Roots that run for generations in the cattle and music business have taught the Bellamy Brothers that marketing is key to survival on both fronts.
Preach to the choir and you'll likely enjoy a congregation eagerly nodding in agreement. Carry the message to the unenlightened, however, and you have a chance to actually grow the flock.
"We've learned the importance of marketing in the music business, and that's why we believe it has to happen in the cattle business," says Howard Bellamy. He and his brother David comprise one of the most successful country music tandems in history. Do songs like "Let Your Love Flow" and "Redneck Girl" ring a bell?
"Everyone in our industry has come such a long way in producing healthier food," says Howard. "But, the problem is that so many people don't know about this industry. If they did, producers would be a lot bigger heroes than they are."
The Bellamy family has been part of the Florida cattle business since the brothers' great-great grandfather migrated from Tennessee to nurse his Civil War injuries. He bought this ranch outside Darby, about 40 miles north of Tampa, in 1870. Every generation since has called it home.
The old oak tree in David's yard is estimated at 300 years old. Just last year, he had to saw off a dying branch that still dangled the rusty chain he and Howard used to help their dad Homer hang and skin the family beef.
"Our dad broke horses, played music and drank moonshine," says David with a wry smile. He admits there's some friendly conjecture as to whether or not Homer actually ran a little of that shine to thirsty patrons from the plentiful stills he showed the brothers when they were young.
Bottom line, the Bellamy Brothers and their families are exactly like the folks up the road. They're not going anywhere.
"It's always been cattle and music, it just always has been," says Howard. "We don't know anything else."
That's why they never left home, music or cattle. It's the reason they keep trying to better both industries, even though the gold and platinum records mean they could enjoy golf or some tropical beach in their off time rather than chasing cattle.
That's also the reason they're frustrated when they encounter people in their own state who don't know cattle are raised there.
Howard believes one cause is the same self-defeating dynamics he sees at work in both the music and cattle industries.
"As an industry, we try to look good to each other, but we've already reached ourselves," explains Howard. "You don't have to preach to the choir. It's just like our music. We continue to carry it to new markets."
Building Beef's Image Worldwide In fact, during a professional music career 25 years old and growing, the Bellamy Brothers have played their music in 35 countries. One of their videos was the chart-topper in Brazil this fall. Along the way, they've never been bashful about letting folks know they're part of the cattle business and are proud of it.
"Many urban people don't know about all of the blood and tears that go into the cattle business," says Howard. "The profile needs to be brought forward that we even exist."
Moreover, the Bellamy Brothers believe successfully vying for consumers' attention requires some good old-fashioned horse-trading, along with new and innovative positioning.
Putting their convictions where their mouths are, the Bellamys were the only country music act that agreed to go down the campaign trail with George W. Bush this year.
"If you want something to happen, you have to stick out your neck sometimes," says David, explaining they believe Bush could be a boon for agriculture.
"We've talked to him personally about the beef industry, and he's aware of the support from the industry. I firmly believe we will see it come back," says Howard.
As for innovative positioning, Howard believes the industry must become "hipper."
"The same old message sometimes doesn't get through," he explains, adding that beef producers must become masters of "marketing our product the right way." Not just here, but around the world.
He believes the world market is untapped for U.S. beef products. "You have to keep your mind open to what we can do as an industry, he says. "I really think the international market is the key to survival for our business."
In the meantime, the Bellamys are expanding in the cattle business by leaps and bounds. Historically, their Florida ranch has been a cow/calf operation with as many as 1,000 cows at various times. Today, there's still a package of purebred Charolais cattle the boys keep close to the house because their mom Francis enjoys feeding them.
But, as in other parts of the country, it's getting tougher to find pasture here. "The growth is good for the economy, but it's not necessarily good for raising cows," says David.
So, they've expanded by establishing stocker partnerships in New Mexico, West Texas and Mexico and by becoming partners in Lubbock Feeders, a 50,000-head custom yard at Lubbock. All told they stocker and feed several thousand head each year.
Besides those partnerships, the Bellamys brokered upwards of 10,000 head last year. Howard started buying fed cattle when he was 19 and spent six years buying for a Florida packer in the '60s.
Doug Kaba, a managing partner of Lubbock Feeders, likes what the famous brothers bring to the industry. "I think it speaks well for the beef industry to have people like the Bellamys who are in the public eye 250 days each year speaking well of the industry," Kaba says.
Real People With Real Food The Bellamys have played more than 6,000 shows and sold some 20 million albums in their career. Later this winter, they'll release a new album - a 25 superscript th anniversary collection that will feature a compilation of old and new singles.
Yet, if you experience one of their shows, on national television or in some smoky honky-tonk, there they'll be in hats and Hawaiian shirts, belting out new tunes and old favorites with a joy that says the whole experience should be brand new.
That's one reason the Bellamy Brothers have enjoyed such popular longevity in the music business, their fans say - because they're so real. What you see is what you get.
"Cattle people are very hard to fool; they know who the real ones are and aren't," says Howard. "Unfortunately, as a society we have gotten to be poor judges."
So, playing up the realness of producers is something the Bellamys believe could help promote the beef industry - as much as all the facts about nutrition and convenience.
"I think the coolest people in the world are just everyday people," emphasizes Howard.
Howard and his brother don't take either their music or the cattle business for granted. For instance, Howard says their music was never intended to be a business.
"We had no idea you could make a living at it," Howard says. In fact, their dad kept pestering them to get real jobs until he fetched the mail one day and uncovered David's first royalty check as the writer of "Spiders and Snakes," recorded by Jim Stafford. All told, about 3 million copies of the popular tune sold like hotcakes.
Likewise, Howard explains, "You're either born with cattle in you're blood or you're not. You're either born with music in your blood or you're not. If you're going to be in this business, it has to be something you would do whether you made money at it or not. And we've always done it."
Both Howard's and David's families are still on the ranch. And, two of David's boys have formed an alternative country band called Elston Gunn, which has already recorded its first album.
The secret to such sustained success? "It ain't that hard to get a hit, it's maintaining them, getting the second and third ones that is tough to do," says David. "And, you have to stay hungry every day. In this business you have never made it. You have to make it every day."