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InterviewsMolly Hatchet: Still Beatin' The Odds After Forty Years

Posted on Friday, November 18 2016 @ 03:49:23 CST by Dean Pedley
Heavy Metal Proudly waving the flag for kick-ass Southern Rock going on four decades, Molly Hatchet show no signs of stopping anytime soon. The band has just made a whistle stop trip to the UK that saw them headline indoor festival Hard Rock Hell along with shows in London and Wolverhampton. Sea of Tranquility's Dean Pedley sat down with guitarist, songwriter and band leader Bobby Ingram to talk about the bands longevity and their enduring appeal.

Freezing temperatures are not uncommon on the North Wales coastline in November but that hasn't dissuaded Molly Hatchet from returning to Hard Rock Hell after a previous appearance back in 2012. "It's been a few years since we were last here and a lot has happened since then" says Bobby, "but there is a funny story I wanted to tell you. Last time we came over from Florida looking at the weather and thinking man it's going to be freezing cold when we get to Wales so we dusted off these big old jackets that we never wear at home. Put them on, got off the plane and we were so glad we bought them. So we did the same this time and we don't need them the weather is so nice out there, it's a beautiful day."

Having joined Hatchet in the 80's, Bobby was passed the torch to the band by vocalist Danny Joe Brown when ill health forced him to retire during the mid-90's. Bobby and Phil McCormack, Brown's hand-picked replacement, have been keeping the Southern Rock faith ever since along with original guitarist Dave Hlubek, John Galvin on keyboards and the rock solid rhythm section of Tim Lindsey and Shawn Beamer. New studio albums have included Devil's Canyon (1996) and Warriors of Rainbow Bridge (2005) with their most recent being 2010's smouldering Justice, a record that featured plenty of blazing slide guitars, whiskey soaked vocals, and honky tonk piano. Bobby is justifiably proud of the album. "I think the band had truly developed into the next generation of Molly Hatchet at the time we made that record. We carry on the tradition and legacy that started a long time before us, a long time before I was there. Except I hired Danny Joe Brown for his first singing job in 1975, I'm the guy that handed him the microphone. And lo and behold here I sit, still here because I believe in the spirit, tradition and legacy of the band and how it can touch people and bond people together. I love the way Justice sounds it broadens the horizon for Southern Rock and people have told me that many times. And I appreciate that because the record is so deal to my heart."

At the centre of Justice is 'Fly on Wings of Angels (Somer's Song)' that was the bands heartfelt tribute to murdered seven year old Somer Thompson. "We wrote that song in about fifteen minutes. We were asked to come and help this family that we had never met. We kept hearing this story on CNN about a little girl that was abducted in our community Orange Park in Jacksonville, Florida and she was found in a Georgia landfill and it broke our hearts. We got a call from community leaders and they asked if we would like to help and we said absolutely. So we did a concert for them and we helped them to start the Somer Thompson foundation. At the same time we were in pre-production for the record and so we wrote 'Somer's Song' in her memory and gave the proceeds from the song to the foundation. The little girl singing at the beginning is the sister of the slain seven year old; she and her Mom came into the studio with us. The foundation has been able to reach out to people and help alert and educate to be more aware of what could happen to your family and it helps families in those situations. In those the critical stages who is going to pay the bills and keep food on the table when you are worried about finding your child that is when the foundation steps in and answers the call."

The whole concept of Justice, with its themes of injustice came together for what is arguably the finest Molly Hatchet album since 1979's Flirtin' with Disaster. "The imaging and sonic impression of the album I am very happy with. I produced the record and Tommy Newton was the engineer and he has done some brilliant work in the past and we clicked right off. We didn't want to rush right back in and do another album because we had poured everything into it that we possibly could. We said what we needed to say and we couldn't say any more at that time it's not about the money it's about the music." That said, Bobby goes on to confirm that a new studio album is in the works and will be released at some point during 2017 with the same production team at the helm.

A long standing tradition of Molly Hatchet records has been the iconic fantasy warrior themed album covers and they have been working in collaboration with English artist Paul Raymond Gregory for twenty years. "Paul has been our album artist since Devils Canyon forward; every legitimate album cover that is and not compilations like Regrinding the Axes which I didn't approve of and was just record company repackaging. It's amazing with Paul because we might talk once or twice in the middle of the production of an album and I will tell him a little about what the albums about and what we are trying to do and say. And lo and behold he goes home and comes up with a brilliant piece of artwork that really does go along with the record. You remember how we used to look at albums a long time ago. We would sit there with the record playing and read every word on the back ten times, we'd pull the sleeve out and really appreciate it and that was such a highlight way back then. We didn't have the internet or thousands of channels on TV, we had one radio station in Jacksonville, three TV stations one of which was public service and we had concerts and that was fine with me."

Mention of the internet inevitably turns our conversation to the issues artists have had to face in dealing with their music being instantly available. "The internet tore up the music business and tore up the record sales. Not live performances. It happened because of piracy and illegal downloads. And significantly the music business is now doing things in a proactive way to protect the artists a little bit more. They shouldn't have dragged their heels when it started happening, they should have worked with Apple and Microsoft and said let's put a stop to this. And so then the artists would have had an opportunity financially to keep the records on the shelves. Look what happened with all of the brick and mortar stores. They are all gone because everyone is sharing the music and there are virtually no physical copies anymore. It hurt that part of the business but it enhanced the live aspects for some odd reason. People come to shows because now the artist has adjusted and modified our performances to offset the lack of record purchases."

After forty years, twelve studio albums and a lot of band members that have come and gone, Bobby is in no doubt about what keeps Molly Hatchet out on the road and doing what they do best. "As a band we have stayed honest to our foundational roots; we write about truth, honesty, friendship, peoples good times, party times, great times. And we also write about their troubled times, their struggles…and they tell us about this when we are at shows. And we put them together into songs. And the reason why we have had such a solid fan base is because we reach out, we care and we have given the loyalty to them that they have given to us. So it's been a complete circle. We consider them our friends not our fans because they are. They have followed the bands history way back from the very beginning and now they are bringing their children and even their children's children on a lot of occasions. And they are sharing their stories with us and we listen to people. We are the kind of band that does that and that inspires us to write new records. We take those good stories, heartfelt stories, trials and tribulations and hardships and also what we have lived through in our lives and we put into our songs so that people can relate to it."

"I had somebody come up to me the other day and they said "Bobby, I want to tell you that you said something in one of your songs that is exactly the way I wanted to say it but I didn't know how to". So we are communicating and getting our message out to keep fighting and keep strong in this rugged economic environment that the world is experiencing right now. Stay true to your foundational roots as the band has stayed true to our foundational roots; we walk together in this journey with Molly Hatchet."

A couple of nights later in Wolverhampton Molly Hatchet played a barnstorming 100 minute show to a few hundred of those loyal fans. All of the old favourites including 'Whiskey Man', 'Gator Country', 'Fall of the Peacemakers' and 'Dreams I'll Never See' were present and correct along with 'Devils Canyon'. Introducing Paul Raymond Gregory to the audience and noting that 2016 marks that albums twentieth anniversary Bobby had this to say: "If you haven't heard it then please listen to it, you don't even have to buy it. Just listen to it and come along on the journey with us."

Article by Dean Pedley for Sea of Tranquility, November 2016
Live images by kind permission of Rich Ward at Classic Rock Photography

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