Feature: Call Collect – An introduction to MOLLY HATCHET

Joe Geesin on southern rockers Molly Hatchet, named after a prostitute who allegedly mutilated and decapitated her clients.  Things got even more horrendous as the band entered the 1990s …

Molly Hatchet in 1978

Molly Hatchet is a Southern Rock band from Jacksonville, Florida, who were formed by guitarists Steve Holland and Dave Hlubek in 1971.

Back when the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd ruled the world, Molly Hatchet were playing bars and clubs undergoing a number of line-up changes.

The band, named after a 17th century prostitute who beheaded her clients, would come to the attention of Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant, and legend would have it that he wanted to take Skynyrd in more the (heavier, bluesier) Molly Hatchet direction, and produce their debut too. Sadly a certain plane crash ruled that out.

Molly Hatchet signed to Epic, the band had settled with guitarists Duane Roland, Hlubek and Holland, bassist Banner Thomas, drummer Bruce Crump and vocalist Danny Joe Brown.

1978′s Molly Hatchet featured the iconic Frank Frazetta painting Death Dealer on the cover, and also featured a cover of the Allman’s ‘Dreams’. A wonderful album with a triple guitar attack, and a blend of country, rock’n'roll, hard rock, blues, boogie and slide. Then there’s Danny Joe Brown’s trademark whiskey soaked growl.

The album was produced by Tom Werman and would go Platinum. The following album Flirtin’ With Disaster would prove to be the band’s magnum opus with the title track and ‘Boogie No More’ live and radio favourites. A great cover of ‘It’s All Over Now’. Then there’s the opening track ‘Whiskey Man’, and ode to the demon liquor. And another classic Frazetta cover.  At the time the band were a blistering live outfit and often played ‘Crossroads’ on stage.

Singer Brown left (booted, quit, a bit of both?) and the band released two more albums with frontman Jimmy Farrar. Jimmy had a deeper bluesier voice and the band became a harder blues rock band.

Molly Hatchet in 1980

Molly Hatchet in 1980 from a promo photo (left to right) Steve Holland, Bruce Crump, Banner Thomas, Jimmy Farrar, Dave Hlubek and Duane Roland

Beatin’ The  Odds and Take No Prisoners are really fantastic and the latter features a duet with Mother’s Finest’s Baby Jean. Live Jimmy handled the early material well. In fact a live album was recorded (I have a bootleg) but never released. Sadly the change of scene alienated many fans.

With regard to the band’s iconic artwork, after Beatin’ The Odds, Frazetta priced himself out of future work, and subsequent fantasy work was undertaken by a variety of artists in a similar style.  During this time Danny Joe Brown released an eponymous solo album which is one of the finest southern rock albums of all time.

Towards the end of Farrar’s tenure with the band, Banner left (to be replaced by Riff West), and a month or two later Crump left, to be replaced by Mother’s Finest’s BB Borden. Queue a returning Brown, and that new line-up went on to record 1983′s No Guts No Glory (the only album not to feature a fantasy art cover).

This album featured mixed reviews because it was a but more Southern, but also a bit poppier, a bit more Americana, and a much less heavy. However to universal acclaim was the 8 minute ‘Fall Of The Peacemakers’, an absolute gem of a southern rock classic.

On this album pianist John Galvin replaced Jai Winding as the session keyboard, and after the tour would become a permanent member, replacing original guitarist and founder member Steve Holland. Drummer Crump would return too.

1984′s The Deed Is Done, an album I love but for different reasons, was much more AOR, as was the then trend in the US. Some record company pressures there. Saxophone on one track worked well, and a couple of FM hits – still a great solid sound.

But what was to follow was an absolute monster, the 1985 live album Double Trouble Live. A double LP with some great tracks, all albums to that point covered, and a great version of Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ too.

Molly Hatchet - Double Trouble Live

So up until now we have a bit of a success story but 1987 things too a turn for the disastrous; Duane Roland left the band and was replaced by Bobby Ingram (ex Danny Joe Brown’s band), and record company pressures wanted more hits, the band got a makeover and outside writers brought in.

The end of the 80s saw Lightning Strikes Twice, which did feature some good songs, even a decent cover of Kiss’ ‘Hide Your Heart’, but it was FM beyond AOR.

Sadly that’s where the original Molly Hatchet story ends, and in 1990 the band fell apart, leaving just singer Danny Joe Brown and guitarist Bobby Ingram. Between the trademark being bought and, due to it running out and subsequently acquired, Ingram would become the official band name owner. Other band members (including Bruce Crump) were invited back, on a wage as a sidekick, who all promptly told Ingram where to go.

The band rotated line-ups, with several guitarists (noteably Bryan Bassett, now of Foghat) shining much brighter than Ingram, and pianist Galvin returned also. And while the sound did get a bit heavier it just wasn’t Hatchet. By 1996 the band released Devil’s Canyon, with Phil McCormack handling all the vocals (DJB was credited but doesn’t appear on the album).

Over these next few albums, the band did write a couple of half decent songs (Tantanka’ stands out), but interest dropped (even with a returning Hlubek as a sideman, partly a marketing ploy), and while the band does still play the US they were camped for a long time in Germany as a result of their record label SPV.

Molly Hatchet, Giants Of Rock - 8 February 2014

Molly Harchet in 2014

For the record, there have been many talented players in the later line-up, including bassist Tim Lindsey (who was  a member in the pre history days), Bassett and Galvin, but it is as much the politics as playing of Ingram (a solid rhythm guitarist but no lead, and currently trying to play a three-way lead single handed) that have destroyed the band and sound.

The re-recording of early numbers didn’t help as, much like the current live set, arrangements have changed and the sound is poor. In fact that new live album, Battleground, features more post-production work than Live And Dangerous and Unleashed In The East combined.  Avoid.

There have been some amazing reissues and retrospective releases, notably The Agora Ballrooms live set, and others that have added live tracks from the promo only versions of the albums Molly Hatchet and Beatin’ The Odds.

Many original and original era members would later play with Gator Country (named after a Hatchet song) and The Southern Rock All Stars, both well worth searching out, as is the live show Jammin’ For DJB where they performed as the Dixie Jam Band, because Ingram wouldn’t let them use their original band’s name.

Danny Joe Brown died not long after, with diabetes related complications. Hlubek, Roland, Thomas, Crump, Farrar and West have also since passed on, leaving Steve Holland as the sole surviving original and founder member, and BB Borden and John Galvin the only original era members still standing.

Recommended albums

Flirtin’ With Disaster (1979)
Double Trouble Live (1985)
Danny Joe Brown Band -  Danny Joe Brown and the Danny Joe Brown Band (1981)

Album review (Reissue, 2020)
Album review (Battleground, 2019)

Photography:
(iv) Simon Dunkerley

© 2006-2020  Joe Geesin/GRTR! All rights reserved.



David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 26 July.. In the first hour David pays tribute to the blues/rock guitarist Peter Green.

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