By Deborah Evans Price
Unexpected collaborations often produce the most fun and engaging musical treats. And it’s that sense of creative adventure that permeates every note on “I Can Help,” a revival of the chart-topping Billy Swan hit recorded by country music legends the Bellamy Brothers and acclaimed actor Dennis Quaid.
The trio celebrated the song’s release on the Grand Ole Opry Saturday night (July 10) before a packed crowd at the iconic venue. “Growing up their music was just part of the fabric of my life,” Quaid, a longtime Bellamy Brothers fan, tells News Break backstage at the Opry following their performance. “They are wide open. They are fun. They are unpretentious. They are just real, and they still are. They were back then, and they still are.”
Howard and David Bellamy are well known for such hits as “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me),” “Redneck Girl,” “Old Hippie” and “Let Your Love Flow,” a No. 1 hit in 1976 that became an international sensation. “I Can Help” is the first single from their upcoming Covers from the Brothers, slated for release this fall. The Bellamys have recorded more than 50 albums of original material, and this marks the first time they’ve recorded an album of cover tunes.
“Back in Germany a few years ago they talked us into doing a few covers,” David Bellamy says. “We said we’d never do it. We didn’t want to do covers, but we did a couple things and they turned out pretty good. They wanted us to do ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.’ Now to us, that’s a song you shouldn’t mess with. The Righteous Brothers did it right the first time, but we did it anyway and it turned out pretty good.”
That was the spark that led to Covers from the Brothers. “Before the Bellamy Brothers we were in another band. We’ve done all these old songs,” Howard Bellamy shares as the duo relaxes backstage in their dressing room at the Opry. “Back then you didn’t get a gig or hired if you didn’t do cover tunes. You had to play three sets a night and we’ve done all these things. It was a great musical era back then and this was a really fun project.”
In addition to “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” the Bellamys cover Joe South’s 1969 classic “Games People Play,” an obscure Everly Brothers’ song “Devoted to You,” Paul Davis’ “Ride ’Em Cowboy” and Charlie Rich’s 1973 hit “The Most Beautiful Girl.” “We toured with Charlie for many, many dates, when that song was peaking, so it’s always been a really favorite song of mine and another song you wouldn’t think anybody would touch,” David says. “It sounds like the Bellamy Brothers, but you can’t vary those old songs too much. You’ve got to keep all those signature licks and things because that’s the identity of it.”
They did add their own flair to key tracks including a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” that features steel guitar and a reggae version of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Fiddler Jenee Fleenor, who won the 2019 CMA Award for Musician of the Year, joins the Bellamys on the old Delaney & Bonnie tune “Never Ending Song of Love.” “We’ve got Jenee on fiddle and she sings with us. It’s amazing how her voice works with us,” Howard says. “It’s like a sister.”
In considering special guests for the project, the Bellamys decided to recruit Quaid because they thought he’d bring a rockabilly swagger to “I Can Help.” Both acts have the same publicist, Scott Adkins of Nashville-based Adkins Publicity, who helped them connect. “We did it out at Ben Isaacs,’” David says of recording the song and video in Nashville at the studio owned by Isaacs, a member of the Dove Award winning gospel group The Isaacs. “It was real cool. Dennis said, ‘Hey I’ve got Billy on the phone here. He said good luck on the track.’”
The Billy that Quaid was speaking with was Rockabilly Hall of Famer Billy Swan, who had a crossover hit with “I Can Help” in 1974 when it topped both the Hot 100 and Hot Country Songs charts becoming his signature song. “Billy was really thrilled we recorded his song. I became friends with him during Great Balls of Fire. He was part of all that, the making of the music and everything,” Quaid says of the 1989 film about the life of the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis. Quaid portrayed Lewis and Swan produced music for the film.
The Bellamys produced “I Can Help” and Derrek Kupish of dkupish productions filmed a video to accompany the release of the single. “We were actually recording the same time we were doing the video,” Quaid says. “It was all happening basically all at once. We did the video and the song that quick. It just comes off real and it has a charm to it, I think.”
The Bellamy Brothers live on a Florida ranch that has been in their family for decades. They chronicle life at home and on the road in their TV series “Honky Tonk Ranch,” which airs or the Circle Network. They filmed backstage at the Opry with Quaid for an upcoming episode.
“It’s a very welcoming place,” Quaid says of performing on the Grand Ole Opry. “That’s one thing I didn’t realize before I played here because you have the jitters when you are going out to play the Opry, but you can really feel a lot of love in the audience. They are very attentive, and they listen. They are right there in the moment with you.”
In addition to performing with the Bellamys, Quaid had a connection to another of the night’s performers. Multi-platinum selling Christian band MercyMe closed the show. The band is well known for the hit “I Can Only Imagine,” which lead singer Bart Millard wrote about his father. The song was turned into a hit film, and Quaid portrayed Millard’s father in the movie. “It’s like my life is playing out on the Opry stage,” Quaid said with his signature grin as MercyMe started their performance.
Quaid, who bought a home in Nashville back in February, has been recording a gospel album set for release later in 2021. This week he’s finishing up the bio pic on Ronald Reagan, in which he plays the late president. He’s also starring as former football coach Dick Vermeil in American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story, slated to release December 10, 2021.
In addition to preparing for the release of Covers from the Brothers, Howard and David Bellamy are very busy on the road this summer. “We moved 108 shows during COVID and now everybody is wanting to do all of them in addition to what we already had booked,” David says. “So we’re literally working four days a week, doing Thursday through Sundays now instead of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Everything has been so slammed. It’s crazy.”
The Bellamys have long had an enthusiastic international following and they are gearing up for a European tour in 2022. When asked how it feels to be back on the road post pandemic, Howard grins and says, “It felt good for about the first two weeks. Now I’m wore out already.”
They’ve been performing “I Can Help” in their shows and getting positive reaction from fans ready for some upbeat summer vibes. “The crowds love it,” Howard says. “I think people need a flashback to a better time right now, a more carefree time.”
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