In the 1970s, their hit song “Let Your Love Flow“ turned them into superstars. Few people know that the Bellamy Brother are real Florida boys. The brothers grew up on a ranch near Tampa. In this interview, they talk about balancing their global success with rural life. They also reveal which Swiss musician visited them on their ranch.
David and Howard Bellamy, you are big country stars. But your family has lived in Florida for centuries. Is Florida originally cowboy country?
David Bellamy: "Our family has lived on our ranch since 1870. It is situated in Darby, Pasco County, approximately twenty-five miles north of Tampa. Our great-great-grandfather was originally from South Carolina. He was injured in the American Civil War and was taken prisoner, but managed to escape. He married and moved here with his wife in a covered wagon. Back then, Florida was not all that nice and consisted chiefly of swamps inhabited by alligators. That is why it was so hard for the pioneers to cultivate land here."
Did you grow up on the ranch? A nice childhood?
Howard Bellamy: "Oh yes, very much so! But there was always heaps to do. Our Dad bred cattle, and we had to help out a lot. We had to build fences, feed the cattle and do plenty more. In those days, nature in Florida was much wilder. It was basically a jungle swarming with rattlesnakes and alligators. We had to turn it into pastureland for our cattle."
What role did tourism play during your youth in Florida?
Howard: "The construction of the railway line by Henry M. Flagler opened the East Coast to tourism. However, it wasn’t so much the case for our area around Tampa. That is quite surprising since Tampa used to be a larger, more important metropolis than Miami (which was once Fort Dallas). Tampa was a sister city of Havana, Cuba, which is why many Cubans settled here. The rich entrepreneur Henry B. Plant who founded the University of Tampa became the strongest competitor of oil magnate Henry Flagler. While Flagler built the Florida East Coast Railway, Plant brought the railway to the West Coast thus making that area accessible to tourism too."
David: "Many tourist attractions are a result of their drive to outdo each other. Crystal Springs, for instance, where the submarine world can be observed from glass bottom boats, or Weeki Wachee Springs where visitor can watch underwater performances by ‘mermaids’. We saw that as kids – though not often given that we did not have much money."
Has tourism impacted your career?
David: "I believe so. During our college years, we spent a lot of time at the various beaches and played in clubs there. Howard and I even had an apartment in Clearwater Beach."
Howard: "It did less for our college trajectory than for our music career."
Was music played in your family?
David: "Yes. Our Dad played honky-tonk together with two Czech brothers, and we’d always sing gospel songs in church on Sundays. So we did grow up with music."
Howard: "Music and singing were simply part of life for us. And we believed it was like that for everyone. I even recall the songs sung by farm workers from Jamaica who came to help us with the orange harvesting. Wonderful!"
Florida as a land of ranchers. Do Europeans who visit Florida have the wrong perception of this federal state?
Howard: "Indeed they do, and they’re not the only ones. Many US Americans are unaware that Florida has an old and rich ranch tradition. One of the biggest ranches in the country, the Deseret Ranch, is in fact located in St. Cloud, right in the heart of Florida."
You achieved fame as the Bellamy Brothers in the world of music and show business. On your ranch you are surrounded by cattle breeding and nature. How does that fit?
David: "I think our genuine curiosity to continue experiencing new adventures has helped us in both areas. It was exciting to spend our youth on the ranch. There was always something going on. The same is true of showbiz. We are curious about being in new places and playing with other musicians for the first time. For instance, back in 2010, we recorded an English album with the Swiss-German rock musician Gölä. In 2014, we worked with him on his album ‘Mermaid Cowgirl’ right here on our farm. It was a very intense and enriching collaboration."
How has your success in show business impacted your life on the farm?
Howard: "Everything became much simpler! We can pay people who do the heavy work for us. That is why, these days, we call ourselves ‘Gentlemen Ranchers‘."
But still, you carry the responsibility for the ranch. Isn’t that quite a strain?
Howard: "It always involves a lot of work. That is why we are glad to have our studio on the ranch. This allows us to pop over to the studio from the cowshed and vice-versa. We were feeding the calves at the same time as working with Gölä on his new album. But we had to stop doing it because the calves made too much noise when we separated them from their mothers."
David: "Fortunately, we are a well-established team, both on the ranch and with our music. None of this would be possible without our team."
As a tourist, how can one get to know the other Florida, away from the beaches and Disneyland?
Howard: "There are places in Odessa near Tampa and in Okeechobee on the East Coast that offer ranch tours. That is where you can learn things about the original Florida."
David: "It is also very interesting to trail the history of the Seminoles, the Native Americans of Florida. They lived in the swamps, including the Everglades. It is a fantastic experience to explore the swamps in a propeller boat accompanied by a Seminole guide."
Your Florida insider tip?
Howard: "Florida’s springs with their crystal-clear water, such as Blue Springs near Orange City, are a must-see!"
David: "And for all music fans: Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa is a great concert bar!"
(Text: Sunflyer/Zeno van Essel)