Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
If you saw Daniel McLain in a bar in 1983 you might have assumed that he was president of his local Hells Angels chapter. Actually Daniel, better known as Country Dick Montana, was a much less threatening former record store owner, former high school class president and former president of the Kinks Preservation Society fan club. Back in 1983, while scouring San Diego looking to put together a new band – or “rolling musical pleasure machine” as he called it – Country Dick recruited Jerry Raney, Buddy Blue and Rolle Love. These guys became the Beat Farmers, a band with three singers and two lead guitarists, whose most enduring (and endearing) song was a 90-second ditty about a dead dog featuring gargling and a kazoo. Country Dick played drums, but also occasionally fronted the band. Imagine a cross between Johnny Cash and Sam Kinison and you have Country Dick’s stage presence. Country Dick called his fans maggots, and tossed beer on them. They loved it…and after the show, Dick would often stay and chat with the Beat Farmer faithful; he really wasn’t so intimidating after all. You could make the case that the Beat Farmers were the best bar band ever.
If all the Beat Farmers had were Dick’s antics, they would have been dismissed as a novelty act. Luckily they had lots more, mainly great songs and great musicians. They never had much luck with record labels, though, which may be part of the reason that many have never heard of them. Signed to the reissue-specializing Rhino Records label for a one-off deal, they recorded and mixed their first and best release, 1985’s Tales Of The New West, over the course of just a few days under the expert care of Steve Berlin. The band never had a better producer. After they recorded an EP in England, the Beat Farmers got the major label deal they were seeking with MCA/Curb. Despite the bigger budget, the next release, Van Go, sounded muted and muddy. The major label honeymoon was soon over, though both Curb and the Beat Farmers suffered with each other for a few more years with two more studio discs, a live album and a crappy “best of” compilation released without the band’s knowledge.
Country Dick beat thyroid cancer in his thirties. Two throat surgeries by a very skillful doctor (and huge fan of the band) managed to take the cancer and leave Dick’s distinctive voice. “Chicks dig scars,” Dick said after his surgeries. However, in 1995 Country Dick died on stage, slumped over his drum kit at the age of 40, during a Beat Farmers show in Whistler, British Columbia. A blood clot would lead to an aneurysm…well, most references just say Dick had a heart attack. And so there went the last of the Full Grown Men. Three days later the Beat Farmers broke up.
Lots of bands do live versions of cover songs from different genres, but the Beat Farmers actually put quite a few surprising choices on their studio albums. Versions of songs from sources as diverse as Tom Waits, John Stewart, the Velvet Underground and even Rod McKuen were joined by more conventional material from the likes of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash. Though we haven’t included anything here from Country Dick’s side project The Pleasure Barons with pals Mojo Nixon and Dave Alvin, it’s worth checking out on the strength of Dick’s liner notes alone.
We’ll start with “There She Goes Again” from the Tales of the New West debut. The Beat Farmers build nicely on the jangle present in the Velvet Underground original. This is one of Buddy Blue’s finest vocal performances with the band and among the best VU covers around, and that’s saying a lot. “Tales” also gives us a great roadhouse-style version of Bruce Springsteen‘s “Reason to Believe” with Jerry Raney out front.
The Beat Farmers – There She Goes Again (Velvet Underground cover)
The Beat Farmers – Reason to Believe (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Half of the six tracks on the Glad ‘N’ Greasy EP (now “absorbed” into Tales of the New West) are covers. Recorded in England while the Beat Farmers were darlings of the British press, the EP features Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” a natural fit for the band. The “grittier” version from “Greasy” posted below represents the band slightly better than the version that appeared on the following album, Van Go. We’ll finally put Country Dick in the spotlight with a just-ducky version of Rod McKeun’s “The Beat Generation” featuring backing help from Nick Lowe, Dave Alvin and Loudon Wainwright III.
The Beat Farmers – Powderfinger (Neil Young cover)
The Beat Farmers – The Beat Generation (Rod McKeun cover)
A highlight of many a Beat Farmers live show, “Lucille” allowed both Country Dick and the crowd to cut loose. If you’re wondering why Dick goes quiet for a bit around the 3:30 mark, there’s a logical answer. He actually lies down on his back, places a longneck between his boots, swings his legs into the air and pours the beer down his throat. Practice made perfect, as Dick usually got more of the beer in his gut than he did on the stage.
The Beat Farmers – Lucille (Kenny Rogers cover)
We’ll leave you with a whacky a cappella Led Zeppelin medley.