Musician Chris Beland of Bend, Oregon learns that he shares more with his Facebook friend and the front man from the Flying Burrito Brothers than just a love of music…
In a hallway outside an auditorium that serves as home to Antioch Church in Bend, Oregon, Chris Beland Chabot presses his spine against cool brick. The thirty-two-year old musician has been suffering a back injury. The solid surface helps to steady him.
Dressed in white shirt, black suspenders, black tie, black-framed glasses and a wool cap, Chris favors a young Elvis Costello. But Chris isn’t playing a part, he is a real hipster raised up with undeniable musical chops. He’s already released two notable albums – OUTER SPACE (2009) and THE WEATHER MAN (2011) – and he’s headed back to the recording studio soon.
Hints of Bob Dylan and James Taylor figure into Beland’s influences, but his style and lyrics are characteristically his, gifts of a rambling childhood and a remarkable story.
Chris grew up cherished by his free-spirited mother, Barbara Chabot, but craving the attention of his absent father. Music carried the boy through a nomadic early life.
Chris received his first guitar from his grandpa. The man with the weathered hands took a pocket knife and carved his four-year-old grandson’s name into the guitar. The musicality came naturally. His mother and older sister sang and played several instruments. His grandfather was in a country band. An older brother taught Chris to play all the classics of that era: Stairway to Heaven, House of the Rising Sun and Wildwood Flower.
But it was the punishing lyrics of Led Zeppelin and Metallica that fueled Chris through his early teen years. Music was his armor, a guitar was his weapon, and anger was his shadow.
“I grew up hating that my biological father wasn’t in my life,” Chris says.
Chris had always assumed that he shared the same father as an older brother and sister. It was his mother’s second husband, Dean Chabot, who later adopted Chris and told the boy the truth.
“Dean told me that the man I believed was my biological father had refused to put his name on the birth certificate. He’d wanted mom to take a paternity test and she had refused.”
When Chris was eleven, his mother and Dean divorced. When Chris was fifteen, Barbara Chabotwent to Thailand to study abroad for the summer. She left Chris in the care of his brother, who introduced the teen to more than just music. He introduced him to drugs.
“We turned the house into a drug-fest house. Cars were parked on the lawn. Marijuana was growing in the backyard. There were cigarette burns on the couch,” Chris says.
There was also a buffet of cocaine, meth and heroin.
“A party life, day after day,” Chris says.
Within a few weeks after his mom took off, Chris had a meth addiction. He sold off everything to support his habit. “I even sold an acoustic guitar for an eight-ball of meth,” he recalls ruefully.
From the house next-door, Donna Ahmadi, a nun kept a prayerful eye on the brothers. She often toldChris that she was praying for him. Chris didn’t know much about prayer or the people devout enough to practice it. The only characters he knew who wore black and recited things came out of scary storybooks.
“I thought she was a witch,” says Chris, laughing at the recollection of his first impressions of the nun, whose prayers he now credits for helping to save him.
When his mother returned from Thailand and discovered what her boys had done in her absence, she kicked Chris and his brother out. Chris moved in with a girlfriend, who turned up pregnant shortly thereafter.
Chris was fifteen and full of himself. “I felt like I was invincible, like I could do whatever I wanted to do,” he says. How hard could marriage be? How difficult could growing-up be? Chris told his pregnant girlfriend, “Let’s get married. Let’s be adults.”
So they did marry, and for a short while they pretended to be grown-ups. But when the mother of his infant son tired of playing house and left him for someone else, Chris fell apart.
“That’s what brought me to the Lord,” he says. “I was homeless, sleeping in abandoned houses or on the couch at a friend’s place.” Chris uttered a prayer of the desperate: “God, if you are real, my life is in so much turmoil. Please help.”
God sent help in the form of people who began to minister to Chris. A pastor’s wife. Counselors at a rehab center in San Diego. A church family to provide him with community.
“He’s a good kid,” Chris says. “He makes good grades and we can have intelligent conversations.”
Chris has remarried. He and Annie have three children, Eli, 13, Harmony, 7, and Jude, 5. And last year, for the first time, at age 31, Chris finally met his real biological father. The man Chris had always assumed had abandoned him had never even known Chris existed.
Since 1980, John Beland, a veteran guitarist, producer and songwriter, has been front man for the legendary country-rock Flying Burrito Brothers.
Prior to that he’d worked alongside Glen Campbell, Mac Davis, Dolly Parton, and for two years in the late 1970s, Beland toured with Ricky Nelson.
It was while touring with Nelson that Beland hooked up with a stunning beauty named Barbara, who had gone to a concert at the county fair in 1978.
Their long-forgotten one-night stand had resulted in a pregnancy. A pregnancy that Barbara Chabot had always attributed to her first husband, up until a paternity test proved her assumption wrong.
It wasn’t until her sister reminded her of that random fling following the county fair that Barbara even conceded that perhaps, just maybe, John Beland was Chris’s father.
But for all Barbara knew John Beland was dead, killed alongside Ricky Nelson in that awful plane crash. A Google search revealed otherwise. Beland was very much alive, living in Texas. She sent him an email, telling him that she needed to speak to him.
Uh. Do I know you? Beland replied.
Better than you remember, Chabot answered. She included a video link of Chris playing at a church, along with a note that said, “The person I thought was my son’s biological father is not.”
Then, Barbara told Beland that he might have a son in Oregon. Once Beland clicked on the link Barbara sent, he didn’t need a paternity test as proof.
John Beland was stunned by the similarities between Chris and his own father. Studying the video, Beland noted the way Chris held the guitar, the way he leaned into a song, the mannerisms were all so familiar. It was like looking into a fun-house mirror and seeing his former, younger self.
Barbara didn’t mention anything of her discovery to Chris, even though he’d been pressing her even more rigorously than ever. He needed to know his genetic history for his own kids’ sakes, he insisted. He was losing patience. Would he die without knowing the name of his very own father?
Meanwhile, John Beland “friended” Chris and began to Facebook stalk him. He would read Chris’s updates, peruse the photos of Annie and the kids, and smile with pride over Chris’s budding musical career. Sometimes Beland would leave a note of encouragement. He told Chris he’d bought one of his CDs and that he enjoyed his honest lyrics.
But Beland was reluctant to tell Chris that he had been in touch with Barbara. He worried that if he wasn’t Chris’s father, it would only further frustrateChris. When Barbara finally worked up the courage to tell her son that she thought John Beland might be his father, Chris replied, dumfounded, “You mean that guy on Facebook?”
A paternity test confirmed that yes, indeed, that Facebook guy was Chris’s father.
Father and son finally met in December 2010, when John Beland came to Bend and the two played a concert together. There was a lot of crying, a lot of hugging and lots of storytelling. Chris says an evening spent with John Beland is like an hour with Click & Clack, the Car Talk guys. One funny story after another.
It’s been a year since the two met, a year in which John Beland says he has much to be thankful for.
“Chris has been a blessing beyond words, as well as his family,” Beland says. “The only disappointment has been the distance in miles between us. I only wish I could be in Oregon to really enjoy everyone on a daily basis. Perhaps one day soon.”
The elder Beland never expected at age 61 to learn he was a new father, but he counts it all as a gift.
“I’m still thrilled beyond any clever words. I feel as if I have known Chris my whole life. His addition into my world has added a new dimension and substance that I never expected to experience again. Lucky me.”
The next time the two meet up will be in a recording studio. “We’ll be recording together in 2012 and I can’t wait for that,” says John Beland. “We share the same music DNA, as well.”
When they first performed together at a coffee house in Bend in 2010, the father-son duo chose a Simon & Garfunkel classic – The Boxer. The lyrics are a haunting echo of the loneliness and poverty of soul that for too long was Chris’s story. Fans can expect a more upbeat vibe from the upcoming studio collaboration, however.
“This has been a redemption,” Chris says. “My mother could have been with Charles Manson, but here’s this loving musician and we have so much in common. I couldn’t have scripted a better story.”
Perhaps not, but here’s betting John and Chris Beland will be turning their father-and-son reunion into an unforgettable tune soon.