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The Alien Among Us

[whitespace] David Beaudry and Michelle Eller
George Sakkestad

Not Frettin' It: Singer-songwriter David Beaudry (with wife and manager Michelle Eller) hung in through thick and thin until success finally found him.

Critical success has found Santa Cruz singer-songwriter David Beaudry. After 30 years, commercial success might be headed his way, too.

By Kelly Luker

FOR EVERY SUCCESSFUL musician who calls Santa Cruz his or her home, there are hundreds more who never quite grabbed the brass ring. Most give up early, realizing that their day job is as good as it gets. A few others eke out a living playing honky-tonks and dives. But hardly any hang in there for more than three decades watching Fortune smile, then frown, then smile again.

Lucky for us, David Beaudry did. Alien Man, his first CD with Terra Nova Records, has earned the Boulder Creek resident critical raves from London to Nashville. Following the vein of Americana mined so well by master storytellers like Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen and Lucinda Williams, Beaudry weaves intricate lyrics of everyday life through a tapestry of acoustic guitar.

What makes Americana unique is also what keeps it hidden from popular consumption. While the Wal-Mart bins keep expanding for the latest Shania Twain and George Strait country pabulum, original voices stay marginalized, heard only through tireless touring or on brave oddball radio stations like KPIG.

It's like one A&R guy told Beaudry during a particularly long stretch between bites: "Son, we ain't looking for no Shakespeares."

Beaudry may not be Shakespeare, but he's got a hell of an eye for detail. "Have a Nice Forever," a tune about an ex-girlfriend's wedding, features the lines "And as that old white-trash limo/hit the railroad tracks/I saw her bump her head/as she was turning to look back ... Have a nice forever!"

It's that eye peeled and ear so well tuned to the human condition that led producers to Beaudry's door, which it turns out was not an easy task. In the wake of his mother's death a year ago, the singer-songwriter had dropped out of sight.

"I'd never written a song that she hadn't heard," Beaudry says, remembering the shock of losing his parent. His mother, Jean Graydon, was also a songwriter, and a Santa Cruz therapist.

"I just split [to Arizona] and got a job at the Humane Society working with feral cats," he remembers. But reps from Nashville's King Lizard label tracked Beaudry down and signed him to a four-year deal as staff writer, penning his insightful lyrics for other singers.

David Beaudry The Magic Bus: David Beaudry was schooled in hard knocks, but fortune is smiling on him as his singing/songwriting career takes off.

George Sakkestad

IT'S BEEN A LONG ROAD for David Beaudry. We are sitting outside at a local cafe with his wife, Michelle Eller, who has also recently become his manager. Soft-spoken and dressed in a casual sport coat and jeans, Beaudry doesn't look much like the younger guy who shares his history. This is the guy who was gangbanging, shooting dope and doing stints in the California Youth Authority by his mid-teens.

One cigarette is crushed out, barely expiring before Beaudry lights another as he talks. With gentle eyes sparkling behind wire-rimmed glasses, Beaudry could just as easily be talking about a favorite college professor as about running the streets at age 13. The only clue is the old jail-house tattoo on his hand. Unlike today's brightly colored stencil jobs sported by accountants and secretaries, the smudged and faded edges of Beaudry's ink are a distinctive badge of troubled youth and lock-downs.

But for musicians, drugs, gangs and jail are good things. The Muse likes a little material to work with, and Beaudry was able to fork plenty of grist into the songwriting mill. Asked about "Lonely Gospel Angel," a song about a prisoner falling in love with a missionary who comes to visit, Beaudry remembers the scene that set the words in motion.

"I was in the L.A. County jail for burglary--I was a heroin addict," he says by way of explanation. It was Christmas time, and the Salvation Army came to carol. Beaudry still remembers the Christmas gifts he got that year from the sheriffs--"a couple walnuts and a toothbrush," he says with a grin.

Although Beaudry says he remembers writing songs when he was only 4 years old, he didn't start getting serious until his stints in CYA. Other prisoners asked him to write poems for their girlfriends in exchange for packs of smokes.

In and out of incarceration through his teens and early 20s, Beaudry kept writing, whether he was living out of a car or shooting dope. Slowly, he eased out of the hard drugs and hard living and devoted himself to songwriting. It paid off--but only briefly.

Beaudry got a five-year record deal in those early years, then came close to clinching a deal with Warner Bros. and Elektra. But just like now, he didn't fit the popular mold.

"They wanted me to tone my records down, but I couldn't," he says with a shrug, reaching for another smoke. He crushes the empty pack and nudges his wife for one of hers.

Beaudry came close to this deal, then that deal throughout the '60s and '70s, but he was always just a little "left of center," as he recalls being told. Various writing gigs kept him afloat for awhile.

The '80s brought a new twist in Beaudry's path when he became heavily involved in the Calvary Chapel Church. He left Southern California for Santa Cruz and hooked up with the New Life Center, which has since become a Christian-based substance-abuse treatment center.

After attending Bethany Bible College, Beaudry worked as an outreach pastor while cutting gospel records and occasionally touring. While he received legions of kudos from his flock for the religious music he wrote, Beaudry had more he needed to say and found himself drifting away from the church's influence.

"I still sorta believe that way," Beaudry figures of his Christian experience, "but without the 'ian' on the word."

Beaudry headed toward Nashville again, where he found Preston Sullivan, the producer behind Alien Man. It was shortly after its release last year that Beaudry's mother died, and he again disappeared from the scene. That gig with the Humane Society and the feral cats was, Beaudry admits, his first "day job." Given the response to Alien Man, it will probably be his last.

David Beaudry  and Michelle Eller

SINCE THE RELEASE OF Alien Man last year, Beaudry has been tapped by One Source Music, which will rep his songs for film and TV soundtracks. And King Lizard will continue pushing his songs for big-name artists to record.

"It cracks me up," Beaudry chuckles. "I could be brushin' my dog, and Garth Brooks could come on the radio doing one of my songs."

One of Beaudry's complaints about Santa Cruz is familiar to other local entertainers. "I get DJs calling me from all over the country wanting to know when I'll be in their town," he says. "I get respect here [in Santa Cruz], but no gigs."

Asked where he gets the strength to keep going, Beaudry credits his mother. "She taught me to believe in myself," he says. "And I believe that good music will always find a home." He realized long ago that only a fool sticks it out for the money.

Beaudry recently went into the studio to cut a new CD, tentatively titled Wilderness Smile.

Now that the music-biz types are knockin' at his door, does Beaudry think he's gonna high-tail it out of Santa Cruz for brighter lights? He and Michelle look at each other. They'd like a patch of land they can call their own, and the mountains of Boulder Creek look inviting. Time will tell, however. If Garth Brooks' songs start sounding a whole lot better, you can figure that David Beaudry's well on his way to buying that little piece of heaven.

David Beaudry will play a live broadcast on Sunday at 10am on Please Stand By: KPIG's Live Music Show on KPIG-FM 107.5. For more info, call 429-7663.

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From the August 27 - September 2, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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