DARBY, Fla. — Thirty years since launching an international career with “Let Your Love Flow,” the Bellamy Brothers have maintained an eye-popping itinerary that would make National Geographic proud.
Before the end of the year, David and Harold Bellamy will perform in Switzerland, Norway, England, Afghanistan (for the troops), Denmark, Holland and Germany. In early 2006, they’ll visit South Africa to promote the reissue of a greatest hits collection. This is nothing new. So far, they have 47 countries stamped on their passports and nearly half of their Web site traffic comes from outside the U.S.
But for right now, the guys are drinking tall glasses of freshly-brewed iced tea at Howard’s small kitchen table. They live next to each other on their acreage near Darby, Fla., the same property where they grew up. (It’s located just off Bellamy Brothers Boulevard. Look for the enormous steer out front.) Howard’s new wife, Jennifer, has taken away an enormous flower arrangement that nobody could see around, and David is talking about making the duo’s new album, Angels & Outlaws, Vol. 1. He’s starting to say how Curb Records originally wanted a Bellamy Brothers tribute, but barely two sentences in, he’s interrupted by none other than the late Dusty Springfield.
He sheepishly picks up his cell phone and silences her, right in the middle of “Son of a Preacher Man.” Grinning like a kid, he says, “I’ve got Napoleon Dynamite on here, too. He’s saying ‘Frikkin’ idiot.’ I haven’t decided who to assign it to.”
That’s how it is for the Bellamy Brothers — a little bit of the old, a little bit of the new. Even with Angels & Outlaws, Vol. 1, they cover their classics with help from their peers (Dolly Parton, George Jones, Tanya Tucker, Charlie Daniels) as well as current radio stars (Alan Jackson, Montgomery Gentry, Pat Green) that came of age when the duo racked up 26 Top 10 hits, including 10 No. 1′s.
Getting back to the original story, David remembers telling the label, “We’d like to sing on our own tribute album because, you know, we’re not dead yet.” Curb executives agreed and, within a year, the duo had booked the talent and tracked two albums worth of music. (A second volume of pop artists boasts Chaka Khan on a reggae version of “Let Your Love Flow” and Neil Diamond on “Sweet Caroline.” It will be released next year.)
“You know, we’ve met so many people over the years,” Howard says. “We went to Japan in ’76 with Chaka Khan, Tanya Tucker, Natalie Cole, the Pointer Sisters and ourselves. We were all at the Tokyo Song Festival. We met all these people then. It’s been a long time, and you meet a lot of people. There are some really neat artists out there who are real and love to do things with you. We had never asked anybody to do anything before, and we were totally honored.”
As young children, the brothers earned Christmas money by boxing oranges on their property to the rhythms of singing migrant Jamaican farm workers. Their father sometimes performed in the area with Howard on banjo and David on accordion, and he also sang in a Western swing band with Czechoslavakians.
“They played barns, somebody’s back porch and square dances,” David says. “A lot of times, they’d come here. They’d come home. We grew up around all of his friends coming home and playing music all Saturday night until they’d get too drunk and mama would throw them out.”
“It was strictly a way of fun,” says Howard, 59. “They didn’t even make money doing it.”
“They didn’t even know you could make money doing it,” adds David, 54.
“We didn’t either when we first started,” says Howard. “We had no idea we could make money at it.”
The royalties started rolling in when Jim Stafford sold 3 million copies of the 1974 single “Spiders and Snakes,” which David wrote. Although the worldwide hit “Let Your Love Flow” was written by friend Larry E. Williams (one of Neil Diamond’s roadies), David wrote nearly all of the duo’s future hits — such as “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me),” “Old Hippie,” “Redneck Girl,” “Sugar Daddy,” “Kids of the Baby Boom,” “You Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie” and “Crazy From the Heart.”
Along with those titles, Angels & Outlaws, Vol. 1 includes two new songs with Willie Nelson and John Anderson. In addition, the brothers arranged for a successful co-writing session a few years ago with admitted fan John Rich, just before Big & Rich struck it … well, rich. Gretchen Wilson sang the demos. David and Harold agree that she is their favorite new country artist.
“When we get up on stage, we say, ‘Before there was a “Redneck Woman,” there had to be a “Redneck Girl”,’” David says. They chuckle when they recount the story of record producer Bobby Braddock telling a reporter that he had the Bellamy Brothers — not Kenny Chesney — in mind for Blake Shelton’s tongue-in-cheek, tropically-tinted “Some Beach.”
While they are not completely forgotten in Nashville these days, lately their name pops up only when the CMA nominations come in. Since 1981, they’ve been nominated for vocal duo of the year 17 times but have never won.
“We’ve always stayed in Florida, and we suffered politically somewhat for that,” Howard says. “We never got in the thick of things in Nashville. But it’s just the way we’ve done it. It’s who we are, and we could never leave our old home place here. And somehow we’ve carved out a niche for ourselves.”