By Lee Zimmerman
They followed on the heels of their like-minded peers, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, but Molly Hatchet quickly emerged to the forefront of that regional genre known as Southern Rock. Hailing from Jacksonville, Fla., the group took its name from an infamous prostitute who murdered her clients in a most gruesome manner. The original line-up attracted a rabid following soon after breaking ground in 1975, thanks to the triple forward thrust of three lead guitarists — Dave Hlubek, Steve Holland and Duane Roland — as well as a riveting frontman in vocalist Danny Joe Brown and a sturdy anchor in the rhythm section of bassist Banner Thomas and drummer Bruce Crump. Early albums “Molly Hatchet” and “Flirtin’ with Disaster” immediately found favor with the hard-rock crowd, with “Flirtin’” providing a signature song that endures to this day.
The band continued to evolve well into the ’80s, but a disruptive series of personnel changes eventually led to a slow decline. The arrival of guitarist Bobby Ingram revived both the sagging fortunes and the band, and by the mid-1990s it was once again a vital unit, albeit one that was nearly wholly repopulated. After Ingram purchased the rights to the band’s name, the first album, “Devil’s Canyon,” under their revamped brand, spurred the re-launch, reaffirming its status as an international draw and an ongoing active outfit. The current band (Ingram, original guitarist Dave Hlubek, lead singer Phil McCormack, keyboardist John Galvin, bass player Tim Lindsey and drummer Shawn Beamer) recently issued its latest opus, “Justice.” The album was born from an effort that had its origins in a tragedy that stirred Ingram and the other members of the band deeply. Indeed, in citing the band’s latest developments, particularly his role as the group’s current de-facto leader, Ingram comes across with an evangelistic-like conviction, one that’s convincing and occasionally contentious. His passion is unmistakable, particularly when describing the sense of purpose that was instilled in the new album. Speaking to Goldmine from his 6,000-square-foot lakeside home in Jacksonville, the former tax accountant turned musician, producer, songwriter and spokesman carefully detailed the trials, tribulations and eventual triumphs that culminated with their latest recording.
Goldmine: What is the story behind the genesis of the new album?
BI: I lost my wife in 2004. I live all alone now. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. All I do is work. I take care of the band and do all the things it takes to run an international band, so I went through a process of healing that I never expected. Basically, I had given up. I stopped caring. I didn’t care much about doing anything except just trying to cope with my loss. Then at the end of last October, I got a call to do a fundraiser for a local 7-year-old girl who was abducted on her way home and then murdered.
I was in my attic looking for some memorabilia and I came upon a box I had never seen before. It had a note on the top that said “For my husband Bobby. Open on a rainy day.” It contained all these artifacts that she had saved from the band, including pictures of me from even before I joined Hatchet. Then I suddenly realized what she meant by a rainy day, because the little girl’s name was Somer. Suddenly, it all made sense.
I took 40 items, and then I went and met Diena Thompson, the mother. We did a fundraising concert and raised enough to bury the child. A few days later, we started preproduction on the new album. The entire album was already written, and I had recorded the demos on micro cassettes. But after this incident, we decided to scrap it.
You were clearly very affected by this…
BI: There was something wrong that this should happen to a 7-year-old girl. There’s something wrong with all of us. Something is wrong in the world. So I wrote this song and gave it to the family. It only took 20 minutes to get the chords and the guitar parts. It was the fastest song I had ever written but the hardest to record.
I was feeling all this stuff about injustice and how this happens to people. How does this happen to our humanity, to our culture? Yet, it’s happened throughout history, between countries, between religions. It’s an injustice that’s been done to individuals, to families, you name it. This was a topic that I didn’t know how to feel about, but it was so big. Something told me I had to write about injustice on a global level and what’s happened throughout history. I know it sounds really deep, but it is. So I knew I had to do it. I had the faith and I have the confidence. Ultimately, I didn’t even open up that box with the micro cassettes.
And that’s when you decided to record an entirely new album?
BI: We went overseas to record the record and did it in five days. All the basic tracks were done, and then we came back around Christmas time. We still had to do some of the vocals and the guitar parts. We gave the song “Justice” to the family, and little Abby, Somer’s 10-year-old sister, is singing on the front part of that. It was Christmas Eve, and that little girl got in front of that microphone and sang like an angel. Listening to that little girl’s voice, we couldn’t continue. I had Jason Bonham’s engineer, and he could just barely get through the track. I saw him get up and go out of the room many times because he couldn’t take it emotionally. Well … the feel of that track … there was no way we could reproduce that in the studio, so I said to myself, ‘OK, Bobby, think. How do I get that feeling across to the band? We’re overseas now. We’re in Germany. It’s 20 below. We’re at the top of an Alp and there are six-foot drifts outside the door. So how do we catch this feeling that we had in that one afternoon when we recorded that original demo?’ I spoke to Diena practically every day, and we bonded because of the tragedies we both [went] gone through. So I said, ‘Diena, can you talk to the band? I’m going to put you on the phone with the Molly Hatchet band.’ We were overseas in Germany and she was in Jacksonville, but she gave the feeling and the inspiration to the band with such a beautiful message about her daughter that it put everybody back into that same euphoric, unbelievable mystic mood. That was the only way we could record that track, because it’s so spiritual and it put everybody in that frame of mind. So we went in there and recorded it in one take. The vocals were recorded in a couple of takes — not many — but the basic tracks, the drums, the bass, the rhythm guitar and lead guitar [and] the keyboards were all done in one take. We didn’t want to touch it. I said, ‘No tinkering. Guys, that’s it. The message is intact.’ That’s what’s on the CD. We weren’t going to mess with it. God wanted us to play it this way, and we did. That’s totally from Diena Thompson inspiring the band in the studio. No one said a word. Everyone took their headphones off and we just went.
So that’s where you got the theme, and subsequently the title of the album, “Justice”?
BI: I think people are going to understand what the band’s doing with the CD and that, with the music, there’s a message we want to get across, not just on a community scale but on a global scale, and I think we’ve been pretty successful. I don’t have very many complaints about this album. I gotta tell you. I love listening to it. There are only two albums I can actually listen to all the way through. One is the “Justice” album. It’s the first Molly Hatchet album I can sit and listen to all the way through; I’ve never been able to do that and I’m a guy in the band [laughs]. The other one is Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” There’s something about this record. I don’t know what it is, but I do know there’s something wrong with what we’re all doing. We got to pull together in some way. We’re all neighbors and part of the same community. When we were asked to help the Thompsons, we didn’t turn away. We didn’t walk away and give this false impression of ‘Oh, sure, we’ll help you’ and then they never see us again. I know what the feeling is of suffering alone.
How did your wife die?
BI: In a car accident.
So what’s your plan now in terms of spreading your message?
BI: With this album we’ve been able to get a foundation started for the Thompson family. I’ll never say there are any positives to come out of this, but there is a cause. In helping this one family in the only way I know, which is through the music, I’ve started thinking that maybe there’s more to it. John Lennon had his “Imagine” and maybe now Molly Hatchet has its “Imagine,” which says that if one person helps one person, just lends a helping hand, and that person helps somebody and then that person helps somebody, and on and on, then by the end of it all, we all help each other.
So with all the changes in personnel, what made you decide to maintain the Molly Hatchet branding?
BI: I was involved with a group before Molly Hatchet. I know what it’s like to play under a different name. And I know how to play under the Molly Hatchet name. That is a tradition, spirit and legacy that needed to continue. I gave up my solo project to play with this band. I was going to be damned if it was going to change. It was a glorified bar band in the ’80s — that’s all Hatchet had become. That’s the truth. It was one of the top bands in the ’70s when Danny (Joe Brown) left, and then it was over and it sunk to its lowest of lows. You know the story. I was the only guy that was brought in with a record deal. CBS had already dropped them. We needed another record deal so John (Galvin) and I wrote a bunch of songs and we ended up with Capitol. So we stayed with Capitol for one record and then we were dropped after that. Changes were starting to happen. We licensed the name from Duane (Roland), who owned the name and was the last guy standing, and went out and put another band together and we asked everybody to come back in. Everybody. But nobody wanted to do it. They were not interested. That’s what they said. So we said, that’s fine. We’ll carry it on anyway, and that’s what we did.
Did the earlier Hatchet guys resent the fact you had the name?
BI: If anybody’s mad at anybody, whatever. Let it go! It’s over! It’s 20-something years ago. It’s not going to happen again. This is a new recording generation of the group and a new evolution of the band. This is the natural evolution of the band. It is what it’s going to be. It’s going to continue when I’m not here. Then people will bitch about that. It’s just going to happen, you know what I mean? I’ve been in the band longer than anybody else, 25 years. That’s a long time to take it on the chin, a long time to be ridiculed. So I can tell you this much, I know it in my heart, I pay my dues, and I’ve earned my stripes. I’ve kept it on the road and I’ve kept it recording, with two different record deals — one in the ‘90s and one with this brand-new deal with SPV.
So you’re obviously committed to carrying the banner.
BI: It’s a wonderful outfit, and I’m proud to wear it. I’m proud to operate under this name. Nobody in this band has a bigger name than Molly Hatchet.
Do you see the same core of fans that have stuck with you all along?
BI: We have our veteran fans, but it took a little while for them to digest the changes that took place with the group, but they grew with us. They didn’t grow apart from us. They carried us on and we carried them on. It’s this legacy, this spirit and this tradition. We walk beside each other, the fans and this band. We saw the fundamental changes, but we stayed right with the fundamental roots of the group. It’s still all about justice, friendship, truth and compassion for other human beings. We write about the trials and tribulations, the hardships, the struggles and we write about the triumphs. We write about the goodness in life. We write about justice.
But the fans still want to hear the old songs as well, right?
BI: So do I, and I want to play them. And we will continue to. It’s the history, it’s the spirit, it’s the tradition, the legacy of the band to carry it on, no matter who has the torch. It’s our duty to carry it on and then the torch is passed. Pass, pass, pass. And people will see this with rock bands as the years go on. If they’re true to the music, it is passed on. So it was passed on within the band, and I carried it on when I got the trademark. It keeps on going and it keeps on evolving. We’re still putting out meritorious songs that mean something. We’re not just throwing a bunch of songs together that are a bunch of gibberish just to make a buck. To hell with that! Seriously! To hell with that! We’re going to be recording for the next 10 years at least. So get ready for some more justice [laughs].
Is Molly Hatchet still intrinsically tied to the Southern Rock community like it was back in the beginning?
BI: Yes, but that’s evolved. We’ll play with anybody. We’ll jam with anybody and we love doing it and improvising and jamming. It’s a lot of beautiful songs. It’s a lot of the same kind of songs as 35 years ago. We like to jam. We like to play … there are some long songs on there.
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