C&I talks to David Bellamy about the Bellamy Brothers’ newest album, 40 Years, and their timeless career.
Starting out on the pop charts in the ’70s and transitioning into country in the ’80s, the Bellamy Brothers’ career has taken them through every genre and musical style, leading the way for modern country duos like Big & Rich and Brooks & Dunn.
With classic hits like “Let Your Love Flow,” “Redneck Girl,” “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me),” and new crowd favorites “Love by the Moon,” “Boobs,” and “Texas Girls,” the duo’s talents and musical journey span decades and continents.
Recently, C&I talked with David Bellamy about his life off and on the stage, his new compilation album, 40 Years, and what the future holds.
Cowboys & Indians: Your latest album, 40 Years, celebrates your timeless career in music. What are you most proud of with the album, and what do you hope your fans will get out of it?
David Bellamy: First of all, we’re happy that we could put 20 hits on there because that’s always fun to have that many hits to be able to celebrate with. But in addition to that, we didn’t really want to just rehash the hits because we’ve had several compilation albums from record companies over the years. In addition to the 20 hits, we also put 20 brand-new songs, which is basically a new album or a bigger-than-a-new-album and made it 40 songs, 40 years. I think it’s a really good package in that respect — that people can go on and hear all the old hits, but they can also go to the second CD and hear a brand-new album that we wrote and produced over the past couple of years.
C&I: Where did the idea for this album come from?
Bellamy: We knew that we had to come up with something for the 40 years. We were celebrating in several ways. We did a big world tour, which started in India, in Sri Lanka, and then worked its way back to Europe and then back to the U.S. and then back to Europe. We kept sitting around going, “No, we don’t want to rehash this,” so every time we would come home, we’d keep recording tracks because we had a lot of new songs. Finally, one day, Howard said, “You know, we should just put 40 songs on the album,” and I’m going, “Wow, that’s really a lot. I don’t know if we’ve got that many songs.” He goes, “We’ve already got 35 of them recorded, with the old hits and the new stuff.” It was no great strategy — we were just talking one day and we said, “That’d be kind of fun to do 40 hits for 40 years.”
C&I: What was the process like of picking your biggest hits? Were there some that you were sad to leave off the album?
Bellamy: Yes, there were. Most of those are available out there, anyway. When you’re around 40 years, there’s all sorts of compilations that you’ve done, and some of them that former labels have done that you maybe like or not like. People who are looking for a specific song, especially nowadays, can go on iTunes or can go and stream a song. So you can really find most of those old songs if one of them is not on the album that you bought.
C&I: What was the process of writing the 20 new songs?
Bellamy: The process is really kind of the same all the time. We write a lot, continuously, even when we’re on the road. We get song ideas and put it down. Nowadays it’s a lot easier to hang onto fragments of songs. You just can record it on your iPhone and put down a piece of a song or an idea and finish up when you get back to the studio. We write all the time anyway, ongoing. Something gives us an idea and we write it down. Even when we’re working on a regular album or the 40 Years, it’s the same process. We go back to the studio. We get in there and give it a try and listen back and see if we got something. That’s really what we’ve always done.
C&I: Are your writing styles the same throughout? Do you start with a melody first or with the lyrics?
Bellamy: I don’t think it’s ever the same, actually. It’s something that just comes. One day, you’ll be sitting around with your guitar and you’ll come up with a nice little hook and you’ll say, “Oh, I got to work that into a song.” Then one day you’ll sit around and you’ll hear somebody say something and you say, “Oh, that would make a great lyric hook.” It’s all of the above, really. The same with Howard and I. Howard will walk into the studio and he’ll beat out a melody on the desk. He’ll say, “Hey, make it sound like this,” and beat it out. Then we’ll pick up the guitars and start working on it. Then sometimes we will sit down together and write a song. It’s kind of rare because we don’t really do songwriting sessions. Then other times, I’ll write a song and we’ll take it in the studio. He’ll say, “Hey, you know what’ll sound good on this?” And maybe he’ll start something. It’s kind of a weird process of co-writing. It’s not a formal situation. We just kind of do it back and forth.
C&I: You’ve got some really good genre mixes in the new songs. Was that intentional, or is that just experimenting with different sounds?
Bellamy: It’s all based on the music we like. We like music from different genres and have had hits in different genres. I think all of these influences are there all the time — they just come out as we go along. One day we’re interested in writing a real traditional country song and the next day it’s something that’ll have more of a reggae feel. Once in a while, we’ll just turn loose and say, “Hey, let’s do a rocking track.” Our music comes from what we used to call a country-rock background. It actually started in gospel because we played gospel before anything, but we like the old country-rock format. That’s really where our hearts are. We love old traditional country and we like old rock ’n’ roll, so it’s kind of a mixture of all that stuff.
C&I: Are there any songs that you wish that were on the album that didn’t end up making it? Any new songs?
Bellamy: When we figured out we were going to do 40 songs on there, we used pretty much everything we had at the time because we had not set out to do an album that big, with 40 songs. Once we had that number, I think we pretty much dug out everything we were working on new, so most everything we like made the album.
The way we work, as soon as the album’s out, we’re working on new songs anyway for something else. We actually started a new album six months after that album came out, which we’re still working on now. That’ll be out probably next year.
At our ranch in Florida, we have a studio in my front yard and we have since the early 1980s. The atmosphere we live in is we’ll get up in the morning and my brother checks the cattle when we’re home. And we get some lunch and we meander around there and make sure everything’s all right. And then we go to the studio in the afternoon.
In Florida, we get those hot summer afternoons and we get thundershowers, so we work in the studio during that, and we’re working on the ranch otherwise. We’re always working on a project. Sometimes we don’t even know where the project’s going — we’ll just do it song by song. If Howard has one, I have one, I’ll go in there and record it and then all of a sudden, it’ll start to take shape and then we work it into a project.
C&I: You are about to embark on a tour of Norway, Germany, Australia, and Switzerland. You have a huge fan base overseas. Are there any venues that you are especially looking forward to playing or that you want to play?
Bellamy: We’ve played in those countries for most of the 40 years of our career. It’s funny because when we go to those places, it’s not really even like being in a foreign country. We’ve been there so many times, we know so many people. We have lots of fans and it’s always just the most fun. We just left Colorado. We did a run through the Rocky Mountains and played a lot of venues there. We come off Colorado and go straight to Norway and down to Germany and Austria. They all are the same, in terms of us being excited about playing there because we’ve played so many years in Europe. We just look forward to getting back and playing for everybody because we know we’ll see old friends.
C&I: Speaking of fans overseas, your song “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)” has become a huge staple in India for weddings. And you guys are the first country artists to play in Dubai. Did you ever think you’d become that popular overseas? How has that shaped your career as a whole?
Bellamy: First of all, we knew that the old records were really big in Europe and in Australia and South Africa, even Asia, like Japan — we have a No. 1 record in Japan — but we didn’t realize what a big market there was in India for us, because it has always been very hard to tour there, so we’ve never gone. We would always get people from India showing up at our shows here and they would all say, “Oh, you got to come because everybody will love you there.” We kept getting phone calls from there and wanting to book us, but logistically it’s not an easy country to tour in. Finally, we were able to put a tour together, and when we got there, we were really amazed. It seemed like the beginning of our career again because everybody was so excited over the songs like “Let Your Love Flow,” that was 40 years old. It was like a new hit there. That was one of the most fun things I think we’ve done in the last several years is that tour of India and Sri Lanka.
Playing in Dubai was really exciting. The interesting thing about the Dubai show is they never had a country show there and they had it at that world-famous golf course where they do that $6 million purse. It was really beautiful out there and we had a huge crowd. We had probably [5,000] or 6,000 people out there, and most of the audience were from India. ... We really love it.
C&I: Have you ever had to play “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)” at a wedding?
Bellamy: Yes, we have. We played that song many times at weddings because we’ve played many weddings over the years. I’ve never played a wedding in India yet, but you never know — we may, still. We play a lot of weddings in the U.S. People will hire us to do a wedding and they’ll want one song for the bride and groom to dance to or somebody’s favorite. I’ve done a lot of weddings in Texas, and most of the time, they want to hear “Redneck Girl.” For some reason, in India, “Beautiful Body” became what they call the first-dance song, with the bride and groom. I always got a kick out of that. I thought that was very funny. If you go on the streets in India, almost anybody can sing that song. It’s really funny.
C&I: You guys hold the record in both ACM and CMA for most nominations. Is there any particular award or recognition that you cherish above anything else?
Bellamy: To be truthful, I think that our favorite award was when they made us honorary Texas Rangers, which is not a music award, of course, but in a way it kind of is. The former Texas Rangers Association had us play their private event and they made Howard and I honorary Texas Rangers. That’s probably my favorite award and favorite plaque. We have it in our office at home. We appreciate all the awards we’ve won over the years and all over the country. We have keys to cities all over the world. People have been very nice to us, but our favorite thing is just going out and playing for everybody. That’s really the most rewarding thing of all.
C&I: When you look back at your career and how successful you guys are, are there any moments that especially stand out?
Bellamy: It’s hard to say. We’re just finishing up a book right now. We haven’t got a definitive date for it yet, but it’s probably going to be next spring. When you’re around 40 years, you don’t really sit around every day and remember all these [specific things], but when you’re sitting with a writer and you’re writing all this stuff down to be in a memoir, all of a sudden one story leads to another. When I look back at the book now — because I’ve read it a couple times just to see if we screwed it up — it occurs to me how many stories there really are. It’s just endless. I sit there and I go, “Oh, my God, we did all this stuff.” Howard tells the story about me crawling under the belly of an elephant in Reno, Nevada; then I tell a story about him losing his sled on the Alps and ending up in the top of a pine tree. It’s one thing after another, over and over. When you look at that, it’s tiring and causes you to go, “Oh, my Lord, I did all that stuff?”
C&I: You mentioned earlier about your working family ranch down in Florida, where you have pure-bred cattle and quarter horses. Tell us more.
Bellamy: We have a herd of pure-bred Brahma cows, and we also have some ranch horses and quarter horses. They’re kind of working cattle horses; they’re not cutters. We have owned cutters before. We were in the cattle business pretty heavy in the ’90s. We were half-owners in a feedlot at Lubbock Feeders in West Texas, and we had two ranches in Florida that we ran. Our family’s always been in the cattle business but we scaled it back a little bit after our mom passed away because she used to handle a lot of that stuff.
We were touring so heavy all over the world, it was hard to run all of it at one time, so we scaled it back and now we’ve just got our old home place in Florida. We’ve got a herd of pure-bred Brahma cows and our horses there. It’s fun. We’ve got the recording studio there. That’s how we do, anyway — either play music or work with cattle, so you got to pick what you want to do at the ranch.
C&I: Do you guys have a favorite part of working on the ranch?
Bellamy: My favorite part is laying by the pool, actually. Howard does a lot of ranch work when he’s home. We raise a crop of maybe 100 head of baby calves a year now. We used to have a much bigger operation, but now it’s just back down to our basic old home place. He gets up and gets with the ranch hands. We’ve got a couple of good guys that keep an eye on it while we’re gone, so we do a little bit of everything. I keep an eye out for if a cow’s broke the fence down, and I call the ranch hand and tell them to nail it back up. That’s my contribution.
C&I: Are there any other hobbies that you pursue when you’re not on the road, making music, or hanging at home on the ranch?
Bellamy: I reluctantly say we like to travel because we travel so much until most of the time it’s just nice to stop traveling. Traveling still is something that’s fascinating to us. I think that’s one of the reasons in our early career we ended up getting known all over the world — because we were crazy enough to go there. We’ve toured in 71 countries. Some days, you get into a place and you see nothing except the hotel room or the inside of a concert hall. But a lot of times, we’ve been to places where we’ve been laid over for a few days. In Sri Lanka we were there a few days for the show and ended up going to a miniature-elephant preserve. When we were in Africa, we ended up going on a photo safari. We’ve been in the South Pacific and been shark fishing. So you run into these incredible things that you wouldn’t otherwise do because of the work you do. We’ve developed a lot of, I guess you’d call them hobbies, over the years just by being there and doing things. I think our basic love is probably our ranching and our music.
C&I: What are you guys listening to right now and who inspires you at the moment?
Bellamy: We listen to a pretty broad variety of music. I will admit, we don’t listen to a lot of new music. I like new music, but I just feel like there’s still a lot of gap between the gray area of what I would call country and rock and that era. So I listen to a lot of singer-songwriters, like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell. We still listen to Merle Haggard and George Jones. Singers like Vern Gosdin; R&B artists like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and, of course, Hank Senior. Those people are the foundations of the type of music we love. I listen to those things now probably more than anything else, and I think Howard does, too. We have similar taste in music.
To find out more about the Bellamy Brothers and their touring schedule, visit them at bellamybrothers.com.