B y K e n D r e w
I WAS BACK in my home state of California, working on my graduate degree at UOP in Stockton, and listening to KDJK on the radio. Another simple contest, one that had garnered me a record or two before. Yes, Virginia, they used to give out vinyl at radio stations. I won a copy of Van Go by the Beat Farmers (BFers).
The year was 1986. I'd heard the song "Riverside" on the radio. I'd even heard the Budweiser beer commercial made from that song--you remember when Bud used to take a popular song and have a band redo it with Bud lyrics. Something about that album caught my attention. There was this song, "Big Ugly Wheels," by some guy named Country Dick Montana. He had a real deep voice and I laughed out loud when I heard his interpretation of this song. The album cover credited Dick as the drummer and leader of "beer runs."
Another year passed, and I noticed the Beat Farmers were playing up in the Bay Area. I tried to find time to make it there but couldn't. Then a new album came out--The Pursuit Of Happiness. It was awesome. I had to see these guys. I'd already backtracked and picked up their first album, Tales Of The New West. This had the morning show cult-classic "Happy Boy" on it. The new record once again featured outstanding work. The combined guitars and vocals of Jerry Raney and Joey Harris (who had replaced Buddy Blue) were more than just music to my ears. Once again, Country Dick let loose in his singular voice. "Big River" was classic Dick material.
Finally, I was on my way to seeing the BFers at Slim's in San Francisco. It was packed, and I was treated to one of the best live shows of my young life. It's hard to say who was having more fun, the crowd or the band. Soon I heard chants of "Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick...!" Then, from behind the drum set emerged this six-foot-four man with a cowboy hat and a long coat. He made his way to the microphone, jokingly calling the crowd "maggots."
Dick began to sing "(You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me) Lucille" as only he could--"400 kids and a crotch that won't heal" and "you picked a real bitchin' time to leave me, Lucille." Dick downed a full bottle of beer using only his feet, balanced another on his hat and spun in a circle. Needless to say, there was beer everywhere.
I became a regular at the shows. I'd bring friends. My brother would bring friends. Friends would bring friends. The energy was beyond description. The music was great. The atmosphere was great. But most of all, people loved to see Dick. He would have an entire audience sitting on the beer-soaked floor as he said "it was time to go camping." He'd tell various insane anecdotes and sing "Lakeside Trailer Park," "Little Ball Of Yarn," "Mondo," or some other great, sick little song.
The band was always (and remains) accessible. Dick often wandered around the bar passing out the BFer Almanac, signing autographs, or having a beer. He'd often stop and talk to me for a while. One such exchange stands out in my mind: the time that Buck Naked and The Bare Bottom Boys opened up for the BFers. Buck wore only a plunger strategically placed between his legs. Dick said, "That guy's crazier than me! And he's only getting paid $10."
That's how I learned how the BFers came together. A young Country Dick (then known as Dan McClain, student body vice president at Grossmont High) invited Jerry Raney's band Glory to play a dance. The students weren't very receptive, so Dick stepped to the microphone to give them some incentive: "What's wrong with you guys? This is the best band around. Can't you act like you appreciate some music? Do you have to hear it on the radio before you can appreciate it?"
His charisma back then made an impression on Jerry, one that would ultimately lead to the formation of the BFers. The band's genesis was when Jerry received a phone call from Dick, who said, "Hey, Jerry, you wanna start a rolling musical pleasure unit or something?"
The tours never stopped. The crowds continued to grow. Then suddenly Dick was informed he had throat cancer. He went through several surgeries, and there was a possibility he'd never sing again.
His sense of humor never flagged, though. I recall a letter he wrote to me in September 1993. It began: "Always good to hear from people with good taste." He went on to tell me about his solo album and the "ten-hour, quite-the-fuckin'-radical-ear-to-ear surgery" from which he was recovering. His return address: "The Human Pez Dispenser, Spring Valley Inn."
He was determined to continue to play with the BFers. Soon, I was off to the midwest, stuck in South Bend with little chance of seeing the BFers on a regular basis. For sanity's sake, I started the BFer e-mail list on the Internet, a still-thriving source of chatter and trivia. I was able to get tour information out and converse with fans all over the world.
There were occasional swings to the Chicago area, so I was fortunate to see them play, even though Dick's doctors had found a reoccurrence of cancer. Yet there he was, on stage in front of the crowd. He was too weak to play drums, and as soon as he returned to San Diego he went in for more tests, this time on his thyroid.
Dick was determined to get healthy. He lost weight and actually cut down on those beer runs and shots at the shows. Sure, there was an occasional fun time, but he was in this for the long haul. The BFers must continue. And they did.
They released two albums on Sector 2 Records. The first was Viking Lullabys, spelled that way because Dick liked it. Most recently, Manifold was released, considered the strongest BFer album to date.
Dick's solo album, a "concept album" he told me not long ago, was done and he was hoping to get it released soon. All things were looking up.
But on the night of November 8, while playing drums in Whistler, British Columbia, the unthinkable happened. Country Dick was struck down during the show by a heart attack. He was only 40 years old.
The indestructible, fun-loving, deep-voiced, friendly, extremely humorous giant was gone. There are no words to adequately describe the loss. Country Dick Montana was a talent never to be equaled. He had charisma to burn, and it was that charisma that made the band something greater than the sum of its parts.
He moved in crowds that veered a sharp left of the mainstream, making him lesser known but all the more loved. Anyone lucky enough to have seen the band live can vouch that Dick was at his best on stage. His presence will never be replaced.
Whatever shape the BFers take, it won't be the same without Country Dick Montana. Country Dick: I knew you as a friend and I know that God does have a sense of humor and that you are where you belong. Nonetheless, you're truly missed here among the living.
A version of this article appeared on the Web site "Addicted to Noise," located at http://www.addict.com.
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