Every Which Way: A Conversation with Montana Songwriter Neil “Filo” Beddow

When we enter a rehab facility, for any reason, we often do so with the singular mission of either admitting ourselves or a loved one to the facility, or asking questions about the quality of the program. In other words, we’re not often concerned with what music is playing through the speakers. After decades in the recovery community himself, Bozeman, Montana-based songwriter Neil “Filo” Beddow is very much concerned with the music to which patients are exposed during treatment. Recovery Unplugged recently caught up with Beddow to discuss his recovery, his music and how the two have affected each other from the start.

Beddow began the conversation by discussing his mission to change the soundtrack of addiction treatment, one facility at a time: “Most places, when you walk in, they have sort of canned music or the radio playing, or whatever, and I thought ‘Well, why not have some music that pertains to what you’re there for?’” A guitar-and-lyric man whose songs are as direct and targeted as they are catchy, Beddow has been trying to develop a recovery-focused songwriting collective and cut a record to distribute to drug and alcohol treatment providers. Though it’s been slow going, he remains hopeful the project will fully materialize and has an arsenal of relevant songs to feed it.

Although music was a big part of his life before, during and after the recovery process, Beddow had only started performing live at the age of 50, showcasing his original material, much of which he credits to his experiences during recovery: “The material I was writing was mostly about recovery and the people I had met. I think it was because I was cleaned up that I was able to put together the music that I have. It’s kept me on the planet.” While Beddow admits to using a wide variety of substances, including marijuana and speed, alcohol has proven to be the enduring menace in his life.

It was ultimately Beddow’s family that urged him to get help: “My wife told me one day that if I couldn’t do something about my drinking, I’d have to find another place to live; I was drunk the next night. My son, who was six at the time, overheard me talking to someone from AA about my drinking. I went to tuck him and he was crying and said ‘Daddy, I don’t want you to die.’ I started crying with him. He went to sleep and [again] I was drunk the next night.” It occurred to Beddow that if he couldn’t stop drinking for the two most important people in his life, that the journey to recovery would be a lot harder than he thought. He described the mental obsession and the moment when he first realized he had more of a problem than he initially realized.

Though he has recently suffered some setbacks with alcohol, Beddow had 20 years of consistent recovery prior to his slip last spring. He is once again aggressively working his recovery program; attending AA meetings, continuing his involvement in the local recovery community and using music more than ever to help him through the process. He is not the first to suffer a setback after an extended period of abstinence, nor will he be the last. “It’s a bitch, man,” says a candid Beddow of drug and alcohol addiction. “It’s cunning, baffling and powerful just like it’s laid out in the [Alcoholics Anonymous] book.”

Beddow’s songs are comprised of hard-hitting and introspective lyrics set primarily to acoustic chord progressions that are sometimes driving and authoritative, and sometimes light, airy and dynamic. He describes his guitar style as West Dakota Stutter. His prose is often tongue-and-cheek, but always manages to clearly convey his intended messages. While recovery is the dominant theme within his canon, he manages to include other message-driven pieces in there as well, including his nod to strong and influential female historical figures called “Benazir Bhutto”. He also covers a variety of artists that are a reflection of his musical tastes, including Ry Cooder, David Bromberg, Lucinda Williams, John Prine & Bob Dylan and a host of others.

After an exhaustive search for collaborators, Beddow has settled on releasing his latest record as a solo effort. He’s working on retooling and polishing up some of his current material, most of which is years old. He maintains an active live calendar and remains a fixture of the vibrant and bustling Bozeman arts community. For a while, he even served on the board of the local arts collective S.L.A.M. (Support Local Artists and Musicians). While he is no longer a board member, he still volunteers and performs at events. He plans on sticking around the Bozeman area to spread his message of recovery, unless other forces direct him elsewhere.

Regarding the impact of music on his recovery process, Beddow had the following to say: “Music has kept me on the planet. For me to come up with a song from beginning to end…I mean…they just fell out of the sky and landed in my lap. It’s amazing what you can come up with and its even more when you’re able to get someone to collaborate with you.” He closes by asserting that he didn’t write the songs, he made them up.

Beddow promised to let RU know when his record was finished.