The Bellamy Brothers (Contemporary Musicians)
The career of the Bellamy Brothers has traced the course of the Baby Boom generation across the varied and unpredictable terrain of country music. From the time their first single began to scale the peaks of the pop charts in 1979, Howard and David Bellamy have explored the passage of their generation, both musically and through their thought-provoking lyrics. And in a musical genre know for its love of vocal duos, the melodic, acoustic-backed country harmonies of the Bellamy Brothers have been among the most popular and enduring. In a career spanning several decades, the Brothers have had more hit country records than any other duo in the history of country music.
Howard and David Bellamy were born and raised in the west-central Florida town of Darby, the sons of Homer and Frances Bellamy. They resided on a farm that had been in their family for six generations. The boys worked alongside their father tending cattle and helping out in the orange groves of the family's 150-acre spread, while Homer divided his time between the farm and working at nearby ranches to help make ends meet.
Along with hard work, music held an important place in the Bellamy household. The record player would sound the lonesome yodel of Jimmie Rodgers or the recordings by Webb Pierce, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams, Sr., that made up Homer's record collection. Homer, who played dobro and fiddle in his spare time, often had friends over during the weekend to play and sing bluegrass music, and his two sons quickly got involved "just for the fun of it," as David noted in a Little Horn Communications press biography. "We'd pick with [the migrant Jamaican workers] every year, and when they worked they sang," added Howard. "It was so amazing to hear them sing across the treetops, high on these long wooden ladders. They were like groups of their own, working up parts, doing call and response things with great rhythms. It's funny now; we thought everyone heard beautiful island music as a child." Meanwhile, their older sister introduced Howard and David to the tight vocal harmonies of the Everly Brothers, as well as the sounds of Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, and other performers whose music would serve as the roots of the youth culture of the 1960s.
First Gig at Rattlesnake Roundup
Howard learned to play the guitar, while brother David gained expertise on accordion before he discovered keyboards. The brothers made their first public appearance in a performance with Homer at San Antonio, Florida's Rattlesnake Roundup. It was 1958; the brothers would commemorate the event 31 years later by organizing the first annual Snake, Rattle & Roll Jam. Performing quickly became a pastime, and the boys organized small pop-music groups; later, their love for soul music prompted them to add an African American vocalist, which ensured their popularity at area rhythm and blues clubs.
David joined a soul band, the Accidents, in 1965 and played organ for such artists as Percy Sledge and Little Anthony and the Imperials. In 1968 Howard and David joined musical forces. The brothers moved to Atlanta and formed the rock band Jericho, playing the south-eastern club circuit for three years before disbanding to return to Florida and the family farm. They then began their songwriting efforts in earnest, as well as a lucrative sideline producing jingles for area radio and television stations.
During this time, David wrote "Spiders and Snakes," which would sell almost three million copies after it was recorded by pop singer Jim Stafford in 1973. That song was the real start of the Bellamys' musical career, not only in their eyes, but in the eyes of their father. "Our dad used to ask us when we were going to give this up and get real jobs," Howard recalled, "butwhenhesaw our first royalty check, well, for the first time he considered what we were doing legitimate."
Signed With Warner Bros.
When "Spiders and Snakes" shimmied Stafford up the charts, the Bellamys struck out for Los Angeles to seek their fortunes as recording artists. Stafford provided them with a roof over their heads, as well as their first spot on television: an appearance on the Smothers Brothers' summer replacement program, which the veteran entertainer hosted. Stafford's producer, Phil Gernhard, heard some demo tapes that featured the brothers' vocal harmonizing and signed them to a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. "Nothin' Heavy," the duo's first single, was recorded during some spare minutes of a recording session for pop singer Petula Clark in London; it achieved a good measure of regional recognition.
The year 1976 marked the Bellamys' jump to the top of the pop music charts as a vocal duo. "Let Your Love Flow"enned by Larry Williams, a roadie for rock musician Neil Younglimbed to the Number One spot on the pop charts in ten countries and has since been counted among the world's biggest pop hits. Three years later, the crossover hit "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me" became the first of the duo's 12 hits to reach Number One on the country charts, holding that position for three solid weeks before it was eclipsed. "You'll Never Be Sorry," released in 1986, outlasted even that as one of only nine songs on record to hold a position on the country charts for 27 weeks. In addition to doing so in the United States, the Bellamys' albums attained gold status in England, Austria, Germany, Norway, and Sweden; England and Scandinavia were so taken with the group that albums in both countries have gone platinum.
Accepted in Nashville Despite Crossover
Although the twists and turns in the career of the Bellamy Brothers have often moved them along outside the Nashville mainstream, they have not been treated as outsiders within the Nashville-based industry. Numerous awards have been conferred upon the group: they have been the country group most regularly nominated for awards from both the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Association of Country Music (ACM) since they broke ground in 1979.
While considered country artists, the Bellamys' musical influences have remained broad, encompassing not only country, but folk, pop, and rock music as well. "We are a conglomeration of so many styles because of the era in which we were raised," noted the duo. "We've been influenced by everyone from the Beatles down to Crosby, Stills & Nash and Joni Mitchell, with a dash of 'island flavor,' since we were raised in Florida." As songwriters, the brothers have been challenged in finding that unique combination of thoughtful subject and clever hook or title that makes their songs stand out. In an effort to retain total creativity over their music, they formed their own record label, Bellamy Brothers Recordsn partnership with Intersound Entertainmentn 1991.
The Bellamy Brothers' rock-styled brand of country music continues to stay within earshot of country music listeners in both the United States and Europe. Their Snake, Rattle & Roll Jam has eclipsed the Rattlesnake Roundup, drawing more than 20,000 people to country concerts benefiting regional charities. And Howard and David have continued to draw large audiences as a touring act, with lively stage shows enjoyable for both the band and the audience. "We're doing what we've been doing all along," Howard explained, "and it's taken us all over the world and stayed fun and exciting for us. It's been a really great run. It's become addictive, something we never want to give up."
The Bellamy Brothers (includes "Let Your Love Flow"), Warner Bros., 1976.
Plain & Fancy, Warner Bros., 1977.
Beautiful Friends (includes "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me"), Warner Bros., 1978.
The Two and Only, Warner Bros., 1979.
When We Were Boys, Elektra, 1982.
Greatest Hits Volume I, Warner Bros., 1982.
Restless, MCA, 1984.
Greatest Hits Volume II, MCA, 1986.
Rebels Without a Clue, MCA, 1988.
Reality Check, MCA, 1990.
Rollin' Thunder, Atlantic, 1991.
Beggars & Heroes, Jupiter/BMG, 1992.
Best of the Best, Bellamy Bros. Records, 1992.
The Latest and the Greatest, Bellamy Bros. Records, 1992.
Rip Off the Knob, Bellamy Bros. Records, 1993.
Let Your Love Flow0 Years of Hits, Bellamy Brothers Records, 1994.
Nobody's Perfect, Bellamy Bros. Records/Jupiter/BMG, 1994.
Cackett, Alan, Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, Crown, 1994.
Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon, Encyclopedia of Folk, Country & Western Music, St. Martin's, 1983.
Country Song Roundup, June 1993.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Little Horn Communications, 1994.
Pamela L. Shelton