Thursday, August 11, 2016

ICON-Molly Hatchet

Somewhere lurking around your local county fair or dive bar is a tribute band that doesn't features original members (the majority of them are dead, Dave Hlubek tours close to home) but uses the name of Molly Hatchet, next to Blackfoot one of the more blazing Southern rock bands ever to make the big time.  Originally Ronnie Van Zandt was slated to produce their first album but a ill fated plane trip took care of that and the band would wait a year to do their first album with Tom Werman behind the controls.

The original Hatchet, like late Skynyrd had a three guitar attack of Hlubek, Steve Holland and the late Duane Roland, balanced by Danny Joe Brown's croaking but original vocals which more than anything else shaped the Molly Hatchet sound.   Certainly, their 1978 debut remains one their best overall albums, even more than Flirting With Disaster, although the title track turned out to be their biggest hit and perhaps the only song you hear on the radio.  Live At The Agora Ballroom, an official bootleg issued in 2000 is the only known live document of the early Hatchet, recorded before Flirting With Disaster.  But the 1978 debut features their own arrangement of Dreams I'll Never See, the old Allman Brothers classic done in bar band style that Molly Hatchet's version has taken a life of its own.  Plus hard rock goodies like Gator County and Bounty Hunter.  While the guitar players kick butt, it is the Van Zant vocal influences of D J Brown that makes this record a classic.  Flirting With Disaster offered more of the same  Bounty Hunter morphs into Whiskey Man, Boogie No More, more Skynyrd based boogie rock and roll, and Good Rockin, more fodder for your local bar band to jam with.  It pales next to the first album but still mighty fine.

With that Danny Joe Brown left and Jimmy Farrar took his spot.  Farrar was more reared into the blues styles of Bobby Bland and other R and B flavored acts and Odds begin to show a bit more reliance on southern country rock, namely Charlie Daniels Band.  A bit more workmanlike, but there are still worthwhile songs (Dead And Gone, Few And Far Between,Sailor)  Take No Prisoners hinted more of a harder rock style, and even Baby Jean Kennedy from Mother's Finest duets with Jimmy Farrar with Respect Me In The Morning.  Even Katy Sagal (Peg Bundy) guest stars as backing vocalist. Some fine songs like Bloody Reunion but the album as a whole, like Odds, was lacking something.  A cheap Extended Editions live CD of the Farrar led Hatchet band shows the band in very good form.

But while Molly Hatchet rolled along, Danny Joe Brown did find the time to record a solo album, and his Danny Joe Brown And The Danny Joe Brown Band turned out the better of the bands.  Key note is that this band features John Gavin on keyboards and Bobby Ingram on guitar, a little known metallic guitar player but he would eventually would changed the scope of this band once he joined up in 1989.  The D J Brown Band album (produced by Glyn Johns) sharpens the visions of the first two Hatchet albums, and ended up with a classic song with Edge Of Sundown, with some of the best guitar interplay between Ingram, Steve Wheeler and Kenny McVey.  The DJ Brown Band was more akin to Blackfoot, especially on the harder rocking Hit The Road or Beggar Man.  Soon afterwards, the whole band quit on Danny Joe Brown and he resorted to use other players to finish the tour.  When Jimmy Farrar left Molly Hatchet, Danny Joe Brown replaced him and John Gavin replaced one of the guitar players. What remained of the D J Brown Band became Bounty Hunter and have continued on and off to this day.

In 1983 Molly Hatchet returned with a new drummer (Barry Borden from Mother's Finest) to come up with No Guts...No Glory an album that got mixed reviews.  Basically some southern rock (Sweet Dixie namechecks Willie Nelson), Ain't Even Close and Fall Of The Peacemakers, yet another song done in Free Bird fashion, starts out slow then boogies toward the end. When Epic was using their CX mastering process for the LP, that version made the songs stand out a bit better than the original stoic mix.  But with each new album, the sales became less and less and so in 1984 Terry Manning, fresh from his success with Z Z Top, was chosen to produce The Deed Is Done.  By then, Bruce Crump came back to replace Borden (who moved on to Atlanta Rhythm Section, then The Outlaws and now Marshall Tucker Band which he still plays drums).  The one thing that stands out is how loud the drums were mixed, beginning on the Gimme All Your Loving inspired Satisfied Man.  For the first time, Molly Hatchet was sounding more pop than southern rock and it drove a wedge into Hatchet fans, even though Satisfied Man made number 13 on Mainstream Rock and Stone In Your Heart number 22, the latter song sounds more Survivor than Southern Rock.  Despite the two star All Music rating, I still like this album a lot, including songs like Backstabber, She Does She Does (although the sax playing lead is not Molly Hatchet at all) and Straight Shooter.  Even with the new sound, The Deed Is Done bombed.  After Double Trouble Live, an album of the 1984 Hatchet playing live dates, Epic said bye bye to Molly Hatchet.

Five years later, Molly Hatchet returned to a new label (Capitol in the US/SPV elsewhere) and with Bobby Ingram in tow, replacing Dave Hlubek recorded Lightning Strikes Twice.  I remember talking to Duane Roland about this album in a chat and he didn't seem to care much about this album. Perhaps he was right, it was more pop driven with an eye on the latest hair metal trends. They even covered KISS's Hide Your Heart, and there was some half hearted attempts to revisit the southern rock cliche of Take Miss Lucy Home and There Goes The Neighborhood, but the outside song doctors didn't help much.  Another attempt to rewrite Edge Of Sundown as a ballad surfaces as Heart Of My Soul.  By then, nobody bought Molly Hatchet.  Two outtakes surfaced on Epic Molly Hatchet Greatest Hits which combines most of the Molly Hatchet hits and the two Jimmy Farrar written songs were off the Double Trouble Live album. The Essential Molly Hatchet upgrades the songs and even Jimmy Farrar gets his due on the Beatin The Odds and Bloody Reunion.

The final Molly Hatchet album of note is Devil's Canyon, the final album that Danny Joe Brown had anything to do with.  He did write a couple songs and is credited where due but Phil McCormick takes over at lead vocals and it's amazing how note for note he does sound like D J Brown.  Bryan Bassett (Wild Cherry, Foghat) came on to replace Duane Roland on Guitar and anything that Bassett plays on is worth hearing.  A producer originally, he produced the last album from Root Boy Slim, Bassett is a great slide guitar player.  Devil's Canyon returns Molly Hatchet to a more southern hard rock style and the key rocking tracks (Rolling Thunder, Devil's Canyon) echoes vintage Hatchet. They also echo the hair metal of Lightning Strike Twice with That Look In Your Eyes which sounds like a Starship reject. And then a pointless acoustic remake of Dreams I'll Never See.  In retrospect, Devil's Canyon is the final worthy album.  Each album, Ingram would remark on a more heavy metal sound that would get worse with each effect. Warriors Of The Rainbow Bridge their worst all time effect, as Ingram discovers the whammy bar for lead.  Justice (2010) Ingram lays off the hair metal and takes the time to revisit the Lynyrd Skynyrd songbook for better use but by then Molly Hatchet ended up becoming the original/tribute band of no members (except when Dave Hlubek leaves the house to record).  Their covers album Reinventing The Axes bring nothing to the table.  Aint' nothing different that your local bar band would do better.  The last true Molly Hatchet album is probably Jamming For DJB, from the Dixie Jam Band  to which former Hatchet members (including Jimmy Farrar) pay tribute to Danny Joe Brown, while D J does try to sing on Dreams I'll Never See Again.  Danny Joe Brown died in 2005.  To which Molly Hatchet basically died soon after.


Molly Hatchet (Epic 1978) A-
Flirtin' With Disaster (Epic 1979) B+
Beatin' The Odds (Epic 1980) B
Danny Joe Brown And The D J Brown Band (Epic 1981) A-
Take No Prisoners (Epic 1982) B
Extended Versions Live (BMG 1982) B
No Guts No Glory (Epic 1983) B+
The Deed Is Done (Epic 1984) B+
Double Trouble Live (Epic 1985) B-
Lightning Strikes Twice (Capitol 1989) B-
Molly Hatchets Greatest Hits (Epic 1990) B+
Devil's Canyon (Mayhem 1995) B+
Silent Reign Of Heroes (CMC International 1998) C+
Jamming For DJB by the Dixie Jam Band (Riffnotes 1999) B+
Live At The Agora Ballroom (Phoenix 2000) B+
Kingdom Of XII (SPV 2000) C
Warriors Of The Rainbow Bridge (SPV 2005) D+
Justice (SPV 2010) C
Reinventing The Axes (SPV 2012) D

(in the vinyl revival SPV in Germany has reissued some of the Epic albums from Beatin' The Odds and The Deed Is Done and Lightning Strikes Twice-no word on if Sony Music has followed suit, although the guess is that the first two might have come out on vinyl and would sell for about 25 dollars apiece. Quite a far cry from the Nice Price of 4.99 years ago.) 


Luckystar Radio said...

what a great read, i absolutely love Molly Hatchet.
i first heard them when i dared to put on the Beatin' The Odds vinyl (dared i say because c'mon that's a scary cover!). i fell so in love that shortly after (Sept 1995) i went out to buy 3 cassettes in one go: debut, Flirtin' and Greatest Hits (it was the only 3 Record Town carried), my aunt was like "i think there's a different singer on those albums" i said totally fine because as much as i loved Jimmy's voice, it was the energy of the music and arrangements that drew me.
so about a year later i find out MH is releasing a new album Devil's Canyon and i'm like "WHAT?!? THEY'RE STILL AROUND?!?!?!" so i asked for it for Christmas and got it...and oh i can't even tell you how quickly my joy went to confusion as i unfolded the insert to discover i don't know who any of these people are =,(
i tried listening to it, but as a 15 year old i wanted people i knew gosh darn it!!!
anyone, later bought No Guts...No Glory, The Deed Is Done, Beatin' The Odds, Take No Prisoners, Extended Versions and Double Trouble <3

R S Crabb said...

Hi Diggy Kat! (I bet that's you behind the LSR Banner) ;)

Basically the Molly Hatchet story ends with Devil's Canyon simply of the fact that Danny Joe Brown did attempt to write a song or two, the connection was that John Gavin and the evil Bobby Ingram came from the DJ Brown Band that made that one off for Epic with Danny Joe Brown. Plus Bryan Bassett was playing guitar, he's always been underrated as a guitarist be it with Wild Cherry, Molly Hatchet, Root Boy Slim or Foghat which he's been in for almost 2 decades. I think Devil's Canyon is listenable although we both know it pales next to the S/T album, Beatin The Odds, even Deed Is Done. Anything after Canyon, it's not worth the time nor effort unless you are a audio completest, The Warriors Of The Rainbow Bridge is a total POS.

In the beginning my first MH album was Beatin The Odds, with Jimmy Farrar taking over. Unlike DJ Brown, Jimmy was more R and B influenced and the sound did change to a more standard Southern Rock and roll. I got to chat with Jimmy years ago on classic rock radio chat and he's a down to earth person, especially if you knew about Big Joe Turner. Duane Roland was a bit more standoffish, what I recall he wasn't too impressed with Lightning Strikes Twice. Too many ballads and a attempt to go more corporate hair metal rock he thought. Perhaps he might have been right although I still like that album. Alas, most of the original Hatchet boys are now dead, so what remains a the official Molly Hatchet Tribute Band since Ingram owns the rights to that name. Certainly not the same without Danny Joe Brown, or for that matter Jimmy Farrar singing away.


Luckystar Radio said...

haha so both of our MH's firsts was Beatin' The Odds?!?
i heard only like 2 songs from Lightning Strikes Twice, i will buy it at some point.
you're right Devil's Canyon pales even next to Deed Is Done, that says something.
i think i need to blare some MH now :D

R S Crabb said...

I don't think the ZZ Top makeover did well for The Deed Is Done but even in its flawed state, I still like to play it from time to time. Lightning Strikes Twice might been more blatant in trying to find that commercial radio sound that eluded them (probably why Duane Roland never cared much for it) but I think it was better than what KISS was putting out in 1989. But then again, Lightning Strikes Twice is better than Devil's Canyon.

For MH I request Dreams I'll Never See ;)

Luckystar Radio said...

ya i agree, the only songs i actually go to listen to off of Dead Is Done are: Satisfied Man, Stone In My Heart (even though ok they are really the same song), Good Smoke & Whiskey. everything else is just nice background music for me though She Does She Does and Heartbreak Radio is slightly above that.

ya meh Hot In The Shade was ok but i do love the song Rise To It :D

R S Crabb said...

80's KISS best album was Lick It Up, then they wouldn't make anything worth a listen till 2010's Sonic Boom with a bonus CD of Greatest Hits Revisited which some actually were better than the original version. For a sonic boom, I think the drums on The Deed Is Done might have been the loudest ever recorded on record. For some reason Terry Manning employed plenty of song doctors on that album. Don't think the MH guys were impressed on that but I still think it's a B plus album years later. Twice better than anything from the Tribute To Molly Hatchet Band featuring Bobby Ingram era. Now playing at your local casino or biker bar ;)