Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series of articles about Country Dick Montana, who died onstage during a Beat Farmers performance 20 years ago at the Longhorn Saloon in Whistler, Canada.
Paul Kamanski was startled to see a case of Coors in the front seat when Country Dick Montana drove him to the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach to catch a show.
“You can’t drink and drive,” Kamanski protested, to which Country Dick replied, “Beer ain’t drinking.”
Kamanski is a gifted and proficient songwriter and when he returned home, Country Dick searched though his tapes. This, his friend said, happened on several occasions.
“He’d say, ‘What are you going to do with this?’ ” Kamanski recalled. “ ‘I don’t know.’ Then he’d say, ‘Well God damn it, this is property of Country Dick.’ He would steal songs from me. He’d get me so drunk and I’d just say, ‘Aw Dick, if you really have to have it, it’s yours.’ He’d rifle through my archives and just steal with impunity. I’d wake up the next day and say, ‘Oh shit. What did I give him this time?’ He’d say, ‘You are too easy.’ He was such a beautiful human being, you couldn’t say no to him.”
Country Dick’s posthumously released solo album, poignantly titled “The Devil Lied to Me,” is filled with songs written by Montana’s friends — Kamanski, Douglas and David Farage, and Dave Alvin. Country Dick delivered the songs in a way that made them sound if they were his own. While there are three comedic interludes, “The Home Front,” there are a number of serious songs, including the opening track, “Indigo Rider,” penned by Kamanski, who earlier had written “California Kid,” the song that introduced Country Dick Montana to the world.
“Indigo Rider” presented a new version of Country Dick, one the public would never see. Montana wanted to emulate Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard.
“Boy, he heard that song and then I heard him sing it and I went, ‘OK, now we’re going down the serious side of Dick,” Kamanski said. “Now we’re going to be serious.’
“He was sick and tired of the industry treating him like a buffoon,” Kamanski said. “But he kind of accidentally fell into that role because he was a natural entertainer.”
Dane Conover, the co-writer of Country Dick’s first and most famous goof song, “Happy Boy,” recalled the last time he saw his friend.
“He was at his house, holding court, playing working tracks for ‘Devil Lied To Me,’ “Conover said. “I said, ‘Dan this will be your ‘Sgt. Pepper.’
“He was really happy with what he was doing. It seemed he was behind all the schtick. There was a philosophical and contemplative side to him. When I heard that, I thought he was just on the cusp of being a different type of artist.”
Feeling painfully mortal, Country Dick knew he couldn’t keep up the humorous side of his music forever. With the “Devil Lied To Me,” he showed his tender side. And the album was brilliant. Rolling Stone magazine gave it a perfect five-star review. The cruel joke was the he was dead nearly a year before it was released.
Even if Country Dick hadn’t died at age 40 in Longhorn Saloon on Nov. 8, 1995, most of the people close to the band figured it was the Beat Farmers last run. The band was losing money.
Road manager Tom Ames remembered, “We’re getting to the point where maybe we can’t afford to do this like we’re doing it right now, and Dick was like, ‘My record’s going to come out and it’s going to kick ass and the whole thing is going to come right up and drag us out of these problems we’re having and it’s going to be great for all of us.’ That was his thought on it.”
Beat Farmers guitarist Joey Harris and psychobilly buddy Mojo Nixon agreed.
“ ‘The Devil Lied to Me’ was a good idea of what he was planning,” Harris said. “What he wanted to do was move away from the Beat Farmers and do a Country Dick show. He had gotten a taste of it with the Pleasure Barons and he was always looking to recruit musicians.”
“Country Dick, at the end, he wanted to do anything but be the drummer,” Nixon said. “He wanted to be out front. He didn’t want to have to do the manual labor. Drummer — that’s like being a catcher, putting on the tools of ignorance.”
In a dramatic band meeting in Vancouver before the making of the second to last Beat Farmers’ record, “Viking Lullabys,” Country Dick announced he would not play drums. He refused again the next year in 1995 when “Manifold” was recorded.
“On the very last record we did down here in San Diego, we had a couple of local kids come in and play drums on some tracks but I think at that point he had decided that he was going to leave the Beat Farmers and go do a solo thing because he had started work on his solo record,” Harris said. “I was pretty sure of that. I was trying to position myself to move on with Country Dick and do whatever he wanted to do.
“I was such a huge fan and in my opinion we were best friends. We spent a lot of time together when we hit a town. The other guys were staying in a hotel room, Dan and I would go exploring. We spent a lot of time on a friendship basis. I was always trying to make sure that no matter whatever happened that he knew I would be his guitar player.”
There was a great sense of urgency during the making of “The Devil Lied To Me.” Country Dick was about to undergo a second surgery to remove cancer from his neck.
“He wanted to get it done because he didn’t know if he would get his voice back,” said Caren Campbell-Kamanski. “It was almost 24-7. We were holding him up and getting everything done. That was an amazing experience to be part of that. Luckily, he got his voice back and was able to do some mixes afterward.”
Campbell, the lone Baroness (female singer) on the first Pleasure Barons tour, and Katy Moffatt and Rosie Flores from the second tour, sang on the album, along with Candye Kane, who has since become a successful blues star.
“There were just tons and tons of songs he wanted to record,” Kamanski said. “We had recorded his voice on dummy tracks in case he couldn’t sing again. He kept me up for two weeks and we did 19 songs in two days, which is insane. It was like he knew the end game was around the corner.”
People who were close to Country Dick also were able to know him as Dan McLain, his birth name. Kamanski knew another side of Country Dick, the studio musician.
“I always told him, you ought to start singing in your regular voice instead of that low voice,” Kamanski said. “He had kind of a high tenor and nobody knew it because he wouldn’t let anybody hear it. It was beautiful. It was this other voice that he was afraid to show. I heard him try it one time in my studio, but he wouldn’t let me record it. He wasn’t ready for that guy. That’s the sad part is that we’re never going to know that side of him.”
These days, Harris continues to perform in small venues in the San Diego area on Friday and Saturday nights. Most nights he is approached by fans, and they always want to tell and hear stories about Country Dick.
Harris loves the one about Country Dick wearing a riding helmet and goggles swinging a riding crop at the person who carried him on his shoulders.
“It was always some guy who had been there all afternoon drinking, tailgating,” Harris said. “And he was the biggest guy in his fraternity and every single time it was so funny to watch. (Country Dick) would wrestle him into position and he’d get on their shoulders and he’d move his hips and try to get him to go right or left toward the bar.
“He was not kind to them. He was whipping them the whole time. They would take three or four steps into the audience and then just collapse. You would just see Country Dick disappear and whoever the big guy was, he was probably out for the night. Every night was a thrill.”
Country Dick Montana’s ride was short, but it sure made people happy.
Coming next: Epilogue – Ain’t that a kick in the head – why a Beat Farmers fan wanted to write this series of articles; the possibility of another Country Dick and the Snuggle Bunnies record, and a very special personal story from a close friend.