San Diego's Farmers have lived local music history, but keep their eyes on the future
Published May 2005
Few bands from any region have the kind of local pedigree the members of the Farmers collectively bring to the table. For three decades, the various members of the recently renamed Farmers have been in some of San Diego County's most popular bands.
But while their fans can go on ad nauseam about all the different combos the four men have been in through the years, when you talk to the Farmers themselves you hear a lot more about the future.
The Farmers from left, Jerry Raney, Buddy Blue, Joel Kmak and Rolle Love
With a new album in the can and awaiting release in the next few months, and their first gig in years at one of the area's premiere live clubs (the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach) lined up, the future is indeed bright for what is in many way's San Diego's greatest ever all-star rock 'n' roll band.
According to Farmers singer/guitarist Buddy Blue (who often contributes to these pages under his real-life name of Buddy Seigal), former members of the Beat Farmers (taking in three of the Farmers) had been unable to get gigs at the Belly Up since the untimely death of former Beat Farmers leader Country Dick Montana a decade ago. A change in management and philosophy at the BUT has the current Farmers feeling pretty rosy about their chances of playing regular gigs at the county's top venues again, about being able to take their music to a wider audience.
Formed a few years ago out of one of many intermittent Beat Farmers reunions, the Farmers played a semi-regular gig at Pete's Place in La Mesa under the name of The Flying Putos (yes, that is crude Mexican slang that can get you beat up in Latino bars). Pete's is a neighborhood joint not so different from the Spring Valley Inn or Bodie's, two beer-and-shots bars where they first met and performed together more than 20 years ago as the Beat Farmers. The Putos name, though, while meant to provide them some breathing space from their own history and no problem at a local watering hole like Pete's, was preventing them from getting gigs at a lot of the larger clubs and threatened to make it tough to sell the CD they were wrapping up when this interview was conducted. Within a few weeks of this interview (in March 2005), the band decided to rename themselves the Farmers to fully embrace their past, as well as allow themselves more professional opportunities than the admittedly offensive Putos title allowed.
Ex-Beat Farmers Buddy Blue, Jerry Raney and Rolle Love had done a few reunion shows in the years since drummer and leader Dan McClain, aka Country Dick Montana, died of a heart attack on stage in 1995. Needing a drummer to replace Montana, they had turned to Joel Kmak who had either been replaced by McClain or replaced McClain in such legendary San Diego bands as The Penetrators and Crawdaddies.
In a way, the spirit of McClain/Montana is still somewhat present today. It was he who had recruited Raney and Blue, and later Love, to form the Beat Farmers which became San Diego's best-known and most successful band since Iron Butterfly had made it nationally more than a decade earlier. In addition, McClain had been good friends with Kmak's brother, Jeff, spending numerous afternoons at the Kmak household during high school in the late '70s.
During a Sunday morning interview over brunch at a Mexican restaurant in East County, McClain/Montana had a habit of sneaking into conversations unbidden.
And yet, as Blue said at one point, "Dick would have hated the Putos," with Raney adding, "The Putos might play 10 minutes or so; Dick never wanted a Beat Farmers' song to last more than two or three minutes. The Putos are really similar to the Beat Farmers sound, except we're a lot more psychedelic. We can sound a lot like the Grateful Dead at times."
And talking about the first time that three-quarters of the Farmers played together inevitably brings McClain/Montana back to the fore. In the early 1980s, McClain had adopted the stage name of Country Dick Montana and had formed Country Dick and the Snugglebunnies with guitarist/singer Joey Harris (later to replace Blue in the Beat Farmers).
Raney said he had gone to Bodie's for the Snugglebunnies' last show, as Harris had signed a record deal with another band he was in, the Speedsters. Raney already knew McClain after playing a gig at Grossmont High School that McClain had booked as vice president of the ASB. "After the show, I went up to Dick and said I kinda think what you're doing has a better chance of getting signed (to a record deal) than a lot of what other people are doing who are getting deals. A couple weeks later, he called me up and said, 'Hey Raney, want to start a rolling musical pleasure unit?'"
Soon after, the two went to Bodies again to see Blue's band, The Rockin' Roulettes (which featured Love on bass). Blue picks up the story here: "Dan called and told me a talent scout from L.A. would be at the show, so we should play all originals. ... I talked to Dan after the show, and he admitted he wanted all originals so Jerry could hear them!" It was at that show that Blue was invited to join the new venture as well.
After a few weeks of practice, the original bass player McClain/Montana had lined up wasn't working out. Love said, "Buddy called up and said, 'Can you come practice until we find a bass player?' That was my whole thing in the Beat Farmers 'Am I in the band yet?'"
With the formation of the Beat Farmers, McClain/Montana quit his other gig as drummer for The Penetrators, then one of San Diego's top bands with Kmak taking back the drummer's seat he'd held before McClain replaced him.
As for those first practices together, Raney said he remembers most "I was trying to learn to play country!" Blue recalls, "I never sang harmony with anyone before." Love? "Dick hands me this big stack of records and says, 'Learn these.' It ranged from the Sex Pistols to Merle Haggard!"
Raney says that very quickly McClain/Montana got them a gig at the Spring Valley Inn, a tiny little neighborhood bar in semi-rural East County where the pool table had to be pushed off to the side to make room to perform. A few months after that, they moved to the slightly larger Bodies, over by San Diego State University with a national recording contract from Rhino Records in hand.
Buddy recalled that he never even dreamed about being a national star. "Dan was always real ambitious, but it never even occurred to me that we'd get a record deal. I just wanted enough gigs so I could quit my job at The Wherehouse."
For Kmak, it was interesting watching the Beat Farmers become local, then regional and finally minor national stars, with a series of records and tours that stretched through most of the 1980s. Of the initial success, he credits "Dick's hustling, Buddy's fan base and having Jerry in the band."
Blue and Love also said at the time the Beat Farmers came together, getting to play with Raney was a big selling point for them. "Jerry was the top of the heap," Buddy said. "He was huge." Raney had spent most of the '70s fronting such popular San Diego bands as Glory, Shine and Jerry Raney and The Shames.
Love added, "Buddy and I were on a constant high. I was just out of high school, and now we're on tour?" Blue continued, "We drove Dick and Jerry crazy. We'd be driving and Rolle and I were in the back seat bouncing up and down screaming 'We're on tour! We're on tour!" Love: "And I'd keep giving Dick wet willies while he was driving!"
After the band's third album, Blue quit the band, replaced by Harris. A string of releases on Curb Records sold moderately well, but the Beat Farmers never hit the really big time; never got as big as U2 or Stevie Ray Vaughan, the way many had predicted. Still, with Harris, Raney and Love, the band continued touring and recording right up to McClain's death.
It was during a 20th anniversary reunion that Blue and Raney decided they'd have more fun playing together than apart (something they had already tried briefly in the mid-1990s as Raney-Blue; pressure from a Los Angeles newspaper where Blue was a music critic ended that venture) but not as the Beat Farmers. And so the Putos were born.
An early publicity shot of the Beat Farmers, circa 1983 from left, Rolle Love, the late Country Dick Montana, Jerry Raney and Buddy Blue
Today, at an age when most rock 'n' rollers (Love is the youngest at 43) are either hanging it up or contenting themselves to playing old hits for sentimental fans, the Putos are still writing new songs, adding to their repertoire still exploring the music. And unlike many bands that were picked by the music press for superstardom, the way the Beat Farmers were in the mid-'80s, and didn't quite make it, they've never become bitter.
Blue explained their lasting enthusiasm by saying, "I don't think anybody in this band is in it to be a rock star. We just do it because we love it."
And Kmak, married for a quarter century with a grown daughter, chimed in, "Being in a band is still the greatest thing in the world."
"Besides," added Love, leaning forward conspiratorially: "We still give each other wet willies."