight ahead rock and psychedelia ("Selfish Heart," "Show Business"). And as you can see from the "Reason to Believe" clip, what Buddy could do with a little piece of metal on his finger was absolutely magic.
Their cover songs were also legendary. They did kick ass versions of Elvis' "Trying to Get to You," Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone," and a version of Bruce Springsteen's "Reason to Believe" that is one of the cleanest, leanest rock songs I've ever heard and is rumoured to have pleased even The Boss himself.
My favorite songs, though, were penned by the immensely talented songwriter Paul Kamanski. His songs "Bigger Stones," "Road to Ruin," and "Hollywood Hills," have been my favorites by this band for over two decades.
As for my personal recommendation, if you get the first three albums: Tales of the New West, Glad N Greasy (an EP imported from Britain), and Van Go, then you know who The Beat Farmers are. If you decide you like them, I would also recommend Pursuit of Happiness and Poor and Famous, although on the latter, I felt they went a little too hard rock for my tastes.
It's hard to express the influence that The Beat Farmers have had on my life. But there is something about understanding the passage of time in their music and its effect on my life. I bought their album when it was released in 1985; re-purchased in Los Angeles as the first CD I ever bought in 1988 when Compact Discs had just come out; and their Live album/Demo "Live at the Spring Valley Inn" was the first album I downloaded into my iPod over ten years later. No matter the change in music technology, The Beat Farmers have always been there for me.
The Beat Farmers were playing guitar-driven, stripped down blues, country, and soul influenced "roots" rock and roll during a time when Boy George, Kajagoogoo, and Cyndi Lauper were topping the charts. We needed a band like The Beat Farmers back then, and they came through for those of us who wanted real rock and roll. Man, I miss those days of sitting in a smoky bar, listening to the boys rocking the house, and dancing with the pretty ladies.