“Honestly I didn’t think we’d ever be asked to do one of these because we’re such renegades,” The Bellamy Brothers’ Howard Bellamy tells Billboard at Nashville’s Skyway Studios during a break in the shooting of a new Time Life infomercial, 70s Country. “We were excited when we were asked to do it because we’ve seen so many artists do these over the years and I’ve always wondered how they got into that.”
In looking for an artist to host the show, Time Life VP/executive producer Mitch Peyser says the Bellamy Brothers just seemed like a natural choice. “They are genuinely nice and super talented. Having seen them perform on our Country Music Cruise and knowing their music I thought they’d be fun,” says Peyser, who first got to know the Bellamys during the annual Country Music Cruise that Time Life/StarVista Live does each year. (They’re booked again for the 2019 Country Music Cruise sailing Jan. 27-Feb. 3.)
“They are real and authentic,” Peyser continues. “They love music and I thought what better folks to come on and talk about classic ’70s country music, and I’m really glad I did because they are a lot of fun and very relatable. They sang on set for us and they sound amazing. Their voices are incredible. It was a thrill and a pleasure to be working with them.”
In addition to hosting the show, where they happily brag about old friends and share memories of one of the most distinctive eras in country music history, the Bellamy Brothers perform two of their classic hits, “Let Your Love Flow” and “If I Said You Have a Beautiful Body Would You Hold it Against Me,” a chart-topping hit in 1979. “It was an honor to do this because we love all this music and all these artists we probably know 95% of them, the living ones and the ones that have passed on,” David says. “We’re insomniacs, so sometimes at 2:30 in the morning on the bus when it comes on, it will be kind of fun to watch ourselves.”
For the Bellamys, the only difficult thing about taking the hosting gig was finding time for the shoot. The siblings were in the midst of a tour out West when they flew to Nashville for one day to film. “We go right back to Denver and then Utah. We haven’t been home in five weeks. I bet my dogs don’t even know who I am,” Howard chuckles.
It’s been a busy year for the Bellamy Brothers. In addition to relentless touring, including summer dates in Norway, Denmark and Switzerland, the siblings have been doing promotional appearances and signings for their new book, Let Your Love Flow: The Life and Times Of the Bellamy Brothers, and shooting their reality show, Honky Tonk Ranch, which premiered this year on the Cowboy Channel, and is filmed at their Florida ranch. They recently began shooting for the next season.
When it comes to TV production, Peyser is a veteran who has been with Time Life more than 20 years and estimates he’s done at least 50 infomercials. “We do about eight to 10 infomercials a year, half or so are music and we also sell a lot of classic nostalgia TV,” says Peyser. “And some are music video collections like the CMA Awards that we did.”
Casting the right host is a crucial part of the process. “We like hosts who can come on and be themselves,” he says. “We are looking for hosts who are doing what they do. We really like hosts who are personable and enjoy their fans and are comfortable with the camera. We’re very careful about how we write the scripts and hosts will sometimes put things into their own words. We really try to bring it in as close as possible so it feels right to them.”
One of the sets for the 70s Country show features classic albums from the era including Wanted! The Outlaws. “There’s nobody up there we haven’t met or worked with,” Howard says of the set that included Barbara Mandrell, Charlie Pride, George Jones, Crystal Gayle and other acts. “It’s truly our era and we’ve worked with all of them many times through the years. It’s great to talk about people you know. I remember growing up and hearing great artists on the radio. I really had no idea we’d ever meet some of these people must less work with them. To talk about their music, it is truly an honor.”
“There was such variety in the 70s,” David adds. “It was the era where when you heard that artist, you knew who it was. We are talking about artists like Bobby Bare and people like Sammi Smith. When she sang ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night,’ you knew exactly what that song was and who that singer was. They all had that identifiable sound. There were outlaw songs, novelty songs, love songs. We’re doing a new album now and we’re old enough that now nobody tells us how to record. We get a song we like it and we go do it, so you hear a little bit of everything on our albums and I like that. The ’70s stuff reminds me of that.”
The fact that the Bellamy Brothers were an integral part of the ’70s country scene made them a perfect fit for the project. “We like to do is do an interview with the artist surrounding the infomercial and we post those on YouTube,” says Peyser. “We like those because it gives the artist a little more time to expand on what it is about the music they love. It often brings back memories for them because we usually look for artists who appreciate the category and maybe grew up with some of the artists or performed with the artists. We give them some time to talk about that in the interview.”
Peyser says their goal is to make the infomercials engaging so people are drawn in. “We’re really trying to entertain as much as possible so our infomercials are driven by lots of great songs and historic clips,” he says. “We hear that lots of people like to watch them and sometimes people will reach out and ask if they could get a copy of the infomercial. They are entertaining and we get a kick out of researching and playing songs that may not have been played in other commercials and finding historic clips that may not have been seen readily. Quite frankly there’s not a lot of TV that’s geared towards these classic genres of music, so sometimes people are flipping the channels and see it and say, ‘Oh this is cool because I don’t really get that elsewhere on TV.’”
In a world that is increasingly going digital, the Bellamys have been impressed with Time Life’s ability to continue selling physical product. “I’ve bought several on TV before,” David says.
“What’s interesting is how they’ve stayed alive in this environment of record sales not being what they used to be, but in this format selling physical CDs,” says Howard. “It’s amazing. They are one of the few that has survived and I think it’s because they give such a great package for a great deal.”
70s Country follows the 60s Country collection, which has done well for Time Life. “We did that with Larry Gatlin and it’s been very successful,” Peyser says. “He was a fantastic host, incredibly professional and funny. He gets it. We shot it in a studio designed to look at little retro… One of the nice things about doing something by decade is even though we hit a lot of the major hits, we can go just a little bit deeper than we typically would. There’s some hidden gems that you might not see on a typical country hits collection, but we’ve got them, so it really covers the ’70s in a fun way.”