On a Thursday night at the end of January, I’m watching two or three hundred people file into the Coach House, a cross between a music bar and dinner theater located in San Juan Capistrano, and seat themselves at long, narrow tables in front of a stage. The Coach House staff comes out and serves each of them a hot dinner while a comedian regales them with pleasantries for 30 minutes or so. After the comedian has fired his parting sally and exited, the plates and other detritus get cleared away and a period of milling about, drinking, and pleasurable anticipation ensues. Eventually four guys ranging in age from 24 (bassist Rolle Rugbyrne) to 40 (singer-guitarist Jerry Raney) mount the stage and take their positions and amplifiers and drum kits; the Beat Farmers — who are, with the possible exception of their long-time friend and fellow traveler, Mojo Nixon, San Diego’s top-seeded home-grown rock music act — are announced, the drummer kicks into a complex opening figure, and then Joey Harris strides strumming to his microphone to sing the lapidary opening lines of “Make It Last”:
- Oh, baby, I think it’s time
- Time for us
- Time for us to cross that line
- ‘Cause when you’re feeling
- When you’re feeling you’ve been had
- Don’t you let it
- Don’t you let it get you sad
Behind these plaintive country-tinged lyrics, Jerry Raney — skinny as hell and smiling behind his sunglasses — walks through the tune’s stately, wistful guitar arpeggios. Hunkered down on a stool at the back of the room, I feel a twinge of amazement thinking about all the years that have gone under the bridge since the first time I saw him perform. Even then, 20 years ago, he was a veteran of the San Diego music scene. (Born in El Centro, he grew up in El Cajon, where he now lives with his wife and two children.) Indeed, during a conversation I had with him yesterday, it occurred to me that he’s a little like one of those big redwood trunks on whose rings you can trace the history of the ages: here’s where the punk scene started, farther in is where psychedelia had its heyday, and here, right at the resinous centerpoint, is 1964, where the Beatles first cast their spell over American kids everywhere …
Jerry Raney: “Yeah, I was already 15 or 16 then, and that’s when I started playing guitar. This guy from El Cajon High named Jack Chan — you remember Jack — knew how to play, we’d go out and get the Beatles songbooks and go through ’em and he’d teach me the chords.
Then there was a guy named Phil Green who was in a band called the Perennials that played all the high school dances back then, a big band with horns. So one day Jack and I are sitting around thinking about how good we are, and in comes Phil Green with his guitar and starts putting out these incredible riffs. I mean, he was much better than anybody we’d heard on record or anything, just a fantastic guitar player, and he blew both of us out. Pretty soon Phil was showing me licks, and I ended up playing bass and singing in his band. We played all the high school gigs and the navy bases, mainly dance gigs. Then I got kicked out of the band because I was getting too influenced by English music, and the Perennials were pretty much a soul band.
“So I went off and started a band in 1966 called the Jesters that played a lot of places like the Hi Ho Club out here on Fletcher Parkway. You remember; it used to be the Roaring Twenties nightclub, then it was the Hi Ho Club, now it’s a bunch of theaters. So we played there and at other teen-age clubs and at high school dances, and eventually that band turned into the Dark Ages, and the Dark Ages became the house band at the Hi Ho Club. Lester Bangs used to come and sit in on harmonica. He was a pretty experimental harp player, he really wasn’t that good, but I used to announce him as being the greatest harmonica player in California. And you were around in those days, I think.”
Roger Anderson: “No, I didn’t come into the picture till later.”
Raney: “Anyway, we were totally into the English sound. We didn’t play any original stuff; we did Beatles tunes and Rolling Stones tunes and Yardbirds — like ‘Happening Ten Years’ Time Ago’ and ‘Shapes of Things’; and we used to do ‘She’s Not There’ by the Zombies, and Animals songs, and all the hits. Back then there weren’t very many bands who were doing even that. The house band at the club before we took over were called the Voxmen, because they all had Vox sound equipment from England, and they did Beatles stuff; but they were one of the only other bands who were into that kind of thing. And there was a band called the Elders that did English music, and the Drones — both from North County. Allen Green and Steve Arenz, who were in bands with me later on, were in the Drones.”
Anderson: “Cool name.”
Raney: “It was a cool name, and they were a pretty interesting band. And there was another band in North County called the Magic Mushrooms. And John D’Agostino had a band [that played] up there called the Delta Blues. Actually, North County in those days had pretty much taken off and left everybody else in the dust.
“After a while the Dark Ages broke up and we formed a band called Funky Buckwheat — or actually the band had two names: Funky Buckwheat for union jobs, because we were in the musicians’ union, and Sleepy Hollow when we played at the Palace, which was a nonunion gig. And we really wanted to play at the Palace. It was owned by Jerry Herrera, who now owns the Spirit Club, and I’ve never seen anybody who was so on top of it. Back when I was getting started, he had a club out on Magnolia here in El Cajon called the Powerhouse where he brought in some strange people like Sonny and Cher right when they were first making it. They’d been calling themselves Caesar and Cleo, I think, and they’d just changed their name to Sonny and Cher and they were starting to get some airplay. Herrera was always on top of what was happening in music, which is why Funky Buckwheat wanted to play at the Palace, because that was the happening club; people were playing some original music there. That’s when the whole psychedelic scene was starting, kind of a psychedelic blues scene.
“The house band at the Palace in those days was the Palace Pages, who turned into Iron Butterfly and went up to L.A. to become big stars. Jack Pinney and Greg Willis were both in the Pages, but when the band left for L.A., they stayed here. Jack wanted to go to State College, I guess, and Greg was only 16 and his parents wouldn’t let him go. So Greg came over to my house one day and asked me if I’d be interested in joining a new band. We all met at his parents’ house up in the Mt. Helix area and started a band called the Blues Messenger.
“One of the first things we did was move up to San Francisco to get in on the whole psychedelic thing. I was just out of high school Right away it wasn’t working out; we were crashing on people’s floors, we didn’t have our own equipment — all we had was our guitars and stuff, even though Big Brother and Holding Company let us use their equipment and their rehearsal space. But the scene as a whole was just way too weird; the hippie movement was already changing into this big ugly drug scene. There really wasn’t any way for us to exist; we weren’t getting any gigs, and we weren’t really up to dealing dope to stay alive. So we ended up borrowing money to get back home.
“We came back and played at the Palace, along with a lot of other strange bands like Mother Goose, who later turned in the Source. The Blues Messenger was basically the same line-up as the Glory band, and when Herrera moved the Palace — it used to be across from the Sports Arena – over to Pacific Highway, we changed the name of the band to Glory.”
On a hot July night in 1968, I took a bunch of amphetamines and went to see the Doors play at the Civic Theatre, an occasion that ended up being one of those once-in-a-lifetime musical and chemical experiences. Opening for Jim Morrison’s pop music act was a Hendrix-style psychedelic-soul group called the Chambers Brothers, who started out with a dynamo version of Otis Redding’s “Can’t Turn You Loose” and closed with their soon-to-be-famous (and soon after to be utterly forgotten) original psychedelic extravaganza, “Time Has Come Today” Then Morrison and the guys came spilling onto the stage to put out a set that was loose to the point of extreme danger. In the middle of the proceedings, Morrison went up and down the apron of the stage taunting the policemen who’d been stationed on the auditorium floor as a kind of enforced buffer between the youth of our fair metropolis and these obvious chemical waste-products from the Sunset Strip, then hurled himself down from the stage so that the crowd came rushing up and chaos reigned, to the consternation of the constabulary. This, I figured (I was 18), was rock and fucking roll and no mistake.
About 24 hours later I still hadn’t slept and was hell-bent on immersing myself in more of the same. Remembering that three guys I’d been acquainted with in high school — Jerry Raney, Jack Butler, and Jack Pinney — were repute to be playing in a band that held forth each weekend at a local youth hell known as the Palace, I swallowed another handful of pills and drove out to the vicinity of MCRD and Pacific Highway in search of the venue in question. After spending an hour or so caroming from one intersection to another, I finally found what I was looking for — but something that far exceeded my expectations, which were that the band (Glory by name) would be at most a cut above the usual local rock-music fare one found at school dances, bands whose repertoire consisted mainly of large doses of “Night Train,” “Louie Louie,” “Satisfaction,” “Heat Wave,” and “Harlem Nocturne,” with maybe some “Shake Your Tailfeather” and “Twist and Shout” thrown in for good measure. I hadn’t been inside the Palace for much longer than ten minutes before I realized I’d found something on a different level entirely.
What I was seeing and hearing was an acid-rock aggregation of the first water, consisting of Raney on lead guitar and occasional vocals, Butler on bass, Mike Milsap as lead vocalist, Pinney on drums, and Mike Berneathy on rhythm guitar, whose collective wont was to blast songs of tremendous energy and conviction through the club’s Voice of the Theatre PA systems While it’s true that Glory had in common with its lesser local counterparts a practice (at that time) of essaying no original tunes, one signal difference was that Raney and his bunch played covers not of Top 40 hits of this or any year but of songs that no one had ever heard of (unless one had spent the better part of the decade listening to every cut on every album put out by every band that crossed the pond from the U.K.): obscure Yardbirds sides like “Think About It” and “I Wish You Would,” obscure Animals cuts like “A Girl Named Sandoz” (a blatant and infectious paean to the wonders of lysergic acid diethylamide), and a Van Morrison song called “Little Girl,” a loping and melancholy ditty that the band had stripped down into an extremely ominous, evocative, and powerful tune about forbidden desire.
Glory, the Palace, and I were, as it turned out, extraordinarily well suited for each other’s company. Members of the band decided I was an okay guy (despite the fact that I was, due to the stream of drugs that ran unchecked through my system in those days, a behavioral basket case), and they provided me with more or less unlimited access to their musical and personal lives; the Palace itself, about the nearest San Diego has ever come to a Fillmore Auditorium (except for a short-lived downtown venue for visiting acts called the Hippodrome, which opened and closed around this same time), was not only filled to overflowing with the sounds of Glory every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, but filled to overflowing with careless young girls and with drugs by the carload. The whole situation was, in short, a one-stop hippie heaven. For a period of about a year and a half, every time you walked into the Palace you’d see me there making a complete fool of myself in a thousand different ways and loving every minute of it.
Raney: “For a band that never did get an album out, Glory played a lot of places — especially in the San Diego area, but we also went out and played L.A. and played the series of Hi Ho Clubs. They had Hi Ho Clubs in Yuma and El Centro and Oceanside, and we played ’em all. And we opened for a lot of big-name acts. We were really a working band; it was almost like we were Southern California’s house band. We used to go up to Palomar College to play concerts. By that time the Palace had gone a little bit bigger time and Herrera was bringing in great acts like Howlin’ Wolf, who we played with for two nights, and Bo Diddley came in and jammed when we were playing with Howlin’ Wolf. I remember one night we played a concert at Palomar College at eight o’clock, packed up our stuff, drove down, and opened up for Buddy Miles at the Palace, and then turned around from there and went down to a place in Chula Vista called the Pleasure Club and played after hours — the equivalent of about seven hours of playing all in one night. A lot of nights we’d play at the Palace till 2:00 a.m., then go down and play at the Pleasure Club till the sun came up.”
Anderson: “By the way, what happened to Greg Willis” I don’t remember his being in the band at all”
Raney: “He’d been the bass player in the Blues Messenger, and then when we formed Glory, Jack Butler was the bass player and Greg went off to be a DJ called Solomon Grundy at KPRI, which was new at the time and was one of the first underground FM stations in the country. His hours on the air were something like midnight to 6:00 a.m., which was pretty neat because we’d get finished playing at the Palace and then I’d go down to KPRI and Greg and I would go on these rampages of playing whatever we wanted on the radio.
“For a while there I liked the name Glory pretty much, but pretty soon it got to where I didn’t think much of it. So I tried to change the name a bunch of times. Called it the Mighty Buzzards at one point, but that didn’t work. Also tried calling it Skinny One, but that didn’t work either.
“There was one period when Darryl DeLoach, who’d been the lead singer with Iron Butterfly on their first album, came down from Hollywood and fronted for us, and we changed the name of the band to Pig. Then it was Blind Pig. But again we went back to Glory after a while. That’s when Allen Green was in the band, and that was a pretty heavy band. We were a little bit short on singing, but the way we got a lot of the music we played was by listening to records slowed down to the next speed. We had some pretty heavy versions of songs, and it blew a lot of people’s minds; they wouldn’t even dance to us, they’d just stand there and look at us, the whole dance floor’d be standing there.”
Anderson: “For instance, that original song of Allen’s called ‘Born to Stomp.’ I happened to be at the Palace one day when you guys were rehearsing, and Allen had this song so that it was kind of up-temp and had the usual blues changes. You guys were running through the song, and I remember you kept telling Allen, ‘It’s got to be slower.’ When I heard you perform the song later, it had been cranked way down and there were no chord changes at all; it had been completely transformed into this really groaning, strange-sounding thing.”
Raney: “Yeah, it was a strange band. Allen used to sit on top of a stepladder smoking cigars and playing lap slide guitar. And the was we got prepared for a gig, every night we’d go out and buy a gallon of Red Mountain wine, and the whole band would just chug the entire bottle before we hit the stage.”
Anderson: “Yeah, those were the days. Red Mountain cost something like a dollar-fifty a gallon, so a whole lot of people could get shitfaced for practically nothing.”
The idea at the time — an idea subscribed to by me and other frequenters of the Palace as well as by members of the band — was that fame and fortune for San Diego’s favorite musical sons was just around the corner. Indeed, the widespread notion all across the late-‘60s hippiedom was that we were all bound for apotheosis, that the entire world was on the verge of being change into a science-fiction paradise by virtue of great outrushing of psychedelic energies, and that under this new order we (whoever “we” happened to be) and everyone associated with us would be stars of blinding magnitude. Glory would be, and Raney recalls it today, “the American Rolling Stones,” while I myself planned on becoming the greatest poet in this region of the galaxy. Instead, the ineluctable and irreversible cooking down of the universe began to manifest itself locally, and everything dwindled off toward a vague vanishing point.
Raney: “All during those years it seems like the Glory band broke up and reformed about 100 times. Sometimes we were a seven-piece band, other times we were a three-piece band, and there was a group of about 12 musicians who were always in and out. Somewhere along in there, Herrera became partners with Jim Pagni, who brought in a lot of concerts in those days, and the Palace changed its name to JJ’s. Glory ended up being the house band at JJ’s for a while, and we opened for a lot of people. We opened for Steely Dan on probably the only tour they ever had. We opened for ZZ Top when Tres Hombres first came out that was probably ’72, ’73. And that was about the end of the whole Palace regime, and that was one of the last formations of the Glory band.
“There are a lot of things I’d do differently today. I made an awful lot of decisions with my heart without using my brain too much at all. The guy from Iron Butterfly, Darryl DeLoach, for instance — he had all this Hollywood stuff going on, and he had this Hollywood guy who wanted to be our manager. And we had this hippie-type guy who was a friend of ours, and we wanted him to be our manager. And Darryl said he couldn’t get into having a hippie as a manager, and we told him, ‘Well, that’s where we’re at.’ And that was it; he split. If we’d gone along with him, things could have turned out differently. The Glory band could have made a splash and had a couple of albums under its belt. But I always had to have things my way in the band back then, and I had this illusion of how things should be. I didn’t think that being totally professional was going to do it; I thought just being completely natural and not even worrying about any of this professionalism stuff would make it come through. I don’t know; too many drugs, I guess.
“One day after the Glory band had broken up, I picked up a copy of Rolling Stone and looked in the musicians’ free classifieds and saw this ad that said, ‘Lead guitarist wanted for major recording contract.’ So I figured, what the hell, I’ll make the call. I went up to L.A. to try out for this thing against all these L.A. guitar players and I ended up getting the job. What it turned out to be was playing lead guitar for Norman Greenbaum, whose song ‘Spirit in the Sky’ had just come out and was turning into a four-million seller. I went up to his ranch in Petaluma, up above San Francisco, and I was there for something like three weeks practicing with him and trying to get a band together. He had such a strange outlook on things that I was really amazed his had this hit. He lived on this farm, and to him milking his goat seemed to be more important than practicing. He was driving me nuts. And that’s another time when I made a decision with my heart instead of my brain, because that could have been a real in for me. I could have had Warner Brothers behind me, because I had some original songs by then, and I could have at least got my foot in the door. But I couldn’t hack it; it was just too weird being a city boy and being stuck out on this ranch, almost totally by myself except for Norman Greenbaum and his wife and their two-year-old daughter and a bunch of goats. I felt pretty lost up there. But the main reason I left was because I didn’t agree with his producer or him on any of the songs — and I ended up being right about that. ‘Spirit in the Sky’ was a great song and a great hit, but they kept talking about how the next song had to be even stronger because he didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder. But that’s exactly what he turned out to be, because the second song he put out was a folky kind of thing called ‘Canned Ham,’ and they really screwed it up. That was one of the big disagreements; they kept saying they were goin to release ‘Canned Ham,’ and I kept saying, ‘That song ain’t gonna do it.’ But they went on ahead with it, and it flopped pretty good. He ended up being exactly what he didn’t want to be, a one-hit wonder. He’s now a cook.
“Another time, after the Glory band had broken up and then got back together, we went up to Portland, Oregon, because someone told us it was a wide-open music scene there. Someone got us a house, a real fixer-upper. Problem was that no one had ever heard of us there, and we played this gig where we were supposed to get a percentage of the door, and the whole band ended up making something like $18. We were up there for two weeks, and one day Mike Berneathy and Steve Arenz came in and said, ‘We can’t take it anymore, we’re splitting.’ So I just jumped in the car with them and came home. The funny thing was, the day we left, the guy who was managing us came in later with contracts for three gigs, and he had to cancel ’em. Another case where I might have done a little more thinking with my brain.”
In the meantime, my brain was having problems of its own. A chain of squalid circumstances in which drugs, booze, jails, and hospitals played a major role culminated in 1974 with a relocation to San Francisco to attend school. Very gradually the drugs and booze fell by the wayside, I finally graduated from college, and the next thing I knew I’d been living in northern California for most of a decade. Employed as a secretary by day, at night I worked on novels and poems that no one wanted to publish. So much for my own dreams of glory. The band that went by that name was ancient history, and I hadn’t seen Jerry Raney in many years. In the early ’80s a rumor reached me that he’s quite the music game out of frustration and was working as a tile-setter.
A couple of years after that, word filtered up from San Diego that Raney was in a band called the Beat Farmers that had been signed by Rhino Records to a recording contract. One day in 1985 I picked up a copy of the Express, a Reader-type rag published in Berkeley, and what should I find therein but one of those “Critic’s Choice” items (you know, where there’s a photo and a headline and a paragraph pertaining to some act due to appear in town that the critic has conceived an enthusiasm for) concerning the Beat Farmers, who were slated to perform during the coming week at a little cinder-block bistro called the Berkeley Square.
The Farmers, touring behind their first album (Tales of the New West) and being, therefore, an entirely unproven quantity in the Bay Area in terms of live performance, had managed nevertheless to lure into the Square a capacity crown composed mainly of wild-living college young’uns who were ready for anything. There were not one but two (count ’em) opening acts, after the second of which — at about 11:00 p.m., way past my bedtime — the lights hit the stage and the curtain flew back and here came Jerry Raney and his three cohorts pealing out the opening chords of the Velvet Underground’s misogynistic anthem, “There She Goes Again,” with guitarist/vocalist Buddy Blue leading the charge. Raney himself, by now having attained the advanced age of 36, sashayed up to his microphone grinning from ear to ear, more relaxed beneath the lights than I’d ever seen him. Although in the old days e had been skinny to the point of emaciation, he had (as I had) put on a few pounds, and though still fully-haired, the stuff at the top of his forehead was getting a mite thin (mine ditto). In all, he looked a bit more like Gary Shandling than like the wild-haired hippie acid-rock guitarist I remembered so well.
Which was pretty much beside the point, because I could see in no time that the Farmers were an adept and powerful act. With the lead vocal and guitar chores divvied up between Blue (a kind of neo-shitkicker) and Raney (whose acid-rock origins you’re by now familiar with), the music was a cogent blend of countrified jive with tried-and-true flash. This alternating current kept up for several numbers, and then a development occurred that I had a hard time following at first and that finally left me feeling (there’s no other word for it) a bit nonplussed.
What happened was that the drummer, to whom I’d been paying scant attention, came lumbering up from behind his drum kit and advanced toward the front of the stage. All decked out in a disreputable leather coat you might expect to see Slim Pickens wearing in some old Western, wearing a bettered cowboy hat, possessed of a rather evil-looking beard, and holding in his hand a bottle of beer as though it were his last link to reality, County Dick Montana (for this was his name) proceeded truculently to annex the microphone and bawl into it — in an impossibly basso voice — the words to some redneck beer-hall ditty or other, into which lyrics he interspersed foul-mouthed recriminations against the women who’d done him wrong, the audience, and San Francisco in general. (Like many out-of-towners, the Farmers were under the impression that Berkeley is in San Francisco.) As a kind of dumb-show accompaniment to this stream of alcoholic invective, the man feverishly brandished the bottle that beer spilled all over him and member of the audience and reached the point where he was all but hurling himself into the crowd. It was an appalling display. Needless to say, the sophisticated UC Berkeley audience lapped it up with a trowel and screamed for more.
Raney: “Country Dick was Glory fan during the old days, back when he was in high school. As a matter fact, he was student-body vice president at Grossmont High and hired us to play a dance there. It was really cool. We started playing and the kids didn’t know what to do; they were just standing there looking at us and stuff, and Dick got up and made a speech — you know, ‘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?’ He have this whole speech to ’em. He had a lot of charisma even back then, which is probably why he got elected. After his speech, the place started to rock out — in fact, it rocked out so intensely we ended u getting banned from the whole school district. Later on, Dick played drums in a punk-rock type band called the Penetrators.
“Anyway, after the Glory band broke up for the last time, I got disillusioned with the music scene in San Diego. I kept thinking it was really gonna break loose, but it never did. So at one point I hung it up and got a regular job at a truck-parts place, which is where I met the sound man we have now, Tom Ames. He worked at the truck-parts counter, and I got up there with him, and so we had the Tom and Jerry show at the truck-parts counter. Except instead of a cat and mouse we were a lizard and a fly.
“Meanwhile, Greg Willis and Jack Pinney had been playing in a band called Becky and the Blue-Tones out in Arizona and places like that. Then they came back to town, and the three of us started a band called Jerry Raney and the Shames, which was together for around three years. Around the same time, Country Dick was playing drums with the Penetrators and the whole new wave/punk scene was starting. This was around the mid-’70s. We all ended up playing at Herrera’s place, the Spirit Club, and there were nights when the Penetrators would come on and then the Shames. The Penetrators were the biggest draw in town then, they had a pretty good thing going. They even had a few records out. But Dick didn’t get up and sing back then, he was just a drummer. Paul Kamanski, who writes songs for the Beat Farmers now, was in a band with Joey Harris called Fingers, and they played at the Spirit Club. But it got to where the Shames were pretty much doing the same thing the Glory band did — just playing in town. We made a lot of demo tapes and shopped ’em in L.A., but we didn’t get any bites from any record companies. It finally got to the point where I just said, ‘Well, we’re not going anywhere,’ and we hung it up Then I got a job working tile.
“Sometimes around in there Dick started Country Dick and Snuggle Bunnies. The Penetrators were still together, but they were kind of falling apart, and my band had fallen apart, and Fingers had broken up, and Joey was playing with the Snuggle Bunnies. That was when Dick decided to become a front man, and everyone was amazed by the stage charisma he had and all the funny things that were going on. That’s when the whole Country Dick thing actually started, because he wasn’t going by Country Dick up to then.”
Anderson: His name’s McClain or something?”
Raney: “Yeah, Dan McClain. He doesn’t like anyone to know his real name. Ha ha.”
Anderson: “We’re gonna blow that for him.”
Raney: “Hee hee. So then the Snuggle Bunnies were breaking up. Harris had got a deal with MCA and was putting out an album called Joey Harris and the Speedsters, and someone else was moving out of town or something, and that was breaking the Snuggle Bunnies up. I wasn’t even playing in a band then, just working as a tile setter, and I went up to this little club called Bodie’s down by State College and watched the last Snuggle Bunnies show. I could tell Dick was bummed that the band was coming to an end, because he’d really been into it; I was talking to him afterwards, and I said, ‘You know, I haven’t seen any body before who had such a stage persona and put on such a show.’ Because — you know me — I was never a showman, I just get up there and play and that’s the show. I said, ‘I think what you’re doing has a better chance of making it than anything else in town right now. It really looks like you could go someplace. Good luck,’ blah blah blah. I wasn’t really trying to come to anything, but then a couple of weeks later I get this phone call from him and he says, ‘Hey, Jerry, you wanna start a rolling musical pleasure unit?’ or something. Well, that didn’t sound bad, so we got together and went around scouting people, and we found Buddy Blue and Rolle Rugbyrne in a band called the Rockin’ Roulettes, and total rockabilly outfit. That’s how the Beat Farmers got started.
We practice in this place in Kensington called the Hippie House for a month, then we went down and played a super-small club called the Spring Valley Inn that didn’t even have a dance license or anything. We just wanted to see how it would go, and we asked ’em if we could experiment on their customers. We had to move the pool table out of the way to find a place to play, and it ended up building from there. We played for free drinks. We didn’t let anybody know we were there, so it was mainly just the regulars who came into this little neighborhood bar, and they dug it. We didn’t even have a name, so we had a ‘Name the Band’ contest, and a guy named Chris Davies, who’d been the guitar player in the Penetrators, thought up the name, and we bought it from him for a 12-pack of beer.
“Se then we got the name out there and started doing a little advertising just to let people know we were around, and pretty soon we were packing the place out. We had this incredible mixture of people in the audience: there were 60-year-old drunks, bikers, total punk/new wave type people with the big hair and all that kind of stuff, hippies, cowboys, Indians — just an incredible mixture of people coming in to dig on the band. We ended up getting pushed out of that place by the sheriffs because there was a little too much going on and it was way over capacity. So we moved to Bodie’s over by State, and from there we went to a club called the Bacchanal. But before we left Spring Valley Inn, a couple of people from Rhino Records in L.A. heard that they ought to go hear the Beat Farmers, and so they came down to check us out and offered us a one-album recording deal. That’s how we got started. It’s funny how after all these years of banging my head against the wall in a lot of different ways, it just kind of fell into our laps. That’s how it went for the Beat Farmers, and it’s all been downhill from there.”
I didn’t see the Beat Farmers again until late 1988, when they played the Omni (a considerably larger venue than the Square) in Oakland. In the intervening years, the band had moved from Rhino to Mike Curb/MCA, put out two more albums, and toured the country several times. Europe no fewer than trice. Also, Buddy Blue had been replaced by Joey Harris.
I showed up at the Omni with an old friend (now living in San Francisco) from the Glory days, and we were gratified to see that easily a thousand well-fueled Farmer fans had packed the club. As the opening act wound up its set, a chant of “Dick! Dick! Dick!” arose from the crowd. A few minutes later, the curtain went up, the Farmers were revealed, and Country Dick advanced beerily on the microphone to open the proceedings.
The act proved to be, if anything, even more high-powered and well-oiled than it had been in ’85. The most recent album, The Pursuit of Happiness, was already nearly two years in the bins and had gotten an impressive amount of airplay with such characteristic and truly memorable songs as Paul Kamanski’s epic “Hollywood Hills,” Jerry’s “Dark Light,” and Joey’s “Make It Last.” And all the touring had been to good purpose: not only did the crown at the Omni relish in advance the band’s (and especially Dick’s) every move, but many of these youngsters had obviously come for the express purpose of dousing the drummer with plenteous streams of beer expensively purchased at the club bar. On a more personal note, I noticed that Jerry had shed his avoirdupois, grown his hair a bit closer to Glory length, and in fact looked pretty much as I remembered him — youthful, wiry, pleasant, ironic, and crackling with easy energy. He favored the crowd with his FM hit “Riverside,” a reading of the Kinks’ classic “20th Century Man,” and a spanking new tune called “Socialite” — a bopping, sarcastic number that I figured just might put the Farmers over the top in terms of airwave fame and touring power. I said as much to my companions as we left the club.
“Yeah,” he replied, “but they’ve got to watch it with this Country Dick stuff. You ask me, they’re in danger of turning into a novelty act.”
During the month preceding tonight’s performance in San Juan Capistrano, the band hasn’t played any dates. Although they did spend a couple of weeks in an L.A. recording studio making their fourth album, Poor and Famous. Before going on state, Dick (who described himself to me, with affecting modesty, as “a shit drummer”) complained of sweaty hands, a malady he sought to alleviate with large doses of beer and tequila. And as they amble through “Make It Last,” you can tell they’re feeling a bit rusty. Dick’s self-effacing remark to the contrary, he’s a hard-hitting drummer when his blood is up; tonight, though, he and the rest of the band are clattering back and forth all through the song in search of a groove that just doesn’t seem to be there. This holds true through the first several numbers; then the crowd, as though on cue, begins chanting “Dick! Dick! Dick!”
And so it begins. Dick, looking as though he just got off a keelboat, staggers toward the front of the state, and the band starts a long country vamp. Dick stands as though in a daze in front of the microphone for a moment, then abruptly knocks it to the floor with a haymaker. Probably it wasn’t working right, and Dick — damned if he’s going to step out of character by prosaically addressing the sound crew — has elected to call attention to the problem in the most violent possible way in order to keep the energy building. In a moment the mike is righted and working, and Dick is behind it again and the band steps into his infamous rendition of “(You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me) Lucille,” replete with Dick’s impromptu recasting of the chorus lyrics into such formulations as “You picked a real bitchin’ time to leave me, Lucille.” You can tell he’s working his butt off to bring the already receptive crowd to an appropriate level of manic lunacy with him; he sprays beer like a fountain, takes swigs from the tequila bottle between verses, throws himself on the floor while the audience rises from their seats so as to not to miss a single move. “You picked a particularly inconvenient time to leave me, Lucille,” he bawls in conclusion; then he’s strapping on an accordion and complaining to the crown that the record company it is infinite wisdom has forbidden them from including the following song on their next album.
The song — “Cocaine,” by Douglas and David Farage (who are, like Kamanski, regular contributors to the Beat Farmers repertoire) — is a moving piece of work. With the accordion and one guitar wheezing out an archaic chord sequence and County Dick moaning the lyrics, it sounds like something that was conceived in the furthest, greenest, darkest hollow of inbred Scottish-Irish Appalachia.
- Cocaine, it ain’t love
- Just powder white and crystallized
- And sweet to touch
- But that ain’t much
- It’s only cocaine.
By this time, I’ve made my peace with the whole Country Dick phenomenon. His act may be a gross affront to one’s sense of decency and decorum, but since when was that necessarily a bad thing? And there’s no denying the man has charisma to burn, and maybe it’s precisely this charisma that makes the band into something greater than the sum of its parts. Also, a song like “Cocaine” gives evidence that Dick has an unusual musical contribution to make. Beneath the beer and silliness there may lurk a tragic, even sacrificial figure.
Dick more or less disappears behind his drum kit, and the set goes on as the band continues searching for a groove, occasionally — in Joey’s “Ridin’ ” and in Jerry’s “Socialite,” for instance — plopping into it for a few moments at a time. At length the crowd reiterates its chant and there’s Dick again, this time essaying a traditional tune called “Ball o’ Yarn” that he describes as “a song about fucking.”
“On a more serious note,” he goes on as the band vamps away, “I’d like to say this. It takes a certain amount of fortitude to be a Beat Farmers fan. Our last album’s been out for a long time, we’re not getting much press or airplay, and yet still you people come out. We wancha to know we appreciate it.”
“And what the hell,” he continues, “you all paid, what, thirteen-fifty to get in here, we’re gonna be your slaves tonight. Are there any requests?”
Titles of Farmer tunes are shouted out from all over the club. Dick stares incredulously.
“You took me seriously? Think I’m gonna listen to you yahoos?” Then he tells a somewhat disconnected anecdote about meeting the lead singer of Duran Duran and refusing to shake hands with him — this by way of introducing the next song, entitled “I Dreamed I Was a Trendy Shitbag in a Discotheque.”
So much for the sacrificial figure.
A few moments later, Jerry whips out his harmonica and breathes the opening wail of Kramanski’s quintessential Beat Farmers song, “Hollywood Hills,” through its reeds, and Joey enunciates the lyrics with a rising fervor.
- Time are gettin’ tougher and there’s no turning back.
- Times are gettin’ tougher and those are the facts
- They came by the thousands each and every day
- They had no one to turn to, so we turned them away
- Put their brightest remarks on those dressing room walls
- Now they waste away in night clubs and dusty pool halls
- Prospects were high till provisions ran low
- Now they sleep beneath the moonlight under blankets of snow
- A life is a high price to pay for these kicks
- Stay out of the desert and keep off Route 46
- It takes a young man’s life
- And it probably will
- Mining for gold in those Hollywood hills.
Raney: “Basically I guess we’re still a cult band. We haven’t broken through to where we can play the sports arenas and places like that, we don’t headline any really big gigs, but places like the Old Fillmore in San Francisco and the Bacchanal and the Omni and the Belly Up Tavern — we headline there and we do well, and we do that nationwide and in England. It works, we have a good following. We’re not rock gods yet, and maybe we won’t every be, but we definitely — I mean, some people think we’re big stars.”