In the late ’70s-early ’80s, country had gone rock and more than a little rock had gone country. Perhaps no group epitomized that more than the Bellamy Brothers–and it was only fitting that they perform at the place where country went mainstream, the Texas honky-tonk called Gilley’s.
Howard and younger brother David were influenced as much by Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, soul and blues, as they were by Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard. Now, after years on the country rock circuit in their native Florida (which also produced the likes of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd), and paying their dues by playing everywhere from the Rattlesnake Roundup to proms to a local coffeehouse aptly called The Bottom of the Barrel, the Bellamy Brothers had become one of pop country’s top acts.
Theirs was long-haired, hippie country, and taking to Gilley’s stage on Friday, April 23, 1982, the Bellamy Brothers showed what that was all about–country that could party yet respect the past and look to the future. Just before playing Gilley’s, they’d hit #1 with “For All The Wrong Reasons,” after “Do You Love As Good As You Look?” went to the top the previous year. From their first pop #1 and gold record, 1976’s “Let Your Love Flow,” to their first of 12 country #1s, “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me,” a song whose title was frequently overhead at Gilley’s, the Bellamy Brothers helped redefine what was country. They could be nearly traditional with “Sugar Daddy” and “You Ain’t Just Whistlin’ Dixie” or off-the-wall with “Get Into Reggae Cowboy.”
It was strange then that a song on their next album, Strong Weakness, released later the same year of their Gilley’s appearance, was called “The Night They Killed Country Music,” a not-so-veiled criticism of the waywardness and commercialization of country that Gilley’s seemed to represent to some. Particularly odd was that the album’s cover was plastered with photographs of Howard and David holding tropical drinks while carousing in a hot tub surrounded by bikini-clad young women, certainly a different image than usually associated with country music.
But, as did Gilley’s, the Bellamy Brothers too were taking country to a generation that had grown up with pop and rock ‘n’ roll. For those in the audience this night, that was more than just fine with them.