JUST AS WET AS EVER
WET WILLIE FRONTMAN JIMMY HALL
by Michael Buffalo Smith
When the stage is his, Jimmy Hall, the dynamic, Mobile, Alabama -born singer transforms himself into one righteous medium who melds the blues, rock and R&B into a steaming exorcism that can cleanse any listener’s soul.
Among the many highlights in Hall’s career were touring with acts such as Aerosmith, The Allman Brothers Band, Grand Funk Railroad and The Grateful Dead.
His Grammy nomination for Best Male Rock Vocalist, as a featured performer on Jeff Beck's Flash album, is an honor he still considers a personal best.
Hall's fruitful career began with the birth of Wet Willie and has been a non-stop musical joyride since their move from Mobile to Macon in 1970 to record for Capricorn. The birth of the band and the potency of the time are forever etched in Hall's mind.
After the demise of Wet Willie, Hall moved to Nashville to work with producer Norbert Putnam on a solo project with Epic. Putnam had played on Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On," and the pair hit it off immediately. Putnam's salesmanship brought Hall to Music City for good.
His new home became the birthplace for other lives - Jimmy Hall & The Prisoners of Love; a still-continuing gig as rogue country star Hank Williams, Jr.'s band director; and the occasional reunion of Wet Willie.
Now, with his renewed relationship with Phil Walden and Capricorn, Hall is able to revisit some old friends and places with a whole new world of experience behind him.
What’s your take on the seventies, and your time as lead singer of Wet Willie?
I wouldn't take any amount of money for the time in which I was born, and the time in which I grew up. I wouldn't take anything for the situation I was in. Doing what we did - rocking in the '70s - it was the best of all worlds. It was like being indestructible. I was in a rock band, we had records and we were on the road playing with everyone we'd ever idolized. How can you beat that?
How does it feel to be a part of the reformed Capricorn family?
I just looked at a video from the early '70s - ‘Saturday Night In Macon’ - it was a Don Kirshner production. Hall says thoughtfully. Those days mean a lot. But, now I feel I've stepped up to another level as a performer, and have remained true to what was driving me all along. Being back with Capricorn is the best. For Phil and I to wind up working together after all these years is great.
I just spoke to David Goldflies, and he was telling be about a supergroup ya’ll had for a while Betts, Hall, Leavell & Trucks, with Dickey, yourself, Chuck, and Butch. Too bad you guys didn’t record.
(Laughs) I know! My son pulls out the Dreams album, (The Allman Brothers box set) and he says, “Dad what ever happened to this band?” I had a friend up in New York the other day who asked if I had any board tapes pf BHLT, anything. It was amazing, with that lineup, and playing for two years, we never recorded anything. Nothing. I think there’s a tape somewhere from Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam, and a couple of demos floating around. That’s about it. It’s pretty rare.
I was just watching a video of Saturday Night in Macon Georgia (Don Kirshner's Rock Concert) , myself, with ya’ll, the Marshall Tucker Band and The Allman Brothers Band. When did you first encounter The Allmans?
The first time I saw The Allman Brothers. It was way back. They were playing The Warehouse in New Orleans, opening for Albert King. I was knocked out by their songs, I mean, I had bought the first album. It was their first album that caused Wet Willie to start setting our sites for Macon, and Capricorn. One thing I remember about that night was Berry Oakley. Some good looking girls were standing at the front of the stage, and he made an off the wall comment that would be considered sexist today. He looked at them and said “Forget about hamburger, we’re having steak tonight!” (Laughs) Also when I think about them playing there, that’s where we recorded Drippin’ Wet Live, that was New Year’s Eve, 1973.
I know you’ve been a regular on the current Gregg Allman and Friends Tour. How’s that been for you?
It’s been great. Gregg is in top form, feeling good. And it just keeps getting better and better. We’ve had some good people playing, of course, Jack Pearson, who’s with the Allmans now, and Danny Chauncey from .38 Special, and Mark McGee. We were in Japan in April. We were on the West Coast in February. In November we took a one month tour of the Southeast. We played Athens, Georgia, and Myrtle Beach at the House of Blues. We play “Rendezvous with the Blues” from my solo album, which Gregg also recorded. He’s been great to share th spotlight. We do “Keep On Smilin’,” and I sing with Gregg on “Midnight Rider.” It’s been great.
There’s always so many rumors floating around about Gregg, I was going to ask you how he’s been lately. He’s such a hero of mine.
The bottom line is, he’s been sober for over two years now. He’s very healthy, and his attitude is great. He’s working hard-he inspires all of us.
It’s been documented countless times that you were pretty much responsible for discovering The Marshall Tucker Band. Do you recall the events of that history making night?
We were playing Spartanburg, at the Ruins. We were booked there as the headliner. We didn’t really pay attention to who was opening until we got there. But we sat out front and listened to them. They just knocked us out from the beginning. It was a sound that was totally unique to my ears, and to the other guys in the band as well. It had a lot of the elements that we were into-good Southern music, good rock and roll. But there was so many things that set them apart from the others.
Were you friends with the band?
I was pretty close to Doug. We related on the lead vocalist position that we both had with our bands. I can remember talking with those guys when they recorded their first album. My girlfriend at the time worked at Capricorn, and another friend of ours, Carolyn Harris, was an engineer there. During that first recording, my girlfriend was in the studio a lot with them, and I’d come down too.
What do you remember about working with The Charlie Daniels Band?
I remember first seeing him in Tennessee. (Of course!) I was very impressed. He had elements of both The Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker, and I like that territory. Two drummers, two guitar players. He forged his own way playing country, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues. He’s always been a gentleman and a fine friend. We were managed by the same guy for a while. We toured with him in 1981 and ‘82 with my solo group, and of course, Wet Willie played with him a lot. I’m happy to say we’re still friends, and I want to say that Charlie did a great thing with the Volunteer Jams. I participated in most of those. The last one I participated in was, I think, October a year ago here in town.
So what projects, besides the tour with Gregg, are you involved in at present?
I have my own band called Jimmy Hall and the Prisoners of Love. We’re going on what’s called The Sandy Beaches Cruise. It’s headed up by Delbert McClinton. This will be the fourth or fifth one. It’s a week, and it goes to the Grand Camens, Cosemell and Roitan in the Caribbean. He’s got Asleep at the Wheel, about a dozen acts that rotate. It’s already sold out.
I’m also working on a new solo album for Capricorn. I had one album a couple of years ago, it was produced by Johnny Sandlin. This one is in the song developing stages.
Update: Jimmy is touring with Hank Williams, Jr., also with Deep South, and has appeared recently with Jeff Beck as well as with Chris Hicks.