More than most acts of the late '70s and '80s, the Bellamy Brothers pushed the borders of country music, adding strong elements of rock, reggae, and even rap. Nearly a decade after their first hit -- the 1975 pop chart-topping, Southern rock-tinged "Let Your Love Flow" -- the brothers had earned a stack of best-selling records, and critical respect came by the late '80s. By that time, they had firmly established themselves as the top duo of the '80s, both in terms of popularity and musical diversity.
Howard and David Bellamy were raised in Florida. Their father, Homer, played traditional country music around the house and performed with a Western swing band on the weekends. In addition to the country music they heard in their house, the brothers were drawn to the calypso music of the neighboring Caribbean islands. However, nothing provided as much attraction as the rock & roll they heard on their sister's records and the radio. From the Everly Brothers to the Beatles, the Bellamy Brothers soaked up the sounds of contemporary pop and rock. In their late teens and early twenties, they once again became infatuated with country music, thanks to the music of George Jones and Merle Haggard.
Both Howard and David learned how to play a variety of instruments in their childhood. Neither child had any formal training, but Howard managed to learn the guitar, banjo, and mandolin, while David learned the piano, accordion, fiddle, banjo, organ, and mandolin. Both brothers went to college at the University of Florida. While they were students, they had their first paying gigs -- playing fraternity parties. Howard and David both earned degrees at the University of Florida; Howard majored in veterinary medicine, while David earned one in psychology.
During the late '60s, the two performed in a number of bands, both together and separately. In 1968, they moved to Atlanta, forming Jericho. Performing in such a large number of bands meant that the brothers perfected a number of different musical styles, since they were expected to please the tastes of many different club audiences. Playing in a never-ending series of bands and clubs proved tiring, and the brothers moved back home to work on their songwriting.
In a short time, the move paid off. In 1973, they met a friend of singer Jim Stafford, who directed the vocalist to David's "Spiders and Snakes." Stafford was immediately taken with the tune, releasing it as his next single; the humorous retelling of David's boyhood farm experiences would eventually sell over three million copies. The success of "Spiders and Snakes" gave the Bellamy Brothers enough money to move out to Los Angeles, where they began to concentrate on a full-time musical career.
In 1975, the brothers signed to Curb/Warner Bros., releasing their first single, David's "Nothin' Heavy." The song flopped. Dennis St. John, who was a friend of the Bellamys and Neil Diamond's drummer, suggested that the duo record a song written by Larry E. Williams, one of Diamond's roadies. After some encouragement, the Bellamy Brothers recorded and released Williams' song, "Let Your Love Flow." The song broke the doors wide open for the brothers, topping the pop charts and climbing into the country Top 30, as well as being a major hit in Britain, West Germany, and Scandinavia.
The Bellamy Brothers quickly released their debut album, also called Let Your Love Flow, which became nearly as successful as the single. Instead of concentrating on a domestic follow-up, the brothers spent their time in Europe, touring off and on for the next two years, which led to a great deal of financial success. Soon, they were able to pay off their debts and install their mother, Frances, as their financial manager. Their second album, 1977's Plain and Fancy, was a major success in Sweden and Norway, but it didn't make much of an impact in America.
The following year, the Bellamy Brothers moved back to America and returned to the family farm in Darby, FL. Not only did they change their address, but they changed their musical direction, moving closer to a straight country sound. The shift in style paid off, even if "Slippin' Away," the second single they released after they returned to the U.S., only made it into the country Top 20.
The Bellamy Brothers' country breakthrough happened in 1979, with the tongue-in-cheek "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me." Initially, the song was a hit in Ireland, convincing the duo's American record company to release it as a single. The song rocketed to number one on the country charts, which led to the Top Five success of "You Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie." The Bellamy Brothers' success continued to roll forward in 1980, as they scored two straight number one hits, "Sugar Daddy" and "Dancin' Cowboys." They earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group and the CMA named them the Most Promising Group of the Year. Throughout 1980 and 1981, the group continued to rack up the hits, including "Do You Love as Good as You Look" and "They Could Put Me in Jail."
Curb switched the Bellamy Brothers' distribution from Warner Bros. to Elektra at the end of 1981. Coincidentally, the change in distribution coincided with Howard and David's desire to experiment with their music. After they released the number one "For All the Wrong Reasons," the brothers followed with "Get into Reggae Cowboy," which was a groundbreaking country record that incorporated Jamaican rhythms. In 1982, the group was given a Lifetime Membership of the Federation of International Country Air Personalities, as well as being named the Top Country Duo by Billboard.
Throughout 1983, the brothers logged a number of hits. The following year, Curb signed a distribution deal with MCA, which had no effect on the continuing success of the Bellamy Brothers. For the next three years, the brothers were at their peak, both popularly and artistically, scoring a number of hit singles that showcased their continuing musical development as well as their increasing lyrical sophistication, as indicated by the Vietnam vet anthem "Old Hippie" and "Kids of the Baby Boom." The Bellamy Brothers continued to have hits on Curb/MCA until the end of the '80s.
By the turn of the decade, their audience had begun to shrink, leading the duo to switch record labels to Atlantic. After one album with Atlantic, 1991's Rollin' Thunder, the Bellamys left the label, founding their own record company, Bellamy Brothers Records. The Latest and the Greatest (1992) was the first album released on the label. Although the independent record label meant that the group wasn't charting as frequently as it used to, that was also a reflection of the shift of the country audience's taste. The duo could still have minor hits, like the Top 25 "Cowboy Beat," which proved that the Bellamy Brothers continued to hold on to a dedicated group of fans in their second decade of performing. Reggae Cowboys followed in 1998, and a year later the duo resurfaced with Lonely Planet.
The duo released the album Angels & Outlaws Vol. 1, singing their best-known songs with other country artists, in 2005.~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide