Legacy Part 3: Country Dick Montana, Beat Farmers harvest cowpunk, hilarity and ‘Tales of the New West’
Editor’s note:This is the third in a series of articles about Country Dick Montana, who died onstage during a Beat Farmers performance 20 years ago.
Dan Perloff, a future record-label executive, heard the scuttlebutt from the Penetrators’ bass player Chris Sullivan: Country Dick and the Snuggle Bunnies had broken up, but Country Dick Montana had started a new band called the Beat Farmers.
The group included Jerry Raney from Jerry Raney and the Shanes, Buddy Blue from the Rockin’ Roulettes and the skinny, handsome 18-year-old Rolle Love, whose arms were so long he attached two guitar straps to his bass.
It was a San Diego super group.
Perloff, who was wrapping up his degree at San Diego State University, worked part time for a tiny re-issue label from Los Angeles with 15 employees, Rhino Records.
“The Beat Farmers played for free every weekend at the Spring Valley Inn, Perloff said. “They played three sets, a ton of covers and originals they had brought from their other bands, and I just kept thinking they were amazing. I was taping shows and sending them to Rhino, saying you’ve got to see these guys. (Rhino was) very much into the Blasters and Rank and File, the Long Ryders, all these roots bands that were getting signed in L.A. I said, ‘Hey come down and see these guys before everyone else finds out about them.’”
Seeking a record deal, the brand new Beat Farmers made a demo tape. Although it was a rather rudimentary recording set up by Randy Fuelle, the quality is decent. Long after the Beat Farmers’ run came to an end, Blue found the cassette tape and it was released as an album, “Live at the Spring Valley Inn, 1983.”
“This is hardly an audiophile experience,” Blue wrote on the album’s liner notes. “Sonic bitchen-ness isn’t the point here though; the ‘We don’t give-a-fuck” spirit of the original, very young Beat Farmers going through alchohol-marinated natal screams is the reason this recording holds up …”
Along with comedic tunes sung by Country Dick, the more serious songs are rock, rockabilly and, interestingly, doo-wop. Critics later would call the sound cowpunk.
Recordings never captured the singular experience of a live Beat Farmers show, but Country Dick’s voice was remarkable to hear, and he showed it off on the demo’s Conway Twitty cover, “Lonely Blue Boy.” It was at an octave that sounded lower than Elvis Presley or a baritone sax or even a deep beer belch.
“He could relax so much and get down so low it was like burning butter in a pan,” said Paul Kamanski, who wrote several Beat Farmer songs. “He would hit this register where you could feel it right in the middle of your chest and it was like he was tickling you. It would just crack you up that a human voice could get that low.”
A Beat Farmers show would start with a handful of incredibly powerful songs, oftentimes one being the Kinks’ “20th Century Man,” arranged and performed with such precision and intensity, it probably made the Davies’ brothers’ jaws drop. Then Country Dick Montana would emerge from the drum kit, a huge man in cowboy boots, hat and long duster, spinning and swilling beers, presenting, “artistry previously unseen on the planet,” as Mojo Nixon described.
“I begged to be in the Beat Farmers,” said Nixon, whose own onstage antics would later would gain acclaim. “Country Dick said there was only room for one fool, and that was him. In the long run, it turned out to be better because I got to be in charge of my own thing. Being in a band with three songwriters and three frontmen, that’s like being married to three people you can’t fuck. You could fuck them, I guess, but, you know.”
Perloff eventually joined Rhino Records full time and convinced Vice President Gary Stewart to come down to San Diego to experience the Beat Farmers. Rhino signed its first band that went on tour.
A larger-than life onstage character like Country Dick Montana needed a theme song, so he called up his old pal from the Snuggle Bunnies, Kamanski, who described the conversation.
“What do you want?
“I want you to write a song about a Dick.”
“OK, what kind of Dick?”
“ Well, a Country Dick.”
“A Country Dick? A guy named Dick, right?”
“Right, a Country Dick. His full name is Country Dick Montana.”
“He wants me to write a caricature of Country Dick. So how do I do this? I have to get my mind right. There was some Kamchatka vodka that my dad had and I got my cassette recorder and sat there with an acoustic guitar and a legal pad, and about a fifth of Kamchatka vodka later, I came up with the ‘California Kid.’
‘I rode into town on a crippled horse, got fired from my cattle job, up north. The ropes in the gallows were swinging in the breeze, all the wanted posters had pictures of me. ‘Tied what was left of my horse to a hitch, walked into a saloon they called the Busted Bitch. Ordered up some whiskey, they asked me for my bread. I paid him two bits and then I pumped him full of lead. ‘I’m the California Kid. I’ve got my Colt 45 right by my side. I’m the California Kid, I hope your quite prepared to die.’
So I penned that song and he started singing it live and, aw, man, it was perfect.”
“California Kid” became a standard at Beat Farmers shows, and it was one of the songs on the only record it had on the Rhino label, “Tales of the New West.” Another Country Dick sung song was “Happy Boy,” which included solos by Blue on kazoo and Raney gargling beer. The song was featured on the “Dr. Demento Radio Show,” San Diego’s KGB-FM and, 30 years later, continues to be played each week on Pittsburgh station WDVE.
The 1985 album also included the band’s first serious song to get radio play, “Bigger Stones.” The album was one of the first production projects by Steve Berlin, who played in the Blasters with Dave and Phil Alvin before joining Los Lobos. Berlin and Mark Linett co- produced the album. (A three-time Grammy winner, Linett later produced “The Pleasure Barons,” Country Dick’s collaboration with Dave Alvin and Mojo Nixon.)
The production budget for “Tales of the New West” was a mere $4,500, Perloff said.
However, after it was recorded, “Tales of the New West” almost was not released. Purportedly, there was a rift about the direction of the band, with Buddy Blue wanting it to be more straight-ahead rock with less comedy.
“As soon as the record was done, Country Dick fired Buddy and replaced him with Joey Harris and Paul Kamanski,” Perloff said. “We said, ‘You can’t do this. We just paid for a record and the band we signed was this band.’ Buddy was nicknamed ‘Hot Head Blue’ because he was always in arguments. He was an alpha male. We said we’re not supporting the project if that’s the case. (The Beat Farmers) rethought it and Buddy was back for two more records and then he quit on his own. Joey was destined to be in the band anyway.”
Raney was a contrast to Blue, Perloff said.
“Whether the band was too quirky to become famous is one thing, but Jerry really should have been a guitar god,” he said. “People who are guitar guys should know who Jerry Raney is. He should have been discovered. But he’s a very laid-back guy, kind of quiet.”
Kamanski compares Raney to Chuck Berry and Billy Gibbons.
“Dick was smart,” he said. “(Raney) can play the shit out of the guitar and he needed a guitar player. By this time, Dick was smart enough that he knew where the songs were going to come from. He could just steal them from all his friends. He had about a half-dozen people in town, he could just lay claim. They’d get credit. It was beautiful. We were the snake oil and he was the fucking salesman.”
The Beat Farmers quickly gained notoriety opening at sold-shows in L.A. for bands such as the Blasters, the Bangles and the Peter Case-led Plimsouls.
“People knew Country Dick from the early days with the Penetrators, but he becomes everybody’s best friend in a second,” Perloff said. “There was an automatic network created because the guy was so amazing at that.
“They killed it live. I try to tell people, there were some great live acts during that period. I saw a lot of shows and there were a lot of great bands and they were right up there with the best of them, like the Blasters. Country Dick was such a promoter. He was such a businessman. He had a full concept. He did not want the name Dan McLain used ever.”
The Beat Farmers may have been the most accessible band of all time. All it took for a fan to become a friend was to arrive at the show early.
“Country Dick was a real entertainer like Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra,” Joey Harris said. “He was so in love with the idea. He would get to the gig an hour early. He would go around and shake everybody’s hands. He would hand out these handmade Beat Farmer Almanacs that he made every year with funny stories and fake bios on the band, and he had crossword puzzles that were hysterical.
“He would just schmooze with the audience an hour before the night began and then some opening band would come on and everybody would be happy and excited. The Beat Farmers would hit the stage and it would be full on rock and roll and then County Dick would come out after three or four songs and completely take over the whole room. Just have them in the palm of his hand.”
“It happened like magic,” Kamanski said. “The whole beginning of the Beat Farmers, I was there, going up to L.A. with those guys, and they were riding on this cloud. You could feel the energy. People dug them. The bar scene was just cracking up at how crazy they were. And they had a sound, and everybody loved them.”
Legacy Part 4: Irresistible Beat Farmers, Country Dick, rise up against English sands, ink infamous long-term record deal.
ABOUT Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.
Warm and sunny all week in #LakeTahoe. 20 change of thunderstorms on Thursday added to forecast @NWSReno . Be Fire Smart in these dry conditions! #southlaketahoe http://southtahoenow.com/story/07/12/2020/sunny-and-warm-week-ahead-south-lake-tahoe