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A snapshot of something special

Live at the Spring Valley Inn, 1983
Live at the Spring Valley Inn, 1983
By the Beat Farmers

Clarence Records: 2003

This review first appeared in the Autumn 2003 issue of Turbula.

The Beat Farmers will forever hold a special place in the hearts of music fans who lived in San Diego County in the mid-1980s. They were our Beatles – a band so special, so profanely talented that those of us packed into dives like Bodies and the Spring Valley Inn to hear them weekends just knew we were witnessing history. They were marked by genius, destined for greatness. And if fame and fortune never arrived in the helpings we all felt were due them, the coldest reality can't dim the magic they created two decades ago.

With the death of founder/drummer Country Dick Montana (Dan McClain) in 1995, the band ended, at least as a living entity. The surviving members still play the occasional reunion gig, but that's no more than nostalgia for the rest of us and rent for them.

So the recent release of a live recording from the band's original incarnation is a special treat. "Live at the Spring Valley Inn" was cut during the band's first year of existence, as a quick and cheap demo to try to land a recording contract. And yet, even with the poor recording quality, with the fact that this CD is taken from one of the few surviving cassettes and not the lost master tapes, even measured against the fact that the band was still learning to play together and smooth some very rough edges, this is still a remarkable snapshot of a powerful, creative combo.

Firmly enmeshed in the rockabilly/roots revival of the early 1980s, the Beat Farmers distilled just about every American popular music every played into a raw, sweaty, syncopated brand of barroom humor and wisdom. Rock 'n' roll was at the heart of it, but so were rock's predecessors of country and blues.

Buddy Blue (who left a few years later to be replaced by Joey Harris) and Jerry Raney's twin guitar/vocal attack gave the band a unique dual voice; Raney's straight-ahead rock approach was balanced by Blue's countrified twang and blues riffs – and they were both (and remain so today) underrated soloists who can improvise with the best jazz guitarists. Rolle Love (who later changed his name to Rolle Dexter because everyone assumed "Love" was a stage name, when it wasn't) and Montana laid down a rock-solid backbeat, and Montana's occasional forays into singing with his contra-baritone provided a positively jarring leavening.

From originals like Raney's "Selfish Heart" and Blue's "Jump Right Back" to covers of "Trying to Get To You" and Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone," the band personified the concept of abandon – they laid it all out on every song, every night. And nobody else could have turned Springsteen's turgid "Reason to Believe" into a rock 'n' roll anthem, nor Rod McKuen's "Beat Generation" into something approaching hip.

They were a treasure, the Beat Farmers. Our treasure. And this snapshot of them at the very beginning is something special to behold.