Southern Rock Allstars
Interview by Luc Brunot.
Original version of the interview published in Bands Of Dixie #41 (November - December 2004)
A double live often remains a cornerstone in the discography of a Southern rock band. One has just to remember the "At Fillmore East" for the Allman Brothers Band, "One More From The Road" for Lynyrd Skynyrd and "Are You Ready" for the Atlanta Rhythm Section... These last years, this kind of product has been much rarer, and only the driving forces (Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet) had a chance to publish. It should also be said that the DVD supplant in the fans mind the mythical double live LP. However, an independent band, the Southern Rock Allstars, get down again to the genre... So, we asked Jay Johnson some explanations.
Hello Jay, how are you?
I'm doing great, thanks!
I don't know where is your hometown but because Southern Rock Allstars members were in Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot, who came from Florida , I would like to ask if you didn't suffer too much, you, others members, family, friends of all these storms?
We each had some adventures with the storms. I live in Muscle Shoals, near the northwest corner of Alabama, and though we were not hit directly we still had to deal with torrential rain and really high winds. It was rough. Jakson and Charles had the worst time of it, as they each took direct hits from two of the hurricanes, but all is well.
The last interview with you, it was Spring, 2002, when the Southern Rock Allstars released "Danger Road". Was the disc sold well?
Yes, it did fairly well, and sold well in Europe, so we all were pleased!
Did you sell more in Europe than in the United States?
I think it was about even.
In Europe, I suppose that it's mainly in Germany where that was particularly well sold?
Yes it was.
By the way, on this disc, how is entitled the hidden track on the end?
"Wishful Thinking". Jakson wrote that one.
What is the reason that artists wants to hide tracks this way?
I have no idea who started that trend. I just loved hearing from all the fans who discovered the track. Most of them had left their CD players running and were surprised when the hidden track jumped out at them. I deliberately left five minutes of dead air between "Someday We'll All Be Free" and "Wishful Thinking" specifically for that purpose. It actually scared a few people!
In 1999, Jakson Spires said to us that you had pushed away the propositions of several big labels. Do you still the same politics on this subject?
Yes. The thing is that we will not sacrifice our creativity, our vision or our souls.
The problem we had with the aforementioned companies is that each of them wanted us to write and perform to THEIR specifications, even to the point of having outside writers, musicians and producers come in to do our records for us. Add to the fact that all these outsiders' salaries would come out of our pockets and not the record companies. If we had sold out and allowed this stuff to happen, the resulting recordings would not have been the Southern Rock Allstars at all. No thanks. All of us had been there and done that. Never again.
We prefer to control our own music and destinies. Those people only care about the money, not the music.
For the promotion and to sell more, wouldn't it be better to sign with an important label?
That depends on if the companies are actually going to get behind you and promote you properly. Just signing with a label does not guarantee success. Too many times a company will sign you, drop the ball, and the band is left holding the financial bag.
The current version of your new disc is burnt on CDR but it's foreseen that very soon it goes out in CD. What is the reason?
I am in the dark on that one! Apparently it's not a big deal in the states if it's a CDR, but you guys seem to hate them in Europe! Whatever the problem was, it's been corrected, so look out Europe, here comes the live Southern Rock Allstars CD.
Since "Danger Road", many things happened within the Southern Rock Allstars with first of all Dave Hlubek's departure. When did he leave you?
He left back in March 2003.
What is the reason of his departure?
Dave's official reason both to us and to the fans was that he was worried about his health and that he wanted to spend less time on the road.
Is there an un-official reason?
You never know with Dave......he tends to deliver different versions of his story to different people. All Southern Rock Allstars and the fans got was that he wanted to slow things down. Whatever the case, his departure was for the best, for all concerned.
Did Duane Roland replace him immediately?
Yes he did. Duane had just popped up out of nowhere and sat in with us on several shows in Florida. Dave announced his intention to leave and we called Duane up immediately.
The transition went really smoothly, and I got to find out first hand who played all those cool Molly Hatchet guitar parts on their records. Duane was THE rhythm guitar picker in Molly Hatchet, no doubt about that.
How long did he stay with the Southern Rock Allstars?
He was with us from March to December 2003.
Why didn't he stay?
Duane had serious arthritis problems in his hip since he was 25, I think. As a result, he's had three different hip replacements over the years. We were on our way to a gig in Maryland when hip number three gave up on him. It was terrible. I've never seen a guy in such pain before. We had to drop him at a hospital and continue to the show without him.
Basically, it ended his touring career, at least in the traditional sense. He can no longer bounce around in a car or bus for long hours. I knew there was almost no way he could return to the band on a permanent basis, and that's what happened.
Is he going to be obliged to stop the music professionally?
I don't think he will ever totally stop, but traveling is really rough on him these days.
And Danny Joe Brown, do you have news of his health?
I just received word that he was back in hospital, and that things were pretty bad. I hope he makes it through his latest troubles. He is a real survivor.
Did you have time to record in the studio some tracks with him for a future disc maybe?
Unfortunately not. But there's always the future, we can still record stuff with him, and we hope to see him come out to some shows near him. It can happen!
When did Jimmy join the Southern Rock Allstars?
Jimmy had been doing shows with us from time to time as a guest artist, which we do often. Mike Estes, Charlie Hargrett, Greg Walker and Tommy Crain have worked with us in that capacity also. It's a lot of fun to bring your pals out on the road with you.
Anyway, he joined us officially in January 2003.
When Jimmy Farrar came to join you, was Duane still there?
Jimmy was involved with us way before Duane was. In fact it was Jimmy who urged Duane to come out and do guest appearances with us, and it was Jimmy's idea to get him in the band even before Dave left.
He wanted a "three guitar army" as in Molly Hatchet?
No, I think he just wanted to see his old pal Duane get back into the business of music again.
Previously, you provided almost alone the vocal parts. Were you in search of a singer or keeping to invite Jimmy Farrar on stage, it ended up with a natural coming in the band?
We were never actively searching for a singer, as I was perfectly comfortable doing the main part of the vocals myself, and everybody in the group sings. However we all felt that Jimmy was a great addition when he came out to guest with us. My father, Jimmy Johnson was at a show in Alabama and saw Jimmy Farrar with us for the first time. Jimmy really knocked him out. My dad came up to me after the show and said "Goddamn! How do we get this guy to join the band?" I told him that I did not think it would be hard to get him to join, and sure enough, it wasn't. We asked Jimmy to join a few days later, and he was stunned. He had wanted to join us for years, and had never told us.
It's Scott Mabrey who is now, with you, on the guitar. How did you recruit him?
Scott Mabrey is an all-around professional. Engineer, producer, songwriter, musician, mechanic, bounty hunter. Yes, bounty hunter. Used to be one anyway.
We have worked with Scott for years, and he became the band's front-of-house engineer back in 2002. When the guitar position came open, he truly was the first choice. He knew the show backwards and forwards, and he was already touring with us. He comes from more of a metal background like myself, only more so. It was a challenge for him at first to do southern rock, as he had never played it in a band before, but he took to it like a duck to water.
He's really sharp onstage, and picks his ass off.
We wouldn't have been surprised that after Dave and Duane, Steve Holland the third "pistolero" of Molly Hatchet plays for the Southern Rock Allstars, didn't you ask him?
We certainly considered him. We have worked with Steve a lot over the years, and he still comes out and plays with us from time to time, but sadly, like Danny Joe Brown, Steve has suffered strokes in the last ten years himself, and it would really be tough for him to hit the road as hard as we do.
And Tom Crain, Charlie Hargrett or Mike Estes, who are your usual guests, didn't you ask them? Or maybe did you ask it them and they didn't want?
All three of them were involved with their own projects at the time, and most likely could not have become involved in a full time capacity. We did not ask any of them, but it was not because they didn't enter our thoughts. Scott was our first, best bet and like I said, he was already on the road with us full time.
I know in no way Scott, can you present him to us?
He's a lot like Jakson, Too much like Jakson.
They are probably twin brothers by different mothers. It's bizarre.
Scott is a maniac. Do not approach him if he has his ping pong paddle with him.
I gave him that paddle because I felt he was more warped than I was and that he was the best person to take on the mantle of King of the Ping Pong Paddles, so I abdicated and became Minister of Duct Tape and Field Marshal of Raw Dogs.
Scott Mabry: Spankmeister.
One of the finest yet sickest human beings I have ever met.
What a description! It's rather eccentric!
Sometimes I amaze even myself! I think Han Solo first said that in "Star Wars"...
Do you share the guitar parts in the same way as you shared it with Dave and Duane?
Not quite. When Dave was in the band, I played Duane's parts on the Hatchet stuff.
When Duane joined I switched over and played Dave's parts, so now Scott does Duane.
Ewwwwww, that's a scary statement!
All comedy aside, Scott and I do share the lead parts.
Your new disc is entitled "Trouble's Comin'" and the cover is with tornados in the background. Is it in connection with the recent meteorological events in Florida?
No, that's just a coincidence. Jakson came up with the cover concept several years ago. But it is uncanny that life imitated art in that way, huh?
You're nice with us with this disc: about 2 hours 15 of concert and 26 tracks. Is it the length of your shows?
Yes, our shows usually run 2 hours in length.
The disc is a compilation of five Shows. Can you tell us the exact dates of recording?
The actual dates escape me, but the recordings are from Orlando Florida in 1999, Wheeling West Virginia in 2000, Mt Clemons Michigan in 2001, Edgewood Maryland in 2002 and two shows in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, one in 2001 and one in 2003.
The majority of the CD is taken from the Edgewood, Maryland show at this really cool place called Club 66.
which type of places was it recorded?
Three nightclubs, two auditoriums and one really nice old theatre.
Do you tour everywhere in the USA?
Pretty much, yes. All over the country.
In others country too?
We did the Sweden Rock Festival a few years ago, and we've done shows in Mexico as well.
On the CD, is everything live or were some things added or modified in studio?
Mostly I just got a really good blend, very few modifications were made.
We did change some amp sounds with the Line Six Pro Pod, but it did not involve re-cutting.
I had to re-sing one line in "Tough Situation" where I had forgotten the words! Pretty bad when the guy who WROTE the words forgets them, huh?
I think I said something really stupid, but whatever the case, I do admit to fixing ONE of my vocals. We did fix an out of tune guitar here and there, particularly Dave's! Ha!
He has a tendency bend it out of tune some. It's all the energy he puts into it. Jimmy Farrar always referred to Dave's style of playing as "cat strangling". Good old Dave. Dave was out of the band when I started mixing the album, so getting him back in the studio to fix his parts was not cost-effective. I preferred to use his live track, so I ran the tweaky solos through a pro tools auto tuner, which is normally used for fine-tuning vocals. It worked, so now I think miracles can truly happen. Fine tuned cat strangling! Glory be! I did have to redo one of Mike Estes' parts as his amp was screwing up and making funky noises at one show, but very little tweaking overall. I also decided early on that this album would not be heavy on outboard effects like digital delay and reverb. We did use a lot of compressor/limiters, but we played down the effects in favor of the actual room sounds.
Are you the only one in the band involved in this production work?
I probably have the most production experience, but Charles Hart has more professional recording studio experiences of any of us. He worked as audio engineer on over 80 CDs in the last 5 years, all for Malaco Records here in the states.
Scott is also an experienced producer and engineer, so our combined efforts really make things happen in the studio. I encourage all the band members to voice their ideas, but someone's got to be the coordinator, the one with the "final say" as it were. That job falls to myself and Jakson.
Did you learn all that with your father?
I certainly learned a lot about production just being around my dad. He was to be the co-producer with myself and Charles on the RADIO TOKYO debut CD back in 1992, but he walked in and saw how we were doing things and immediately threw up his hands and said, "Hell, you guys are already doing everything that I would do! Call me in when you're finished and I'll critique the mix."
He and I co-produced a country CD on my grandfather Ray Johnson in 1998. I mean AUTHENTIC country music from the 1930's and 40's. Great stuff.
Do you realize production for others bands?
I've done several projects in the past two years, mostly mixing and mastering, but my time is limited due to Southern Rock Allstars touring schedule.
The fact that you play Blackfoot, Molly Hatchet and Lynyrd Skynyrd, does allow you to attract important audiences?
There's no way we could go out and refuse to play the old material, even though sometimes we would like to do only the new stuff. The fans expect it, so we give them what they want.
On the booklet, we can read that the Southern Rock Allstars consists of you, Jakson Spires, Charles Hart, Jimmy Farrar and Scott Mabry. It's the current lineup but in fact, depending to the tracks of the disc, we can listen to the various previous lineups of the Southern Rock Allstars, no?
Yes, absolutely. All the Southern Rock Allstars lineups are represented.
On the booklet, the various solos are credited but, would not it have been interesting to give for every title all the musicians playing on it?
God, that would take up a lot of space in a booklet. Just gimme a shout and I'll tell you who did what. On most of the tracks there are three guitarists playing, so mostly I tried to credit the soloists to keep it simple and conserve space in the booklet.
For example, on "Morning Dew", you are credited on the keyboard but then who holds the guitar?
Dave Hlubek played guitar on that track.
Jimmy Farrar is singing on all the Molly Hatchet's song and on the Lynyrd Skynyrd's tracks ("I Know A Little" and "Call Me The Breeze") it seems to me that Mike Estes sings. Is it you who sings all the songs written by the Southern Rock Allstars or coming from Blackfoot?
Yes, on this album I sing all the Southern Rock Allstars originals and all the Blackfoot material.
It's natural that Jimmy Farrar sings the vocal parts on the Molly Hatchet's songs but I would have liked to listen what it could give Jimmy Farrar singing some Blackfoot's songs or even Lynyrd Skynyrd's songs. Didn't you want to try?
As to the Skynyrd stuff, we tend to let Jimmy sing that for the most part, but whenever Mike is around he sings the Skynyrd stuff. I just tend to have the vocal style that fits the Blackfoot stuff, or we think so anyway, but Jimmy does actually do Blackfoot tunes like "Fox Chase" and "On the Run" and he does great on them. Too bad they are not on the live CD.
Who chooses the set-list of the shows?
If my arithmetic is correct, there are on this disc three songs of your first album and as much of the second, the twenty others being covers while your discs in studio are exempt from it. Why this difference?
This CD is meant as a reflection of our live shows, so what you hear on that CD is what you get at a Southern Rock Allstars show, period.
"The Hill" who appears as well on this live as on "Danger Road" is co-written by Billy and Tommy Crain. Did they write it specially for you?
Back in 1994 I toured as a front-of-house engineer for BIG SIR, a band in which Billy and Tommy were in at the time. The band was absolutely fantastic. It's a shame that it only lasted a few months. They did mostly original music, and all of the songs were smash hits in my opinion. One of the songs was "The Hill", and I loved that song. I wanted to use it ever since, but I never asked Tommy about it until he joined us at an Southern Rock Allstars show in Ohio. I told him I wanted Southern Rock Allstars to record it, and he nearly jumped for joy, saying that he thought the song was tailor made for us and could possibly be a signature for us. He was right. That song is magical.
What kind of musical style did Big Sir play?
Very country-rock, southern rock stuff. Much like Poco, only more powerful.
Did Big Sir record anything?
They had a demo tape that was fantastic, but nothing was ever released. GREAT band. They had a song called "Train Wreck" which featured twin slide guitar solos from the brothers Crain. Unbelievable stuff.
Do you know what they became?
Both Tommy and Billy live in Nashville, TN, just two hours north of my house.
Tommy still does shows with us here and there.
Are they always both in the musical business?
The last I heard of them they were both still active in the business. Billy is a much sought-after songwriter in Nashville.
Concerning the songs you write, you the Southern Rock Allstars, what is their subject?
Most of my songs come from personal experience, although my writings in the Radio Tokyo band were more adventurous, fantasy type themes.
The song "Tough Situation" is about Dave Hlubek. He had five different girlfriends at one time and had just been caught by ALL OF THEM. They all got on the phone with each other and laid a trap for him, which he fell into with a thud.
He was so freaked out and mad at the same time, he said that he was going to write a song about his troubles and call it Tough Situation. I thought the idea was great, but I knew that Dave was so lazy that he would never go through with writing it. He's written virtually nothing since he left Hatchet, other than the guitar riff from "Stump Jumpin" which was also on the Danger Road CD. Anyway, I knew he would never start on it, so I went home and wrote the song in about twenty minutes. Dave was pissed!
Dave demanded that he be allowed to write at least one verse, so I gave him the last verse and told him to have at it. He came back all miserable and said he could not come up with anything so he handed the final verse off to Jakson. Poor guy. I feel so bad...
It just pays to be monogamous, for some folks anyway!
In 2002, you announced to us the coming of this live disc but also a video. Is it always scheduled?
The video is still being considered, but it's being shelved at the moment.
I'm considering doing a retrospective Southern Rock Allstars video movie, one that, like the live CD will chronicle the evolution of the band and include all the past and present members.
Are you working on a new studio disc?
Yes, we are planning another studio disc. Jakson, Jimmy and Scott each have finished songs that we plan to start adding to the sets this coming year.
When shall we see you in Europe?
Whenever some adventurous European promoter decides to bring us over, we'll be there. Do you know any? If so tell them to get off their butts and book us in Europe!
What are the Southern Rock Allstars projects at short or long term?
Oh it will be long term. We're not going to stop anytime soon.
Other than a new studio CD, we just play to tour, tour, tour.
Bringing the madness to a town near you.
How many shows do you play each year?
We average 150 shows a year.
Personally, are you leading solo projects in parallel of the Southern Rock Allstars?
We all do projects on the side. Jakson is currently working on a Blackfoot Reunion tour.
What are your projects on your side?
I'm probably going to break down and release some old Radio Tokyo material that I've had stashed away for many years now. I just got finished doing engineering and guitar work on a CD by Danica, an artist from Los Angeles, California.
Could you to give us more information onto the Blackfoot's reformation?
I know that they are actually going to do some dates, the band is original with the exception of Bobby Barth, who is replacing Rickey Medlocke. I hope they do well--I for one would like to do some shows with them. Southern Rock Allstars and Blackfoot together would be cool.
Are not you afraid that Jakson leaves the Southern Rock Allstars if the Blackfoot's reformation is a success?
Jakson has already gone on record many times saying that he would not leave Southern Rock Allstars, so no worries from me.
Do you see you continuing for a long time the Southern Rock Allstars experience or do you think to do other things later?
I see the Allstars continuing for as long as we can stand each other, which I would imagine could be a long time! Regardless of the situation, we are all players first, and I do not see any of us giving up the music, ever.
I wanted to talk about others musical projects. Don't you intend later to move on to others musical experiences than the Southern Rock Allstars?
Well, my work ethic is sort of like that of the oldest profession. "You pay, I play". So I certainly intend to perform with anyone and everyone, and keep on doing what I do best, although I have not figured out what that is yet...
Your e-mail, it's "radioTokyo@...", does it mean that this group still has for you more importance than the Southern Rock Allstars?
Oh no. That's been my email since 1994. Southern Rock Allstars is my first commitment. Southern Rock Allstars is the now, Radio Tokyo and the Rossington Band are the past, and that's that.
Are you still in touch with Gary Rossington?
I have not spoken with Gary in quite some time, but I did speak to Dale just after his surgery last year. He's still hanging in there with Lynyrd Skynyrd and doing his thing.
Yesterday I was just listening to the CD version of Rossington Band that has bonus tracks. Are they another unreleased tracks (from the recording sessions of this disc or from others sessions) being asleep somewhere?
There are a few unreleased tracks from that time, four or five I think. One is a tune called "Rock On America" which provided the lyrical base for the tune "Rock On" that ultimately appeared on the Love Your Man CD.
I have a version of "Say it From the Heart" from that CD which was recorded with the original Rossington band, with Derek Hess on drums.
That was recorded two years prior to the LYM CD sessions.
Also there were two duets featuring the original keyboardist Gary Ross singing lead with Dale Krantz-Rossington. Very pop-rock sort of tunes, somewhat like Journey. I always thought it was odd that we had a Gary Ross and a Gary Rossington in the same group. I have all the master tapes from those sessions and many alternate mixes.
We learnt that Pete Geddes, the original bass player of the Southern Rock Allstars committed suicide on June 29th of this year. Do you know the reasons of his suicide and can you speak to us a little about Pete?
I believe that the authorities in Florida are still investigating Pete's death. No one in the Southern Rock Allstars band had seen or heard from him since 2001, when we played a show in Sturgis, South Dakota. Pete was in a Creedence Clearwater tribute band at the time, and his band opened the show for us. We had a great time hanging out with him at that show. Our consultant Lester Shelley had received a phone call from Pete about a month before his death, and it seemed that Pete was in good spirits at the time, so I cannot imagine why he would want to take his own life. Pete was a really nice guy. He loved to joke with Dave Hlubek. Once he filled Dave's boots with shaving cream. A fun fellow.
To finish , I would like as often to ask you for two things, the first one being to know what are your favorites Southern rock albums.
Wow, there are so many. I prefer the early Blackfoot records over anything else, honestly.
Any of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd stuff. Not that I dislike their new material, but there is nothing like the original band to me.
Finally, you, on the spot, do you see little-known but worth young artists or Southern rock artists on whom we would have to turn our attention?
I do see many up and coming artists. Southern Rock is indeed alive and well, though the popular media mostly ignores it these days. Dallas Moore is a prime example of unsigned talent. So is Devon Chance, a 16-year old southern rocker from the Midwest who plays shows with us when we're in the Kansas and Arkansas areas. Many new artists are out there, it's just that it's tough to break a new southern rock band here in the US. Until hip hop and rap die, we're screwed. God speed the day that good rock music is in fashion again.
Did Dallas Moore and Devon Chance record some disc?
I don't know about Devon, but Dallas has several CDs out. I think you can get them at www.gritz.net
Thank you Jay.
Southern Rock Allstars - Family tree
(Photos : Meg Gegges except disc covers and Pete Gegges picture: CD booklet of "Trouble's Comin'- Live")