Howard Bellamy

by Carl Wiser

Along with his younger brother Dave, Howard is half of The Bellamy Brothers. Growing up in rural Florida, they wrote about what they knew, which was a colorful cast of characters, a rugged independence and a fair share of wildlife. They've had lots of success on the Country charts, but also scored a huge Pop hit with an unlikely songwriter. We'll start with that.
Songfacts (Carl Wiser): I have to get the story on "Let Your Love Flow." You're known as a songwriter, but you guys didn't write that song and that's your big Pop hit.

Howard: Right. Exactly. David had written a song that was a big hit for Jim Stafford, a song called "Spiders and Snakes." And that was about '74, right around there. And after that, we moved from Florida to L.A. to kind of pursue a career. We're from here in Central Florida in a little community called Darby, which is not much of a music scene, to say the least. So we had a chance to move out to California after "Spiders and Snakes," and it was a huge hit, it sold about three million records. So we moved out there and met Neil Diamond's band, became good friends with his band. One day Neil's drummer came over to our house and brought the demo of "Let Your Love Flow," and said, "Hey, this sounds like something you guys would do." So we went off to record that, and the rest is history. It became not only the largest song of that year, but one of the largest songs ever as far as being played. And it's become a standard, basically. But yeah, I wish another one of those would come along.

Songfacts: Why wouldn't Neil Diamond record that song?

Howard: Well, it really wasn't in his vein. His roadie wrote that song. I might say he's the wealthiest roadie now that ever was. Actually, Johnny Rivers, he had passed on the song. It had been pitched to a few people. It was actually recorded once by a guy named Gene Cotton, and it was just kind of an unusual version. But when we heard it we kind of had an idea of how we wanted to record it. Because it kind of fit our style, acoustic bass with a groove. And I think that has a lot to do with it, you've got to really match songs with artists. And I think it was the perfect song for us, a great match.

Songfacts: And then, of course, you're known as being a songwriter, both of you. Can you just tell me how you came up with that line, "If I said you had a beautiful body"?

Howard: I have to give credit for that line to Groucho Marx. Of course you've heard of the Marx Brothers. Groucho used to have a show on TV when we were growing up, which I hate to even admit how long ago that was. But he had a show called You Bet Your Life. He'd have guests on, and different quiz questions. And Groucho smoked a cigar – that tells you how long ago it was, he smoked cigars on a TV show. He'd use that line occasionally, he'd say, "If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?" and shake his cigar, and kind of raise his eyebrows. Our family always had a weird southern sense of humor and they'd use that line around a lot. So it just came one day that it'd be a great song title.

Songfacts: Now, you and David, how do you guys write?

Howard: Well, it's in various ways. David's written a lot of music, we will write together, or we will write totally separately, it kind of depends on the song. We've co-written stuff, we've written stuff separately. I think if you ask any writer, there is really no answer to "how do you write?" Because you never know. You don't know where the inspiration's coming from, you don't know when it's gonna kind of hit you - an idea - maybe on an airplane, or you may be in your sleep. So it always seems like it's different. Every song has a song personality. Some songs are so easy to write, some are a nightmare. In the end we usually both get involved with the song before it's recorded, with arranging and that sort of thing. You know, some require huge research, some are off the top of your head. So it's really a tough question to answer because it just varies so much.

Songfacts: What's one of the ones that you guys are just really proud of that just kind of came easy to you?

Howard: Probably one of the songs that's kind of autobiographical was "Whistlin' Dixie," because it's kind of autobiographical of where we're from and what we're about.

Songfacts: Now, that song, are those all real experiences? Did all that stuff really happen?

Howard: Oh, pretty much. Anybody can imagine how remotely we were raised in Florida. I don't know if you ever saw, back years ago, if you ever saw The Yearling or any of those old movies of rural Florida. But we were raised in the palmetto patches of Florida. Far removed. In the pine country of Florida was pretty much how we were raised, brought up.

Songfacts: So going to get the water, that kind of stuff was real?

Howard: Oh yeah, yeah. If you see it today it's amazing what it's developed into. Now we're just one big development. But it used to be just beautifully wild, with rattlesnakes, moccasins, alligators. I wonder how we survived it.

Songfacts: Yeah, you wonder how you survived it, yet you seem to have this longing to return there.

Howard: Absolutely. You always went out into the woods when we were growing up, you were always a little bit in fear of your life, but it was some passionate side of you that just made you love that mystery of it. It's a very mysterious place. So yes, we are still very passionate about it.

Songfacts: And I take it that's a saying that goes around a lot in your parts, "They Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie."

Howard: There you go.

Songfacts: Now, the song, "Old Hippie," was a specific person?

Howard: It was a specific generation, I think, more so than a person. There were several people we knew like that over the years. Our generation. I think that was why it was such a big song, that generation really identified with that record. So more so than a person, it was written to a generation.

Songfacts: A generation that got drafted off to Vietnam?

Howard: Exactly. It was right in the Boomer generation too.

Songfacts: Do you consider it a sad song?

Howard: Well, I think it's accurate… that fear, and yes, it's a true song, and a lot of times truth is sad. Just like our situation today. We stay optimistic, but you really take an honest look and it's a pretty sad situation we're in.

Songfacts: So you're working on now a gospel album, correct?

Howard: We've actually finished it. It'll be released in the first quarter here (2008). In March that'll be out. So we're looking forward to that. It was really one of the most fun projects we've ever been involved in.

Songfacts: Can you tell me about that, and maybe one of the songs on it that you're especially proud of?

Howard: Yeah, we were raised in the Baptist church here. Our mother, boy, if you didn't go to Sunday school on Sunday you were in big trouble at our house. And I think you always kind of come back to your roots, and the way you were raised. A lot of those old melodies, I think, somewhere in the back of your mind you incorporate, even in your writing, whatever format you're writing for. If you're in pop music, it kind of goes back to how you were raised, and the melodies you were exposed to. And those old gospel melodies are beautiful and are so melodic, that's why I think we enjoy singing them so much. It comes quite natural for us. So we actually wrote this entire album, except for one old standard. We did a reggae version of "I'll Fly Away" on there, but the rest of it is original. And it's kind of a little off-center, it's not a typical gospel album. There's a song on there called "Drug Problem," which you don't hear on many gospel albums. And there's a song called "Lord, Help Me Be The Kind Of Person My Dog Thinks I Am."

Songfacts: You have the song called "Drug Problem." Can you just tell me about writing that song?

Howard: Everybody says, "Okay, it's another gospel album." Well, we always looked for things that make it a bit different, and "Drug Problem" is a song about, basically, you hear people dried out and cold turkey from drugs, and all the drug related things. Well, when we get to the chorus in this song, it's about when we were young, we were drug to church on Sunday morning, we were drug to family reunions, drug to Grandpa's farm to work every summer, drug to weddings and to funerals. So we were drug everywhere, to shape us into doing anything but doing drugs. That's the twist.

Songfacts: Yeah, that's pretty clever. I like that "Kind of person my dog thinks I am." Do you guys have one of those dogs that you can't do any wrong?

Howard: Oh yeah, I think everybody does. If you were as good a person as your dog thinks you are, you would be a saint.

Songfacts: Yeah, that's not what you'd expect on a gospel album. My 15 minutes are up with you, if you have any last comments on this album, I'd love to hear it.

Howard: Well, we're just really happy with it. We recorded it out on our ranch here in Florida. It's all kind of homegrown, and it's really close and personal to us. So we're looking forward to this project.

We spoke with Howard Bellamy on September 7, 2007. Learn more at www.bellamybrothers.com.
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Comments: 3

  • Judy Yama from El Dorado Hills, California Thanks for the interview! These gentlemen have the most clever and tender lyrics I’ve ever heard. I remember Groucho Marx, too.
  • Dianeteellubinus from Hydro/hinton, Oklahoma Your songs are special to me, Diane, my Daughter (Marti has “her Name on the back of her belt) long ago ,& her friend’s! I buy the tickets and they always go with me! “The Golden Girls”! Lol. Can’t wait for you to be back to Sugarcreek casino!! I appreciate all your music‼️AND WE HAVE FUN‼️ Thank you for a great few hours ‼️Every Time‼️ Dinosaur Wine on one of your albums is sooo Good‼️
  • Steve from VirginiaI saw the Bellamy Brothers at the WV State Fair a few years ago. I must say they were very good in person which is tribute to their musical talent. If you have the chance to see them don't miss it. Thanks guys for some great music.
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