It wasn't long ago when 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 I had garnered me a record or two before. Yes, Virginia, they used to give out vinyl at radio stations not too long ago. I won a copy of "Van Go" by the Beat Farmers (BFers). The year was 1986. I had heard the song "Riverside" on the radio. I had even heard the Budweiser beer commercial made from that song- you remember when Bud used to take a popular song and have the band redo it with Bud lyrics. Something about that album caught my attention.
I liked the music and all of the songs but the song "Big Ugly Wheels" was different. It was sung by some guy named Country Dick Montana. He had a real deep voice and made me laugh with his interpretation this song. I looked at the album to find Dick as the drummer and leader of "beer runs". Hey, that's pretty funny stuff. All in all, I was impressed.
Another year passed as I saw that the BFers were playing up in the Bay area again. 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 had 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 more outstanding work. The combined guitars and voices of Jerry Raney and Joey Harris (who had replaced Buddy Blue) were more than just music to my ears.
Once again, Country Dick sang some songs as only he could. "Big River" was classic Dick material. Finally, I was going to see the BFers in San Francisco at Slim's. It was packed and I was treated to one of the best live shows I had ever seen and believe me when I say that. I have seen many a show while growing up in the Bay Area. To see a band that was having so much fun was a real treat. The crowd loved it. Soon I heard chants of "Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick,....". Then from behind the drum set stood this 6'4" man with a cowboy hat and a long coat. He made his way to the microphone, jokingly calling the crowd "maggots". Dick begins to sing "(You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me) Lucille" as only he could- "400 kids and a crouch that won't heal" and "you picked a real bitchin' time to leave me, Lucille". Beer was everywhere. It was unbelievable to watch Dick twirl beer bottles, drink a full bottle with only his feet, and put a full bottle on his hat and do a turn around in a circle.
Soon, I was a regular at the shows. I would talk to people I knew. I would bring friends. My brother would bring friends. Friends would bring friends. They all enjoyed the show. It was something that could not be described. 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 would 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 still remains) very accessible. Dick could often be found wondering around the bar passing out the BFer Almanac, signing autographs, or having a beer. He would often stop and talk to me for a while. We would comment on the opening band. There was 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 is only get paid $10".
After enough shows, I was lucky enough to go backstage and talk to Jerry, Joey, Rolle, and Dick. I saw a side of the band that most didn't know. The side of the band that made me feel part of this large extended BFer family. Tom Ames, the tour manager and sound man, would always say hello and tell me about the current tour. The guys would give me info on new album releases and such. We would talk about our families. We would talk about everything not just music.
I learned how the BFers came together. When a young Country Dick (then known by his real name Dan McLain) as student body vice president at Grossmont High, invited Jerry Raney's band Glory to play a dance. The student body was not very receptive so Dick stepped to the microphone and gave a speech. "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 BFers started when Jerry received a phone call from Dick, who said, "Hey, Jerry, you wanna start a rolling musical pleasure unit or something?". The BFers were born.
The next thing I knew, another album came out. "Poor And Famous". This one didn't do so well. It didn't help that CURB decided to not promote the band. A typical label problem that every band has to deal with. The tours never stopped though. The crowds were always there. Then suddenly Dick was informed that he had cancer. He went through several surgeries to cure this throat cancer and there was a possibility that he could never sing again. He pulled through it as only he could. His sense of humor always present.
I recall a letter he wrote me in September 1993. The letter started out "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" he was recovering from. His return address: "The Human Pez Dispenser, Spring Valley Inn". You see his surgery left a scar from one ear to the other around his neck. Yet he was determined to continue to play with the BFers. Nothing would stop him.
Soon, I was off to the midwest. Stuck in South Bend with little chance of seeing the BFers on a regular basis like before. For sanity's sake, I started the BFers e-mail list on the internet. It continues to grow today. I was able to get tour info to the fans and converse with numerous fans not only across the country but all over the world. There were occasional swings to the Chicago area so I was fortunate to see them play. One of these swings was amazing since Dick's doctors found a reoccurrence of cancer yet there he was. Dick 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 was to go 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. This new record is considered by many to be 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. Then suddenly on a Wednesday night, November 8th, while playing drums in Whistler, Brittish Columbia (about one hour out of Vancouver- a BFer strong hold!) the unthinkable happened. Country Dick was struck down by a heart attack at the age of 40 during the show.
The indestructible, fun loving, deep voiced, friendly, extremely humorous giant was gone. There are no words that can describe how any BFer fan feels. Country Dick Montana was a talent that can never be equaled. He had charisma to burn and it was that charisma that made the band into something greater than the sum of its parts. Sure he wasn't well known but anyone who ever saw a BFer live show could tell you that Dick was at his best- on stage. His presence will never be replaced and I know that the remaining BFers do not want to replace him- they know it would be impossible. Whatever shape the BFers take, it will never 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- on that stage in the heavens. You are truly missed.
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