Friday Night with Guitar George: Molly Hatchet Edition

Molly Hatchet drummer Bruce Crump passed away, so George done hopped in the Pontiac and on his way to Jacksonville.

-First ever tweet from @GuitarGeorge9

What a strange week. Finally crumbling under their oppressive despotism, Guitar George capitulated to the stringent demands of his tyrannical executive co-editors @srbrown70 and @E11even745 and joined the Twitterverse. My former employer made a sudden, unexpected business move that was so bizarre my current boss called my previous boss and asked “What the hell?” The twenty year old ravenous carnivore aka my son, while on spring break in Myrtle Beach, was so hungry one evening at a restaurant he actually consumed a side salad of leafy fresh greens while waiting for huge slabs of savory meat to be brought to his table. My neighbor brushed the tusks of her 300 pound pet pig “because he likes having clean teeth.” The answer to Final Jeopardy one night was Dora the Explorer—no, it was not the Jeopardy Kids Tournament; it was the regular adult version. And my two year old granddaughter walked around my daughter’s house Tuesday night saying “Shit, shit, shit, shit!”, most likely an oblique reference to the egregiously perilous structure of her March Madness Bracketology paradigm.

It was a strange week in my world, but a sad week in the music world, with yet another untimely death of a rock musician. Bruce Crump, drummer for Jacksonville Florida’s Molly Hatchet, passed away this week at age 57, following band mates Riff West, who died last year at age 64, Duane Roland, who died in 2006 at age 53, and Danny Joe Brown, who died in 2005 at age 53. To honor the memory of these men, this week’s video is a 1983 live recording of Molly Hatchet performing their two best songs back-to-back at a concert in Los Angeles. “Flirtin’ With Disaster” is the band’s signature song, and “Dreams I’ll Never See” is a very nicely arranged cover of Gregg Allman’s “Dreams”. Like their hometown heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet featured three lead guitarists. This video has plenty of nice guitar work by all three, especially Duane Roland’s run from 2:33 to 4:17, but it is singer Danny Lee Brown who completely owns the stage. Danny Lee doesn’t exactly look like a rock star; he looks like your local auto mechanic or gym coach, but there is no mistaking the rock star energy he brings to this performance. Sweating like a pig, grinning like a fox, and singing like nobody’s business: a Southern version of Detroit’s Bob Seger. Although never superstars, Molly Hatchet did enjoy a fair amount of success, but Danny Joe Brown doesn’t get near the recognition he deserves. One side note about the video: the cheesy KISS-style synchronized body-bob is not only outdated but is also highly uncharacteristic of Southern rockers. But it was 1983, and the quality of the music trumps the choreographic indiscretion, so we will let it slide, ok?

In the sports world, Jacksonville Florida is a running joke. The annual college football game held there between Georgia and Florida is known as The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The city somehow convinced the National Football League to allow them to host a Super Bowl without acknowledging that a Days Inn, a Motel 6, and five restaurants not named Chikin Delite are slightly inadequate accommodations for the oh, 875,000 people who show up two weeks before the game. And the city’s allegedly professional football team is a perennial dumpster fire whose sole purpose is to pad the stats of the other teams in the AFC South.

But in the rock music world, Jacksonville is the proud birthplace of a plethora of young and hungry Southern rock boys whose talents would launch them from the smoky bars and pool halls of Riverside Avenue to the bright lights and big cities of the world stage. J.R. Cobb of Atlanta Rhythm Section, Donnie Van Zandt of .38 Special, and Danny Joe Brown, lead singer of Molly Hatchet, all hail from Jacksonville and began their music careers there. Three dudes named Alan Collins, Gary Rossington, and Ronnie Van Zandt all grew up in Jacksonville and put together a band they named Lynyrd Skynyrd. And two brothers from down the road in Daytona moved up to Jacksonville, where they picked up a local drummer named Butch Trucks, then relocated to Macon Georgia to start the Allman Brothers Band.

On a personal note, Molly Hatchet is permanently linked in my memory to a specific period of time during the spring of 1980. Every Friday night, after getting off work around 11:00, my friends and I would pile into my car with the prerequisite cache of cigarettes and beer, and the obligatory Molly Hatchet cassettes: their first album, with “Bounty Hunter”, “Gator Country” and “Dreams I’ll Never See”, and their recently released Flirtin’ With Disaster, whose title track was the musical embodiment of our anarchic teenage condescension of adult responsibility. Careening down the back roads of south Montgomery County, throwing Marlboro butts and empty Budweiser cans out the window of my Honda Accord, we weren’t ten feet tall and bullet proof as the saying goes– we were by God flirting with disaster, brazenly shaking our metaphorical fists at an indifferent Alabama night sky as we loudly sang along with Hatchet “Got our sights set straight ahead, but we ain’t sure what we’re after.” Our bravado was masking a silent refusal to acknowledge the ominous undercurrent of knowing that such a reckless waste of our youthful passion is why the lure of “Flirtin’ with Disaster” is soured by the reality of “Dreams I’ll Never See.” Such is the existential struggle that lies at the core of Southern rock and gives the music its tension, its energy, its Faulknerian ambivalence.

I did not really hop into a Pontiac and drive to Jacksonville this week. That tweet was metaphorical, but y’all knew that. What you might not know, however, is that Bruce Crump was with Molly Hatchet from their formation in the late seventies until 1990, with the exception of a brief period of time in 1983, which just happens to be when tonight’s video was filmed. So, the person whose death inspired this week’s FNWGG is not even in the video. I told you this was a strange week.

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