Still Beatin’ the Odds
An Exclusive Interview with
Danny Joe Brown
by Michael Buffalo Smith
When you talk about Southern Rock legends, one of the names that will always come up will be Danny Joe Brown, the founding lead singer for those bad boys of Southern Rock known as Molly Hatchet. Danny, whose rapidly declining health including a stroke, chronic diabetes and pancreatic problems have taken him off the road, spoke with GRITZ about his days with Hatchet, good friends and the “old Hatchet vs.new” controversy.
The very first thing I wanted to ask you is how are you feeling?
I’m out of the hospital, I’m feeling okay. I’m doing much better than I have been doing lately. I had a big Thanksgiving. My son came down from Jacksonville and spent the weekend with me. I have a one room condo down here. But it was kind of tough on me. I was in the hospital the day before he got here having a stent replaced in my pancreas. It’ll be good for another three months. I have to have one replaced every 8-12 weeks.
Well, as I am sure you are already aware, the fans are really thinking about you and keeping you in their prayers.
I want to thank everybody for their prayers because I think that’s the only thing keeping me alive. I believe that with all my heart.
I was glad Riff left the part on the CD where you made a public profession of faith in Jesus. Do you consider yourself a Christian?
I am not a Christian, but I do believe in Christ and I thank him for all the time he has given me, especially this time, to express that fact.
I know by now you have heard the “Jammin’ for DJB” album. I just wondered what you thought of it?
Riff sent me ten copies of it. I tell you what, I really thought it was great. The guys did a great job on that. I want to thank Riff (West) especially for the work he did on it. He was a trooper on that whole thing and I don’t think it was a monetary thing. I think Riff did it out of the goodness of his heart. There was a time a few years back when Riff’s mom got really sick. He came to me and he was real scared, scared for his mama. And we prayed together. I know it’s kind of a funny thing for a couple of guys in Hatchet to fall down on their knees. But we did. And damned if she didn’t get better. I think he’s always respected me for that.
I understand that you have a good relationship with Riff’s mom nowadays.
Yeah, I do. I spoke with her about a week or two ago when Riff went up to see her. When he found out she has cancer. I told her it was music to my ears to hear her voice.
That’s very kind.
Well, she’s a good girl.
Going back to the Jammin’ for Danny Joe event. What went through your mind as you got back on that stage to sing “Flirtin’ with Disaster?”
Oh, man. I couldn’t believe everybody was there. And the place was so full, nobody could get in. It was wall to wall. And I’d just gotten out of the hospital. I couldn’t walk. I had to be led up on the stage, really. But my brother was there, and my nephew, and they helped me get up there on my stool. I did the best I could. It wasn’t good enough, but I did the best I could. It was fun.
Who would you say influenced you the most in the beginning and made you want to be a singer?
I guess Elvis Presley, Phil Everly, Paul Rodgers. Those are just some of the guys that were influences on me.
I know you were in a band early on with Bobby Ingram called Rum Creek. Did you have any other bands prior to Molly Hatchet?
There was a band called What.
Yep, that’s what it was. (laughs) That’s what we named it. That was me and a couple of other boys out of Jacksonville. And then there was Molly Hatchet, which was starting up. Actually, they were already going and the guys in the What band were getting married and going off to college, so I said I’ve got to go.
You wanted to go on the road?
I had to. There wasn’t no making a living in Jacksonville. So, I joined Molly Hatchet. Actually, I went out to audition for them one night and did three Lynyrd Skynyrd songs and got hired.
Is it true Ronnie Van Zant had planned to produce the band?
Yep, he was going to produce the first album. As a matter of fact, Johnny (Van Zant) called me last night. He was at a restaurant where my wife works. We haven’t been together in about eight years or something like that. But, she was at the restaurant, and talking to Johnny and she said, "Why don’t I call Danny?" And he said "I’d love to talk to him." And Leon (Wilkeson) wanted my number so we talked for a few minutes. They sounded good.
Were you friends with Ronnie Van Zant?
Well, I knew Ronnie. The first time I ever met Ronnie I nearly got into a fight with him.
I have heard that he was a fighter.
He was a helluva fighter. Not just a fighter, but a helluva fighter. That boy could whip some ass. (laughs) I drank a couple of tall-boys and got into a fight. My best friend actually fought him. I picked up Gary Rossington and put him up on the stage so he didn’t get into it. But Pee Wee, my friend got into a fight with Ronnie and they duked it out on the dance floor. It was at a church dance, believe it or not. (laughs) St. Andrew’s church dance in Jacksonville.
A perfect place for a fight.
Wasn’t it? After two tall-boys at the age of 14. It was.
I was reading the history of the band and it said that by 1979 you guys were playing 250 shows a year. How did you do that and maintain your sanity?
Who maintained their sanity? (laughs) I think that was the beginning of the end right there. The new album was to me the best we ever sounded. But we were running like dogs. Like greyhounds.
Describe for us your feelings about the members in your original band.
Oh, my God. (pause) Well, I had three guitar players who were absolutely and totally different in sound. And I don’t think anybody could drive a set of drums harder than Bruce Crump. And it took Steve Holland leaving before John Galvin came in. John was the best keyboard player that I’ve ever worked with. Ever. And I’ve worked with all of them as far as Southern keyboard players go. He’s the best I’ve ever heard. And when I left Molly Hatchet because of my diabetes and my pancreas and all that crap, John sent me a tape from Detroit and told me if I ever decided to do something else to please consider him. He sent me a tape that was gospel and country. That’s what made me decide to put back together a band. And I knew immediately that Bobby (Ingram) was going to be my lead guitar player. Besides John being the best keyboard player I ever worked with, Bobby was the best guitar player I ever worked with. I felt he was the best and I still do, to this day.
After you did the Danny Joe Brown Band thing how did you come to rejoin Hatchet?
Well, it was one of those things where they came out with Beatin’ the Odds and I came out with my solo thing and their album sales fell off. I mean just dropped off. We were a platinum act before that. But when my solo album came out I didn’t do but a couple of hundred thousand records. And they dropped off from platinum back down to gold. And it took them a long time to get back up to platinum. And they realized we weren’t going anywhere separated. The company didn’t push my record and they didn’t back Hatchet. And I remember going to the bathroom with the president of the record label. He said, “Danny, you guys have to get back together.” I remember looking over at him and he was in one urinal and I was in the other. (laughs) Anyway, we decided right there in the bathroom that we would get back together. And that’s the truth.
It has to be. You couldn’t make up a story that good.
That’s the fact, Jack. Michael, I couldn’t make this stuff up. (laughs)
What else are you going to talk about while you are peeing?
(Laughs) Right! What else are you going to talk about while you are peeing? Jimmy had to go. He’s a great singer but he’s a helluva looking guy. (laughs) He’s a lovely man and I love him to death. And thank God he was on this album, the “Jammin for DJB” record. He can sing his ass off. I ain’t never heard anybody sing “Mississippi Queen” better in my life. I think I about wore out my tape in that spot because I play it so much.
Well, that is certainly a compliment coming from a singer of your caliber. Now, in 1985 you say Steve Holland left the band and Bobby Ingram came in. Why did Steve leave?
Steve was absolutely insane, that’s why he left. I’ve seen Steve Holland eat corn flakes, pouring beer on them. I love him to death, don’t get me wrong. Ain’t nobody can play “Gator Country” like Steve. Even though Banner Thomas wrote it. Banner had a dream one night on the bus and came out of his bunk one morning with that written down on paper. I couldn’t believe it. How did he do that. I don’t know.
We may never know. It’s an eternal mystery.
An eternal mystery. (laughs) Like the “X-Files.”
Hey, don’t talk about my favorite TV show!
It’s mine too, man! I love it. I was just watching it last night.
Is it true that you chose Phil McCormack to be your successor in Molly Hatchet?
Yes, I did. Phil is a good guy. I suggested Phil and I endorse Phil.
Danny, there has been so much controversy on the internet regarding the current band and the original one. What are your feelings on the current Molly Hatchet?
Well, I don’t know the current Molly Hatchet. I don’t know who’s playing.
I don’t know the names of all of the band members, except for Bobby and Phil.
Bobby and Phil are fine. As long as they keep John Galvin on the stage they’ll be in the clear. But Mack Crawford is real good. I’m not sure he’s still with them. He’s played with everybody. He’s one of the best drummers I’ve ever worked with. As for the band being called Molly Hatchet. Bobby doesn’t have any right to that name at all. The only right Bobby has to the name Molly Hatchet is the right I gave him. That’s all he’s got. I think he should call it The Bobby Ingram Band. Damn sure ain’t Molly Hatchet. And you can underline "damn."
What do you think about other bands like The Southern Rock Allstars playing the old Hatchet tunes?
Well, Dave Hlubek is Molly Hatchet. Dave Hlubek started Molly Hatchet. He could be Molly Hatchet if he wants to be. But Bobby Ingram didn’t start Molly Hatchet so he can’t be Molly Hatchet. He was brought in by me and that’s all Bobby will ever be. I hate that but that’s the truth. You know, since I’ve left the group, Bobby has never sent me a get well card or anything. Not a phone call or anything to say he hoped I would get better. Nothing. He just sent me a paper that said he was taking the name and stuff.
What would you say have been some of the high points in your career?
Selling out The Spectrum in Philadelphia twice in one week. Selling out Madison Square Garden. Playing with The Who in front of 180,000 people. Playing straight across from where Hitler stood. And being on tour with The Outlaws. That was one of the greatest tours I ever had. For me, anyway. I don’t know what everybody else thinks.
Did you guys ever tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Well, Skynyrd was always scared of us. We always tried to tour with them but they didn’t want to. It would have been fun. But they would have had their ass handed to ‘em back then. We tried to get ‘em but they got away from us.
What message would you like to give your fans on the internet?
Just tell them to keep me in their prayers. And keep Riff and Riff’s mama in their prayers. And keep Southern Rock alive as long as they can. And thanks for all of their help. I love ‘em all.
An extra-special thanks goes out to Riff West for setting me up with Danny Joe.
Danny Joe Brown passed away on March 10, 2005.