Like the wiliest of hardscrabble cats, it appears that the rough-rockin’ veteran Florida veteran Molly Hatchet have at least nine lives, as its four-and-a-half decade run has encompassed a true roller coaster ride of ups and downs, swinging seemingly randomly between relevance, extreme success and survival, through changes in tastes, the onset of new technologies and ways of consuming music, significant and frequent lineup changes, personal loss and more.
But they have persevered, to the benefit of their legions of fans in North America and beyond.
As a new decade dawns, the southern rock stalwarts are poised to make some serious noise, with the release of a critically lauded live album, Battleground, in late November, and new music on the horizon, as well as a string of tour dates throughout Europe and back home on this side of the Atlantic.
It’s a good time to be a fan of this venerable band, best known for gritty, groove-oriented hits like Flirtin’ With Disaster, Whiskey Man, Power Play, Lady Luck and Satisfied Man, and even more fun to be in the band, according to lead guitarist, songwriter and keeper of the Molly Hatchet legacy, Bobby Ingram.
“It’s taken us longer than expected to finally get this album out there, but I think its been worth the wait, although there were a lot of things that happened that we had no control over. It’s been about five years in the making. We recorded it initially at shows in Switzerland and Germany five years ago but didn’t put it out then. We just kept on recording and going to different places and we knew that we had the 40th anniversary coming up and we wanted to do something special to mark that. It didn’t happen to land on that year, we’re a couple of years off, but I am cool with that,” said Ingram.
“We had a couple of things happen with changes in the members of the band, so we just decided to take our time. And during the production part [band founder/guitarist] Dave Hlubek passes away at the end of 2017, and we decided to carry on. And just this year we lost [vocalist] Phil [McCormack in April]. So, a lot has happened. But we really wanted to put this album out because there are two songs we haven’t recorded before on a live album. There are songs that are real classics, from the first album in 1978, so we wanted to gear it up and put it out there and let people hear some of these other songs that haven’t been heard live before.”
Battleground is the first opportunity many fans have had to hear the powerhouse vocals of new Molly Hatchet frontman Jimmy Elkins, who came on board at the beginning of 2019, replacing Phil McCormack. His voice and new energy enliven the performances of Ingram, the longest tenured member of the band at 33 years, keyboardist John Galvin, who has 30 years in the band over two runs, drummer Shawn Beamer and bassist Tim Lindsey (service times of 18 and 16 years respectively) throughout the dynamic and prolific 19-song set.
McCormack had been a constant presence on the mic since 1995, so it was no mean feat trying to replace him with someone who could carry on the Molly Hatchet vibe with the kind of authority that McCormack and before him, original vocalist Danny Joe Brown (who died in 2005) brought to the fore.
“Phil was a cornerstone for this band all the way through until this past spring. In the meantime, we had done shows around Florida, especially northern Florida and Georgia, which is gator country and we had noticed a group called Bounty Hunter that was playing a lot of the same places that we were, and Jimmy Elkins was their lead singer. We would see them around different places, and once in a while I would get up with them and jam, and we became friends,” said Ingram.
“So, he just seemed like the logical choice to bring in when we lost Phil, so we brought him in for the busy summer season and he already knew all the songs. Jimmy was really the only guy on our radar. We didn’t even bother looking at anybody else. So, that’s what happened, and Jimmy has fit this band like a glove. He has got, like, a southern rock gene in him, when it comes to understanding the music and fitting in both on stage and off, it was like he was born to it, like it was meant to be.”
As with the initial tracks for the hoped-for live album done give years ago, the songs appearing on Battleground were recorded primarily at shows in Germany and Switzerland, as well as a select few in the United States. Europe has become a truly exceptional market for Molly Hatchet, a seemingly anomalous culture match on the surface. Who would have thought that the nation that brought the likes of Beethoven and Mozart to the world, would fall in love with a bunch of talented good ol’ boys from Jacksonville, Florida?
“When the band was first coming up, before I joined, Molly Hatchet was seen as one of the toughest and heaviest southern rock bands, and that’s indisputable. As a matter of fact, a lot of that has carried over through the years and we have been affiliated now with the hard rock and heavy metal community over in Europe and even in parts of the United States. We did a lot of shows over there and became friends with a lot of the metal bands. At one time we had the same European manager as Motorhead, and Lemmy loved to hang out with us, and so did bands like Saxon,” said Ingram.
“We really have a great time over there. Our fan base is growing exponentially all the time. I can’t believe how it’s growing. And it’s been with the help of the hard rock and heavy metal community. There’s a veteran core of fans over there, as well as new fans who pick up on the group. We see new fans on every tour. And I also think it’s because they appreciate our songs and our songwriting, keeping the band on that hard-edged, tough, Molly Hatchet way.
“And we’ve basically been with the same European label, SPV, since Devil’s Canyon in 1996. The record company is based in Germany and that’s where my main European connections area and kept in touch with managers and agents and the label over the years to the point where now it’s our home away from home for sure.”
And what is also something for which Ingram is grateful is the fact that the audience for Molly Hatchet is now into it’s third generation.
“Over the last 10 or 15 years we have seen another wave of younger southern rockers discover Molly Hatchet for the first time, or some of the older fans are rediscovering them, and looking at what we have been doing along the way. So, we’ve had a wonderful ride with this resurgence. I am into my 33rd year with the band and there have been a lot of changes in the record industry since I started. There has been the rise of the internet, there’s been a lot of different avenues of availability for accessing music. And I think that’s helped in a way, because people are finding our music in all these different and new ways,” he said.
“When we put Battleground together, we wanted to give everybody a good sampling of what’s been happening over 40 years, how the band has developed, the different musicians, and how we’ve been able to keep the same foundational tools, the same traditions and spirit and keep that original legacy going year after year, and decade after decade. I think we’ve done that with this band, I think we’ve also done it with this album, and it’s a great thing for our fans, both new and old.
“And we are seeing the devotion out in the crowd and we hear it when they come through the t-shirt line and when we sign autographs at the end of the night. There are fathers saying that we were their first concert way back when and that he has brought his son or daughter to their first concert, and what a wonderful experience that is. It’s rewarding for us to see that, and it’s an honour for us to have had that kind of career to be able to say that. And, like I said, it’s like we’re being discovered all over again.”
Ingram said Battleground is a kind of re-awakening for the band and its fans, and is a reminder of Molly Hatchet’s prowess as a live act, it’s catalogue of classic southern rock masterpieces, as well as being a continually creative enterprise – one not satisfied to sit on it’s laurels, even after more than four decades in the music industry.
“We have a studio album that we’re getting ready to record and it’s going to be coming out in 2020. We’re writing it now, so Battleground is pretty much just us opening the door again. Battleground is us firing up the engines again. Right now, we’re sitting on the highway and we’re getting ready to put the pedal to the metal and flirt with disaster once again, that’s for sure, man,” he said, excitement bristling in his voice, noting that the band’s last studio album, Regrinding the Axes, came out in 2012.
“We still have a lot of music we want to get out there; we’ve got fans that continue to say to us that they believe we still have a lot of things we still want to say and that our songs are still valid – the songs are written about friendships and God and the military and family. It’s all very honest songwriting, and people have always connected with those songs and the things we talk about.
“Right now, we’re having a great time with Battleground. We’ve got a bunch of 5/5 reviews and to me that’s just a blessing. I thank each one of those reviewers, big time, for listening so intently to the album, and giving us such positive feedback. We couldn’t be happier. And it seems with Molly Hatchet, I guess we’re making some waves and we’re making a comeback. We just love to do what we do, it’s what we do best, and everybody seems to be locking into that with this record.”
Molly Hatchet is starting off the 2020 touring schedule with a run up the eastern seaboard of the U.S., starting Jan. 8 at The Villages in Florida, heading north to Charlotte, North Carolina, Virginia Beach, Poughkeepsie, NY and wrapping up in Millville, New Jersey on Jan. 19 before a swing through the Midwest in March.
For more information on Battleground, upcoming shows and the forthcoming new Molly Hatchet studio album, visit www.mollyhatchet.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for nearly three decades. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at email@example.com.
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