Gary James' Interview With Howard Bellamy of
The Bellamy Brothers
Their first official debut was in 1968, playing a free show with their father at the Rattlesnake Roundup in San Antonio, Florida. They followed that up by playing black clubs throughout the South and singing back-up for artists such as Percy Sledge, Eddie Floyd and Little Anthony and The Imperials.
The "break" The Bellamy Brothers needed came in the form of a song David Bellamy wrote - "Spiders and Snakes". That song became a hit for Jim Stafford, selling nearly three million copies world wide. In 1976, The Bellamy Brothers hit pay-dirt with a song called "Let Your Love Flow". Sold out concerts followed as well as shared stages with Loggins and Messina, The Doobie Brothers and The Beach Boys.
By the late 70s, The Bellamy Brothers enjoyed yet another smash hit entitled "If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body" (Would You Hold It Against Me). That song proved to be the first of a string of fourteen number one singles in the U.S. alone. Those hits included "Dancing Cowboys", "Sugar Daddy", "You Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie", "Lovers Live Longer", "Do You Love As Good As You Look", "Redneck Girl", "For All The Wrong Reasons", "I Love Her Mind", "I Need More Of You", "Old Hippie", "Too Much Is Not Enough", "Kid Of The Baby Boom", "Reggae Cowboy" and "Crazy From The Heart".
The Bellamy Brothers hold the record in both The Academy Of Country Music (ACM) and The Country Music Association Awards (AMA) for the most duo nominations.
Howard Bellamy talked with us about the success The Bellamy Brothers have enjoyed.
Q - Howard, how do you do it? I'm not talking about your musical career. I'm talking about getting along with your brother after all these years. Why aren't you guys at each other's throats?
A - Well, I don't think it's anything I or he is responsible for. I think we were just kind of born with a pretty good chemistry with each other. And, we can both credit our parents I think for teaching us at an early age how to get along. We were raised on a ranch in Florida and they taught us how to work together and accomplish things when we were kids. I think that has a lot to do with it. We don't agree on everything, but we've survived thirty years in the music business together, so I would say it is a pretty special brother relationship.
Q - Your father was a singer / musician / songwriter as well?
A - He was a rancher. We were raised on a ranch. He sang and played music. He was a rather shy guy really. He was never a professional, but he taught us everything we know. He was actually very good, probably better than both of us. But he never pursued it as a career. He just enjoyed it and played several string instruments and he had a great voice.
Q - Did he ever write his own material?
A - Oh, he had some original folk stuff...very local. Nothing radio oriented. Just little kind of riddles he would write and sing to us. But, mainly a musician. He played with groups. He played Square Dance music, mainly and Western Swing is what he really liked.
Q - You guys made your debut in a club called the Rattlesnake Round-up. What kind of place was that?
A - Well, there's a little town in Central Florida, north of Tampa about fifty miles called San Antonio, Florida. San Antonio still to this day, every year they have the Rattlesnake Round-up. It's still going on. Our dad, David and myself, we used to have a little trio, switch off on different instruments. I played banjo, sometimes rhythm guitar. David would play accordion a lot. (laughs) We don't have much use for that these days, but that was his first instrument actually. Our dad played dobro and fiddle. We'd have a little trio. We'd play locally at various events. The Rattlesnake Round-up, we always say it was one of the first events where we played in public together and kind of cut our teeth. We didn't get paid anything, but we always give that event kind of credit for launching us.
Q - You performed at more than one?
A - We actually went on later for years. We got involved with the Round-up. We had a festival at our ranch every year. On the day of the festival it was called the Snake Rattle And Roll Jam. We did that for ten years. We had all kinds of Country artists from George Jones right on. We had so many artists that would come down and play our event. We did it for ten years until it got so wild that we were afraid maybe the liability on our ranch was a little in danger. We enjoyed doing it. It was very successful. It was a benefit type thing for different kinds of programs. We donated to the Children's Hospital, different local benefits, the Florida manatee.
Q - How long did it take your brother to write "Spiders and Snakes"?
A - I have a good idea 'cause I was there. We were quite young. David and myself had gone out the night before on the town. We got a little inebriated and didn't want our mother to know about it. We slept in our bunkhouse there on the ranch. As you know, in Florida there's all kinds of creatures. About three or four in the morning, what we call a rat snake or chicken snake got in the bed with me and of course I ran out the door pretty fast and made quite a bit of noise, woke David up. We got really a big laugh out of that. Of course the place was full of spider webs anyway. We were kind of used to that thing in Florida anyway. I think we really owe the credit and inspiration to the chicken snake. The next morning, he wrote that song and it probably took a little over an hour.
Q - How many guys would think to sit down and write a song about such an experience.
A - Well you know, we've both written a lot of songs in our career. Some come and some take forever. Some can be a task that lasts for six months and some can come literally in a couple of hours. It's just amazing. There's no certain formula I think to writing a song. They all happen different ways.
Q - How did you get "Spiders and Snakes" to Jim Stafford?
A - It was a fluke actually. We had shopped it around. We worked at a local studio in Tampa, a place called Studio 70. That was kind of the only local studio going on down in that area. We got word that this producer who produced all of Stafford's stuff was from that area and he also produced "Let Your Love Flow". We sent a demo to Stafford and it was kind of thrown in the reject pile. The producer actually didn't care for it. Stafford saw the title on the cassette box there and just picked it out of the reject pile and listened to it. And he loved it immediately and went on to record it. Shows how much producers know I guess.
Q - Jim Stafford always seemed to pick these funny songs..."My Girl Bill".
A - Jim was a comedian / musician. David and I moved to Los Angeles and lived at Jim's house. He was very successful with "Spiders and Snakes" and bought a house in Hollywood. We moved out and lived with him. Gallagher, the comedian and Jim were good friends. We all lived together in one house. He was a comedian. That's what he was. He was one of the best guitar players ever. He was just incredible. Classical, any kind of guitar. He was just amazing. Did stand-up and sang. Did guitar solos. Just a one man show. That's the way he was. To this day, he has a theatre in Branson, Missouri.
Q - When did you guys come to the realization that to get ahead, you had to write your own material?
A - I think we learned early on that recording other people's songs, when a great song came along in those days, everybody recorded it anyway in town (Nashville). Back in those days if you had a great song it would be recorded by different artists. Of course, it's kind of what we started out anyway...songwriters. So, that's the way we leaned all the time. That's the way we were geared to go. I don't think we actually discovered it was the way to survive. That's just what we liked to do. We enjoyed it. I still to this day think that's what we would rather do than anything. It's probably the most rewarding in all ways.
Q - But, at this stage in your career, if all you wanted to do is write songs, you could do that. You don't have to tour do you?
A - Well, we don't have to. We really don't know how to do anything else. It's a habit. It's a hard habit to break. We take off for a two or three week period sometimes and literally get antsy to go and do something. This is thirty years we've done it. You get like an old racehorse. You just have to run. It gets in your blood. You enjoy it. We've toured fifty-something countries around the world in thirty years. It's just amazing the career we've had. We've enjoyed it. We still enjoy it. And I think that's why we do it. It's a great lifestyle if your health holds up. If the road doesn't kill you, it's a great place to be.
Q - Did you and David write "Let Your Love Flow"?
A - We did not write that song. A roadie for Neil Diamond, and he's still with Neil Diamond, wrote "Let Your Love Flow", which was our first song. We've written about every other thing. We be-friended Neil's band when we were out in Los Angeles. We'd moved out there with Jim. He had a TV show at the time. The Smothers Brothers were on it. It was a pretty big deal at the time. We were writing and performing. I toured with Jim a lot, before we started on the road. Neil Diamond's band brought up this song. Neil Diamond's drummer brought this song over...Dennis St. Johns. He said "it sounds like something you guys would do." We freaked over the song immediately. The same producer... we had to really talk him into recording this song. (laughs) No one was as excited as we were. We just thought it was the best thing we'd heard at the time. And the rest is history. Still to this day, it's been hard to top that song. It was like a rocket launch. It took off so fast on the charts. It's been on everything from The Sopranos to several movies. You name it. The song, I think will be around forever. It sold like four million singles I think. It was a big record. It was number one in fifteen countries. I think that's really what enabled us to travel abroad so much. That song was so big, it opened doors all over the world for us.
Q - What was the name of the guy who wrote "Let Your Love Flow"?
A - His name was Larry Williams. It was his only song he's ever had recorded. It was just that one jewel. I know Larry Williams has made a great living his entire life off of that song.
Q - When that song became a hit, how did your life change?
A - We made the big move when we recorded that. We both got our own home in Los Angeles. We did all of our recording for the first five years in Los Angeles. We literally came off a ranch in Florida to living in Beverly Hills. It changed it drastically. It was such a huge record and we were touring all over the world at that time. We toured with a lot of big groups. We did the final tour of Loggins and Messina. It was really our first tour. It was really a memorable tour. It was strange, we only had the one big hit to play in the show. (laughs) So, we really had to get creative. We toured with The Doobie Brothers and The Beach Boys. In Europe, I think we were still considered more of a Pop - Rock / Country - Rock I guess is the most accurate.
Q - How did the audiences of The Doobie Brothers or The Beach Boys react to your music?
A - At the time we were just a new act, back in '76. We actually didn't cross over. We crossed under. Our first record was Pop / Rock. We hadn't had any Country records, 'cause it was the first. Our material was really Country / Rock at the time. It went over great actually. We put together a great group. I remember that first tour as being a great tour, except when all of our equipment got stolen in Chicago. (laughs)
Q - I hope it was insured!
A - Not everything. The entire truck was stolen. So, it was a pretty big blow for a couple of guys starting out. There's a lot of stories. We've hung around a long time and we've had a real good run, but there's been some big bumps in the road. It's bound to happen. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, but we've somehow maintained and are still doing 160 - 170 shows a year.
Q - How many record have you sold?
A - We've sold a lot of records world-wide. To take a rough guess, I would say we've sold between 25 - 30 million records. So, we've done pretty well.