Who Do We Think We Are? Part One

Danny Joe Brown left Molly Hatchet twice. Both times were due to health issues. His first exit took place in 1979, but he returned just a few years after. During his second stint with the band, Brown would watch every other member of the original line-up exit, and then some… Everyone who had written and played on hit albums like the self-titled debut, 2nd LP ‘Flirtin’ With Disaster’ and 3rd successful record in a row, ‘Beatin’ the Odds’, would leave the band during Brown’s 2nd stint as lead vocalist. Brown was indeed the last man standing. But when Brown suffered a stroke in ’96, his permanent exit marked the end of Molly Hatchet. Forever.

No it didn’t. The remaining members of ‘Molly Hatchet’ replaced Brown with Phil McCormack, and continued on, with ZERO original members; NONE of the musicians who wrote or recorded the material that made the band’s name remained. This was a band made up of replacements of replacements. This bogus Molly Hatchet toured relentlessly, and released four albums under the ‘Molly Hatchet’ banner between 1996 and 2005, Including a ‘Best Of/Re-recorded’, which amounts to a Molly Hatchet album of Molly Hatchet covers. But… seriously, was this band really Molly Hatchet?

Legally, yes. Hatchet guitarist Bobby Ingram, who joined the band in 1986 replacing original guitarist Dave Hlubeck, purchased temporary rights to the Molly Hatchet trademark from the band’s manager after Brown’s departure, so this bunch of stunt-doubles was now legally doing business as ‘Molly Hatchet’. But ‘legally’ only means no one could dispute their use of the trademark; that it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

During that almost ten year period between ’96 and ’05 (when Hlubeck returned to the fold on a ‘limited basis’), ‘Molly Hatchet’ operated in a very strange area; a twilight zone of quasi-legitimacy somewhere between ‘Multi-Platinum Recording Artists Molly Hatchet’ and every cover band playing ‘Flirtin’ With Disaster’ at the bar down the street. Legal ownership of a band’s name alone doesn’t make the band ‘legit’. But does a certain percentage of ‘original members’ guarantee ‘legitimacy’? What makes Molly Hatchet Molly Hatchet?

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Foreigner founder Mick Jones has had serious health issues of his own to deal with over the last decade, and since 2011 has replaced himself with guitarist Bruce Watson on occasions where he was unable to travel, play or otherwise fulfill commitments to live work. Therefore, on some nights, you might catch Foreigner, helmed by sole remaining original member Mick Jones; on others you may get ‘Foreigner’, a band consisting entirely of replacement musicians, none of whom performed on the original versions of any of songs in the band’s live repertoire.

On the nights when Jones is too ill to perform, is it still Foreigner? Or is it a Foreigner tribute band? No matter how remarkably life-like this band sounds, can they really present themselves to paying customers as Foreigner? No less than THIRTY FOUR musicians are listed on the band’s Wikipedia page as being either ‘Former Members’ or ‘Touring Musicians’. Bruce Watson is listed under ‘Current Members’, but the entry parenthetically states ‘(filling in for Jones)’. So he’s an ‘official member’ of Foreigner, but only when Jones isn’t playing. Hey, it’s a living.

Mick Jones is now 74 years old; what happens when he decides to call it a day? Will Foreigner continue without him, as Molly Hatchet did? Jones is perfectly happy to let Foreigner operate as Foreigner without him performing with the group, so why not just ‘keep the band alive’ and let them continue working the nostalgia circuit without him? Jones would presumably continue to make money from the continued band activity, so it would be a win for everyone. Gene & Paul: Are you listening? Foreigner are piloting your retirement plan.

But there’s another way to ‘keep the band alive’ (which really means ‘keep the money flowing’). Last year, southern rock firebrands Blackfoot released their first album in 20 years, entitled “Southern Native”. Or… did they? There are no founding members of the band in its current lineup, in fact no one in this incarnation of Blackfoot was even born when the original Blackfoot formed, or when any of their charting records were released. These dudes were in diapers when the Ken Hensley era began, which is basically when Blackfoot ended. The record itself contains standard-issue hard rock record, nothing special, kinda bland, and most notably, not very ‘southern’-sounding. But… the lead singer has a Mohawk! Sorry. This sure ain’t Blackfoot.

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Bottom line: This band is only Blackfoot because Rick Medlocke says it is. The ‘foot mainstay ‘put the band together’, although more likely he simply found a young, capable hard rock band, and signed them to a production deal, with the stipulation that they change their name to Blackfoot. The band’s ‘official’ website states that Medlocke joins the band onstage for ‘certain concerts’. Whoop de-do. C’mon, Ricky, give us a break. Shorty Medlocke must be spinning in his grave.

What’s the difference between the 2017 version of Foreigner and Foreigner tribute band Cold As Ice? Not much… other than the ticket prices, that is. Foreigner’s 2017 US tour is asking $75-$200 a head, and it’s a crap shoot as to whether Jones will even appear. You can catch ‘Cold As Ice’ for six bucks at the door… and who gives a shit who’s on stage as long as they sound decent?

It’s all about audience expectations; if everyone who buys a ticket is aware that they are shelling out their dough for a band consisting of nothing more than hired hands and sidemen, then fair enough. Enjoy the show. If not, that’s something close to fraud, is it not? Shouldn’t there be some required standard of disclosure? An asterisk next to the band’s logo in every concert listing, poster or banner ad denoting the ‘authenticity level’ of the act, like *100% Certified Hack-Free or *Contains 20% Ratt.

Do your research! Your favorite band might be just a brand. Sometimes the jukebox in the corner offers you more authenticity than the band on the stage… Buyer beware. As P.T Barnum kinda sorta said: There’s a rocker born every minute

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Epic Fail

His track record is unassailable: He’s earned 23 Gold & Platinum albums. As A&R for Epic records in the 70’s, he signed Cheap Trick, Molly Hatchet, Ted Nugent, Boston, and REO Speedwagon. As a producer for Epic Records from 1970-1982, he produced career-making records by all of the iconic rockers mentioned above. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you own an album with his name on it. “Heaven Tonight”, anyone? “Cat Scratch Fever”? “Boston”? Maybe some of his 80’s work… Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry”? Dokken’s “Tooth and Nail”? Motley Crue’s “Theatre of Pain”?

Tom Werman practically produced the soundtrack to my teens.

Werman brought Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Rush to CBS, and was turned down in all three cases. Tell me, did this guy not OWN hard rock in the mid 70’s?

Most of the bands Werman worked with had their biggest albums with him; their commercial breakthroughs. Most bands he worked with stayed with him for a number of albums before changing producers. Motley Crue and Cheap Trick each did three records with Werman; Molly Hatchet 5, Nugent 6. And… most bands began their commercial decline after moving on to work with other producers.

Tom Werman’s job was, as he described it, to ‘get bands on the radio’. ‘Cat Scratch Fever’. ‘Surrender’. ‘Flirtin’ with Disaster’… I’ll bet you first heard these songs on the radio. And they are still played on the radio today, 35 years later. Is there any question as to how well this guy did his job?

Yes.

A few years back it somehow became fashionable to dump on Tom Werman. Musicians he had worked with 2 or 3 decades previous were suddenly complaining that the records they made with him were too safe, too commercial, ‘not an accurate representation of our sound’. Why these established rock stars feel the need to look back on their most successful period and complain about the records that established their careers, ‘blaming’ Werman for their biggest hits, is just plain bizarre.

The most infamous instance was probably the war of words between Werman and Nikki Sixx (feel so silly typing that name). Sixx (tee hee) wrote a book about what a super-cool guy he is and how heroin is bad but it’s also very rock ‘n roll, so hey, that’s what decadent rock stars do, dude. In this book, in between blaming his girlfriend for every drug relapse and blaming every drug relapse on his girlfriend, ‘ol Nikk talks trash about Werman, accusing him of spending more time on the phone than producing the Crue’s record. Super-hero Nikki than had to assume control and see the album through. Riiiiight. Werman felt the need to defend himself, and wrote an op/ed piece for the New York Times refuting Sixx’s story and pointing out the inherent absurdities in the version of events as described by Nikki. This, in turn, prompted Nikki to post a response on blabbermouth.com, in which he threatened to ‘out’ Werman to his wife for the partying he allegedly did during the recording of the album. What a douche. Werman responded again. The whole sad saga is encapsulated here:

http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/producer-tom-werman-fires-back-at-nikki-sixx/

Dee Snider played the same game while promoting Twisted Sister’s re-recording of their triple-platinum “Stay Hungry”, titled “Still Hungry”. Besides his production credit, Werman is also credited as ‘co-arranger’ on “Stay Hungry”, and it’s widely known that he reworked some of the songs to make them more commercial. Based on the results, I’d say he was successful. But not Dee. Snider claims that Werman had nothing to do with the success of “Stay Hungry”, that his work on the record came close to ‘ruining’ it, and that he didn’t want ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and I Wanna Rock’ to be on the record… Really, Dee? This is the guy who gets hard rock bands on the radio. The guy who’s number one priority is making sure there’s a single on the record. He didn’t think those 2 tunes were viable? Sounds like somebody’s trying to spark some controversy to sell their new album (which ultimately sold about 30,00 units, just a tad short of triple platinum). Snider goes on to claim that working with Werman was the reason that Twisted Sister’s next album (produced by Dieter Dierks) completely sucked, as poor Dee was too busy fighting against bad ol’ Tom Werman’s commercial considerations while recording “Stay Hungry” to write decent songs for the follow-up record. Really. Dee Snider’s take on Werman and “Stay Hungry” can be found here:

http://www.bullz-eye.com/music/interviews/2009/dee_snider.htm

Cheap Trick, who Werman continues to speak very highly of, have stated publicly that they were displeased with the sound of their Werman-produced records– but only started talking about it after about 25 years. Interesting that they did their 3rd and 4th lps with Werman, as well… Like Twisted Sister, they too, re-recorded one of their ‘Werman Era’ albums, “In Color”, with infamous indie producer Steve Albini; however, they have never released the record. I’ve heard it; it’s a lot more live-sounding than Werman’s recording, a lot more raw, much like CT’s first album, and maybe a lot closer to what the band were hoping for sonically back in 1977. But is it a better record than Werman’s? No. If the Albini version of “In Color” were released in ’77 as Cheap Trick’s second album, things would have been very different for this band. The Albini “In Color” leaked onto the internet years ago and is fairly easy to obtain. Just not here.

What we have here is the classic battle of art vs. commerce, with musicians on the ‘art’ side and record producers representing ‘commerce’. While Werman undoubtedly steered these bands in a more commercial direction than they were comfortable with, no one can argue that he didn’t do his job (‘getting bands on the radio’) exceedingly well. And perhaps these musicians need to take a moment, as they look back on their 30-year careers, and ask themselves if they’d even have 30-year careers to look back on if they hadn’t had the good fortune to work with Tom Werman… Would they really trade the gold and platinum albums and the hit singles that were the foundation of their success, assured their longevity and cemented their iconic status for generations to come, for complete creative control over their records, commercial success be damned?      

Tom Werman’s track record speaks for itself. However, if you want to read Werman’s story as told by Werman, he writes a regular column at popdose.com where he relates his experiences recording some of the greatest records by the greatest rock bands of all time, before they went all douche-y. I highly recommend that you read his stuff here:

http://popdose.com/the-producers-tom-werman-chapter-one/

Werman now owns and runs a bed & breakfast out in Lenox, MA, called Stonover Farm. He once posted his personal email on popdose, but has since changed it to an unpublished address (he can, however, be contacted through the Stover Farm site). If you email him, he will likely answer. I highly recommend that you do so. Thank him for all the great music. I did.