Ballad of the lonesome hound
Buddy Blue found happiness before leaving
Published April 2, 2007
Listening to Buddy Blue's earliest recordings he and Jerry Raney made together in the Beat Farmers more than 20 years ago, and his last acoustic show with Jerry, recorded just a week before he died on April 2, 2006, makes clear that professionally, Buddy had come full circle. After years of avoiding his history with San Diego's Beat Farmers, a ground-breaking band that not only helped define the "roots rock" movement of the early 1980s but also proved San Diego bands could get a recording contract without moving to LA first, Buddy had finally embraced his own musical heritage.
But that was only possible because he had also found completion personally married to a woman he loved deeply, smitten by their four-year-old daughter. With his mother recently moved in with them, Buddy was surrounded by the three women who fulfilled his life.
That is key to understanding the power of Buddy's creative output both in music and journalism: He was at heart a mensch, an honorable man who was anchored by his family.
Buddy came home before he passed, and he found happiness. For that, those of us who cared about him and his music should be grateful. Because if he was always talented, he wasn't often at peace.
Buddy was a man who never stopped feeling the rage. In no way is this a bad thing injustice infuriated Buddy, and both motivated and illuminated his writings and musical compositions.
But it also could make him restless, and made those of us who called him friend wonder if he'd ever find his own place of peace that he wrote about in so many of his songs.
True to Buddy's conflicted nature, even as happiness was finding him, he fought it. To be fair, he didn't fight falling in love with Annie at least not so any of us could tell.
But a few years ago, when he first start back to playing again with Raney his old Beat Farmers co-guitarist and co-singer he insisted his Buddy Blue jazz band would continue to be his main gig. In an e-mail sent in November 2005, he wrote that his gigs with Raney would happen "once in awhile. Once every few months. That's all I can handle. I really do enjoy my own band more, even though I love playing with Raney."
In retrospect, maybe that was Buddy just protecting himself from potential disappointment. Previous efforts to reunite with Raney had been short-term affairs, and his original break from the Beat Farmers in 1986 after their second album, when they seemed on the verge of becoming at last the Next Big Thing in popular music had not been entirely amicable.
After leaving the Beat Farmers, Buddy had gone on to form The Jacks, an urban soul/roots rock hybrid that issued an LP on Rounder Records and toured a bit before Buddy dissolved the band to concentrate on his other love, music journalism a love he would never give up again, even when he returned to music in the early 1990s. (Buddy often allowed us to publish his musician interviews and profiles here in the pages of Turbula, under his given name of Buddy Seigal.)
After his return to music, Buddy formed a series of Buddy Blue bands that explored everything from jump blues to hard bop, and issued a series of albums under his own name throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
What he didn't do for the most part was entertain any thoughts of "what might have been" for himself or the Beat Farmers had he stayed. And outside of one re-recording of "Goldmine" and a couple versions of "Upsettin' Me," he didn't much play the songs he'd written and performed while in the Beat Farmers, either which struck many of us as a shame, given how many great songs he'd written during that period of his life: "Lost Weekend," "Lakeside Trailer Park," "Gunsale at the Church," "Seven Year Blues," "Glad 'n' Greasy," "Lonesome Hound."
The Beat Farmers soldiered on without Buddy, replacing him with Joey Harris, who had played with Beat Farmers founder Dan "Country Dick Montana" McClain in Country Dick and the Snuggle Bunnies. The Beat Farmers continued to tour and record until McClain's death on stage in 1995.
In the years after McClain's death, there were a couple Beat Farmers reunion shows with both Blue and Harris involved. Those were all one-offs, though, and if fans were ecstatic at seeing their surviving heroes together again, Buddy wasn't having any talk of a permanent reunion. It was just a chance to honor McClain and play some great music a couple nights every other year or so.
And in 1996, there was a short-lived band with Raney called Raney-Blue.
After dissolving Raney-Blue after only a few months, Buddy and Jerry wouldn't play much together except at Beat Farmers reunion shows until they started playing occasional gigs together in 2003.
But within a few months of starting to gig together, Raney and Blue had welcomed former Beat Farmer bassist Rolle Love back into the fold along with Joel Kmak, who had often filled in on drums for the late Country Dick Montana when he battled cancer. Anyone who saw Buddy playing with his three pals knew he'd never quit playing with them again. He was clearly in his element.
And yet, they didn't want to be trapped by the long shadow of the Beat Farmers, didn't want to insult former bandmate Harris, didn't want to find themselves playing only their old songs. Raney and Blue had both continued to write new songs, and if they wanted to continue playing together, they wanted to be playing new songs together as well as the old.
So they played together as the Flying Putos a Mexican street-slang insult. Did that for a few months until bars told them they couldn't book a band with that name. Did that until the ludicrousness of the situation dawned on them. Until they began playing as, simply, The Farmers.
The Farmers released an album, "Loaded," on Buddy's own Clarence Records in the summer of 2005. The band sounded tighter than ever, their new songs as instantly classic as those of the orignal lineup.
And Buddy Blue, curmudgeon of curmudgeons, was clearly happy.
In a low-fi recording Buddy had made of what turned out to be his last gig, an acoustic set with Jerry at the Parkway Bar in La Mesa (a small, neighborhood beer-and-wine establishment where Buddy played regularly the last few years), it was surprising how much of the song set was intact from the earliest weeks of the Beat Farmers' first go-round in 1983 (a sound check of which was issued two years before "Loaded").
If reuniting with Rolle and Jerry was a homecoming musically for Buddy, it was the same for Raney and Love. They, too, had been cut off from a huge swath of their own history.
None of this is to suggest that Buddy didn't still love jazz he did. Playing with San Diego saxophone legend Joe Marrillo was one of Buddy's happiest musical moments.
But the Farmers?
That was more than a moment.
It was home.