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Finally Taking His Voice Seriously : Dick Montana went into a 'work frenzy' after he was diagnosed as having thyroid cancer.

January 28, 1994|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for The Times

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — When country singer Dick Montana was told in 1990 that he needed surgery for thyroid cancer, he was facing not only his own mortality, but the potential loss of his gravelly baritone and the end of his creative life.

The bearded singer-drummer for the heartland rock act the Beat Farmers dived into a "work frenzy," he said, entering a studio to preserve his voice on tape before it was lost forever to cancer and the surgeon's knife. His voice survived that surgery, and others since. But Montana was finally heeding the advice of fellow rockers Dave Alvin and John Doe, taking his own voice seriously for the first time.

"It forced me to work," said Montana, who hopes soon to release a solo album tentatively titled "The Great Lost Country Dick Montana."

"I'm glad I'm in this mode now, getting things done. Cancer has been very, very good to me. And chicks dig scars."

This somehow explains his outfit, called Country Dick's Garage, a San Diego-based solo project band that will perform Saturday night at the Palomino in North Hollywood. It's the first local show for the band, which Montana began playing and recording with after that first operation.

When not touring with the Beat Farmers, Montana has led Country Dick's Garage through regular Wednesday night gigs at a small club in San Diego. The Palomino show is the band's first in Los Angeles, and will mark the debut of some of Montana's more personal music. He even has "a tender ballad," he said. Calling the solo material "stunningly close to music," he added: "It's going to surprise some people. It's serious, but not pretentiously serious stuff."

That's not to say that Montana has given up singing selections from his cache of smarmy drinking tunes. Among his favorites is the obscure Dean Martin song called "Party Dolls and Wine," which includes the lyric: "They say some day I'll meet my match/ Until that time, down the hatch."

"It's the best Dean Martin song that ever was," Montana said. "It fell through the cracks in '72. They must have thought it was too much for the elevator music crowd. They're right."

Country Dick's Garage includes Joey Harris of the Beat Farmers on guitar, guitarist Robert Vaughan (who is also co-producing the Montana record), bassist Rick Nash, drummer Greg LaRocca, fiddler Chris Vidas and Steelbone Dick on steel guitar and trombone. Montana sings and plays accordion. Also singing is Candy Kane, a rock and rhythm-and-blues vocalist, "a former porn star, and still pretty nasty," Montana said. "She's got a great voice."

Montana is set for another operation Feb. 2, although doctors have said this isn't a threat to his vocal chords. Assuming all goes well, he'll be continuing his new high-velocity work schedule: alone, with the Beat Farmers and with such other side projects as the Pleasure Barons (whose members include Alvin, Doe, Rosie Flores and Mojo Nixon).

The Beat Farmers are searching for a new record label and plan to release an album that the band finished recording over the summer in Vancouver. It will be the Farmers' first since 1990. For them, it will be a long-awaited return to recording music that Times critic Mike Boehm last year described as coming at you "with highly skilled and heartfelt heartland rock one minute, and Montana's stumblebum barfly meanderings and toilet humor the next."

So the Palomino show is just the latest evidence of Montana's new creative energy. "It's just nice to get out of the house," he said. "Hopefully, some of our buddies will be good enough to show up."

Where and When

Who: Country Dick's Garage.

Location: The Palomino, 6907 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 9 p.m. Saturday.

Price: Tickets, $8.

Call: (818) 764-4010.

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