The Beat Farmers were formed in 1983 by Dan McLain, a drummer who had played in the bands the Penetrators and the Crawdaddys and had been the president of a Kinks fan club. McLain also had an alter ego, Country Dick Montana, an outsized, deep-voiced character who fronted a semi-serious country-influenced group known as Country Dick and the Snugglebunnies. A number of talented musicians made their way through the Snugglebunnies (one of them, Richard Banke, would go on to become Mojo Nixon's sidekick Skid Roper), and in time they coalesced into a tighter and more disciplined band, with Country Dick on drums and occasional vocals, Jerry Raney on vocals and guitar, Buddy Blue on guitar and vocals, and Rollie Dexter on bass. Dubbing themselves the Beat Farmers, they became a presence on the San Diego club scene. After winning a citywide Battle of the Bands competition in 1984, they began making their way to venues in the Los Angeles area, and found kindred spirits among members of acts like the Long Ryders, the Blasters, Los Lobos, and X.
As the Beat Farmers' star was on the rise, Rhino Records offered the band a one-off record deal, and they cut their debut album, 1985's Tales of the New West, for the princely sum of $4,000, with Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and Mark Linett producing. Tales of the New West sold well for an independent release and earned rave reviews in the United States and England. The British label Demon Records, which had issued Tales of the New West in the U.K., put out a six-song EP, Glad 'N' Greasy, that sold briskly as the English music press praised the group. Curb Records (then distributed by MCA) offered the band a deal for seven albums, and they signed on. However, Curb's representatives rubbed Buddy Blue the wrong way, and he left the Beat Farmers during the recording of their first Curb LP, 1986's Van Go; Joey Harris, another former Snugglebunny, became their new lead guitarist and finished the sessions for the LP.
Van Go was warmly received by the press, but Curb weren't sure how to market the Beat Farmers, and sales were disappointing. Producer Dave Jerden, who would go on to work with Jane's Addiction, Alice in Chains, and Social Distortion, was at the controls for the group's second Curb album, 1987's The Pursuit of Happiness, which put greater focus on their "serious" material and gave them a more potent, rock-oriented sound. One of the tracks on the LP, "Make It Last," began to break out at country radio, but as more stations became aware that the Beat Farmers were primarily a rock band, support for the single dwindled, and the album didn't sell significantly better than its predecessor.
The Beat Farmers were growing disenchanted with Curb as they set to work on their third album for the label, 1989's Poor and Famous, which was their most polished effort to date. During downtime from the Beat Farmers, Country Dick Montana and Joey Harris joined Dave Alvin, Mojo Nixon, and a nine-piece band for a tour with a group they called the Pleasure Barons, whose show was described as "a Las Vegas revue from acts who aren't going to be asked to play Las Vegas." The tour did manage to land a gig in Las Vegas, and the show was documented on the album Live in Las Vegas, released in 1993. The Beat Farmers ended 1989 with a three-night stand at the Bacchanal Club in San Diego, which were recorded for posterity. To the band's surprise, in 1990 an album assembled from the Bacchanal Club tapes, Loud and Plowed and...LIVE!, was issued by Curb with no input from the group. This proved to be the last straw in their relationship with the label, and they were finally let out of their contract in 1993.
By the time the Beat Farmers were free to record for another label, Montana had been experiencing some serious health problems, including cysts in his kidneys and thyroid cancer. The band soldiered on, and in 1994, they partnered with a Texas-based independent label, Sector 2, to release Viking Lullabys, their first studio album in five years. They hit the road to support the record with a tour, and a second album for Sector 2, Manifold, arrived in 1995. Still more live shows followed, and on November 8, 1995, they took the stage at the Longhorn Saloon in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. Three songs into the show, Country Dick Montana fell off his drum stool and hit the ground. At first his bandmates and the audience thought he was playing a joke, but when he didn't get up, they discovered he had died of a massive heart attack at the age of 40. Within a week, the Beat Farmers officially broke up. In 1996, Bar/None Records released The Devil Lied to Me, a solo album that Montana had been working on in the last years of his life.
After the end of the Beat Farmers, Jerry Raney led a band featuring various BF alumni called the Farmers, who would record a pair of albums, 2005's Loaded and 2009's Fulmination. Two live albums appeared following the Beat Farmers' breakup, 2003's Live at the Valley Spring Inn, 1983, featuring a very early show from the group, and 2016's Heading North 53° N 8° E: Live in Bremen, recorded during a German tour in 1988. In 2021, Blixa Sounds reissued Tales of the New West in a deluxe package that included Live at the Valley Spring Inn, 1983 as a bonus disc. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
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