Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Molly Hatchet - Halfway Jam

Connotations of Lizzy Borden whirl through my head whenever I hear anyone talk about axes or hatchets, honestly the reason probably isn't that farfetched.  We all identify something with either an event, an experience or a simple comment (and it makes perfect sense).  Think about that for just a second then try to do it yourself, I bet you can.  As an example some might identify New Years Eve with Dick Clark or Times Square, others might identify a song on the radio and they think back to an old flame.  Expanding on the initial statement I made it makes perfect sense why I identify an axe with Minnesota.  Why?

Associating Minnesota with an axe is particularly simple in all honesty: Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox Babe.  As I think back to the third grade (thirty-five or so years ago), I can remember our teacher talking to us about folklore and Bunyan and Babe and the fact that he (Bunyan) was a lumberjack meant that he was carrying an axe to chop down trees thus a connection between an axe and Minnesota.  Folklore be damned however because this has nothing to do with the connection between Bunyan, Babe, his axe and the State of Minnesota, that would be too easy my friends.

To make the connection one would have to travel back to those 35 +/- years ago I mentioned earlier (no, this still has nothing to do with Bunyan) and an old beat up Chevelle that my uncle had.  Uncle Jeff was one of the coolest people I have known and he was the owner of the Chevelle.  For those of us over the age of thirty, the cars usually had one of two things; an AM radio or an 8-track player.  I live(d) in a small town and we usually would have technological advances far after either coast or Chicago too for that matter so there weren't cassette tapes or players in our cars (I just lost the young part of the audience with that one) and the only CD was a Certificate of Deposit.

My uncle's Chevrolet Chevelle was equipped with an 8-track player and when I would ride with him he would play one of those cruddy 8-tracks (instead of listening to AM radio).  There was one in particular that I remember just because of the art work and he used to play it all of the time.  Now if we were to jump ahead to a hot July in Royalton, Minnesota and a music festival called "Halfway Jam" I would once again see that art work, but this time it was on a t-shirt.  As a man that grew up in the '80's I saw some of the best album cover art but the shirt this really young guy was wearing stirred my memories and that art was much cooler than I remembered it.

When I saw the young man sporting his "Molly Hatchet" t-shirt my memory was jarred back to that Chevelle and my uncle.  Whatever fear I once had (or thought I had) of that cover art was gone and it now brought a smile to my face.  I was ten years old when the self-titled "Molly Hatchet" was released (1978), and really so did my "contact" with the band.  I wasn't much of a "Southern Rock" guy at that time but I knew some of their music so before I walked into "Halfway Jam" I listened to some of their music on YouTube just to get a feel for it all.

The band became more and more interesting as I listened to the music so by the time we got to the venue, I was armed with an "extensive" knowledge of their music so there would be no surprises.  If I have learned anything from doing this I should know that you can't judge a book by its cover (or an old 8-track for that matter) and never, ever think just a few visits to "YouTube" will prepare you for any band playing live.

As the band came to the stage I was "prepared" for what I was going to hear and once again those preparations were absolutely incorrect.  First of all I hadn't studied band members, I had no idea how many were original nor was I prepared for how good they really were.  I shouldn't have said good, I meant fantabulous, this band can just plain and simply rock.  Of the band only one founding member remains, Dave Hlubek (guitar) and he had the presence of mind to establish this band with superb bandmates.  It was fun watching the band live, and I found myself just having fun and not being drawn into just taking notes. I did take notes though because if I hadn't I wouldn't be able to properly describe the men in this band.

In the world of "Molly Hatchet", the name Bobby Ingram will reflect the longevity of his relationship with the band.  Imagine if you will the time that passed in the career of Mr. Ingram.  Starting his first band in 1968 (what an incredible year that was) and joining Molly Hatchet in 1985 Ingram has remained in the the band ever since.  That's a rarity in marriages let alone a band (I think most modern bands last about an hour and a half), so the fact that Ingram has remained is a testament to his professional approach to the band.  What Ingram is in relation to Hatchet is the leader of the band and a spectacular guitar player as well.

Before the show began I noticed man walking around, wearing a cowboy hat and I swore I knew him, personally not through research (we've established that I dropped the ball there).  Soon after I was 99.999% sure I knew him, and when I realized that this gentleman really wasn't the person I knew, it became apparent that the 0.001% of "incorrectness" was 100% correct.  The gentleman was named Phil McCormack and he has the the unenviable task of being the lead singer of a band that has some serious chops in the history of Southern Rock.  McCormack fits the band and the diminutive brand of Southern Rock so it wasn't much of a stretch to have him on vocals.  When I think back into the history of Southern Rock certain vocalists define what a band should "sound like".  That's where McCormack fits into this genre, his vocals and vocal styles are similar in quality and are reminiscent of the likes of Ronnie Van Zant and Danny Joe Brown.

Following the show I talked briefly with McCormack about the shirt I was wearing and how important the Ramones were in music.  Although I have no qualms about anyone expressing positive comments about the Ramones, I would doubt most fans would believe that a member of a Southern Rock band would be in agreement.  That's a positive on so many levels and proves (at least to me) that McCormack understands his craft like a master of it should.  Look the rationality is simple, it involves a deep understanding of the music and multiple genres which can only take ones experience and can neatly fit it within their genre.  Brilliant vocalist!

                                    Phil McCormack (R) and Me (L)

Bands like Molly Hatchet have layers of sound built within it (almost like an onion) with each layer creating complexity to the work of the band.  As any fan of Southern Rock can tell you bass guitar is the lifeblood of the band, Tim Lindsey proves that fact.  Lindsey is the consummate bass player.  What Lindsey provides is energy infused with a wicked bass line and experience that many would sell a kidney for.  That's a fairly bold statement I know but when one realizes that Lindsey toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd it becomes an eye opener.  In all seriousness touring with Skynyrd is a big deal so the fact that he indeed toured with the band means that someone "in the know" agrees that he is indeed that good.

Much like the bassist, the drummer plays a pivotal role within any band but Molly Hatchet has more than just a run of the mill one on their hands.  Shawn Beamer is a monster on drums, coupled with the fact he is high energy and really fun to watch.  I've used the word "professional" previously but I really must use it again, Beamer is indeed professional.  Can anything less be expected of an artist that has performed in the confines of the band for eight years.  Beamer was fun to watch and he really personifies the role of drummer for not only Molly Hatchet but for any number of other bands.

The role of keyboards in a standard everyday rock band can be hit and miss.  Too often we assume that bands utilizing keyboards cannot be considered rock.  The misconception of the keyboards is that those bands do so only because they are "soft" or "bubblegum bands".  The remarkable thing about keyboards in Southern Rock is they play a vital role within the entire genre.  Within every "Southern Rock band" lies a very talented keyboard player and for Molly Hatchet, that man is named John Calvin.  What Calvin provides to the band can be best described as himself highlighted by his talent.  His role within the confines of Molly Hatchet is one of crucial importance.  I say that only because of his well-defined talent and his importance to the sound of Molly Hatchet.

Molly Hatchet began its journey into the annals of rock history and along the way they made a positive impact in a genre that has a stigma that is as well defined as the music it has spawned.  Despite the fact that Molly Hatchet has been pigeonholed into a genre that is in a way that is territorial, the band has had success because they are just a great band.  I always thought that Southern Rock was less sophisticated than other rock music, that too is a territorial thing but I'm fairly confident that I was completely incorrect.  What I learned was that Southern Rock has a distinct sound that requires very talented musicians to perform it.  Being a "Southern Rock" band shouldn't be assumed to be less important than your average rock band, rather what Molly Hatchet has proven is that their place in "rock history" cannot be discounted, nor can it be pigeonholed they are just that good.

As I approached "Halfway Jam" I wasn't sure what I would find with Molly Hatchet and its brand of music.  What I learned was threefold.  I learned that sometimes a lack of research can give great results, as well as Southern Rock is alive, kicking and screaming but possibly the best lesson I learned was that Molly Hatchet is one bad assed ROCK band that came, saw and ruled the day.  WOW.  Great job!!!!

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