by Michael Buffalo Smith
The Legends of Southern Rock Series
1969, Jacksonville, Florida: Charlie Hargrett, Rick Medlocke and Greg T. Walker form the band Fresh Garbage, with Ron Sciabarasi on keyboard, playing mostly at The Comic Book Club on Forsyth St. in downtown Jacksonville, and with The One Percent (pre-Skynyrd) at the Sunday afternoon "be-ins" in the local parks.
Ron leaves Fresh Garbage and lead guitarist Jerry Zambito leaves the 3-piece band, Tangerine. A new band is formed, Hammer, with Rick Medlocke on lead vocals, fronting the band; Greg T. Walker on bass and vocal; Jakson Spires from Tangerine on drums and vocal; DeWitt Gibbs, also from Tangerine, on Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes electric piano, and vocal; and Hargrett on lead guitar. The band moves to Gainesville, Florida where they become the house band at the near-legendary "Dub's", a topless bar on the outskirts of town.
The band decided to replace Hargrett with Dennis Holmbeck, the guitarist from one of their earlier bands (The Livin' Ends). Charlie showed up at their gigs at Dub’s on several occasions and always ended up jammning.
Charlie recalls his being asked to rejoin the band. “At about 2:30 in the morning on February 11th, I was awakened by outrageously loud yelling and banging on my front door. When I opened the door, I was gang-tackled by a roaring, drunken horde: Rick, Jakson, Greg T. and DeWitt, welcoming me back into the band with a good pounding. That was one of the best birthday presents I have ever had.”
By 1970 the band had been renamed Blackfoot, and moved to Manhattan. By late summer keyboard player DeWitt Gibbs and roadie Rick Moulton quit the band. Rick Medlocke started playing rhythm guitar full time, and the classic lineup of Blackfoot was born.
In the fall the band leaves the Royal Hotel and move to a house in the country outside of Hackettstown, N.J. for a while before moving in with the band "Yiege" in their house outside of Princeton, N.J.
With no bars to play, and the schools out for the summer, tensions began to run high with two bands in the house. Then one evening, Ronnie Van Zant phoned from Jacksonville, looking for a new drummer for his band the One Percent, now re-named Lynyrd Skynyrd. Medlocke took the job playing drums, and Greg T. signed on as their new bassist. Rick, Jakson, and Greg T. went back to Florida, and Charlie stayed in New Jersey, and Blackfoot was history. At least for the moment.
By 1972 Charlie had been talking to Jakson and Medlocke about playing together again. Rick had left Lynyrd Skynyrd after playing drums on what would become "Skynyrd's First-and Last" album. By the end of November, '72, Blackfoot had re-formed in North Carolina, with Medlocke, Spires, Hargrett, and Lenny Stadler on bass.
In 1973 they had been getting gigs throughout the Southeast opening for bands like Black Oak Arkansas, Edgar and Johnny Winter, and Poco. In the summer Lenny got very sick, and when he finally went to a doctor, x-rays showed a spot on his heart. The doctor looked at some of Lenny's old x-rays and, sure enough, there was the same spot, somehow previously overlooked. Lenny checked into Duke University Hospital for testing and exploratory surgery. His grandfather had told him that he had had a vision that the Lord was going to heal him, and that everything would be fine. Minutes before the surgery was to begin, they took one last set of x-rays to be sure of the exact location of the suspected tumor, and the spot was gone, healed without medical intervention. Subsequent x-rays looked fine.
Lenny quit Blackfoot immediately and gave his life to the Lord. He spent the next few years traveling with gospel group The Sammy Hall Singers. He is now serving as a pastor in the United Methodist Church, with a congregation in Weddington, North Carolina, and is President of John Wesley Creative Ministries, Inc.
The rest of Blackfoot worked on and off at Burlington Industries' Chemical Division in High Point, and a couple of carpet mills, through "PartTime," a temporary manpower agency in Greensboro.
In the fall of 1973 the band called Greg T. Walker in Florida, and he agreed to re-join the group. The original 4-piece band was back together. After a month or so rehearsing in N.C., they moved back to the countryside in Morris County, N.J., where the legal drinking age had been lowered and the club scene had finally opened up. The band did well in the area, and had made a lot of friends, so they decided to stay for a while.
While recording what would later be known as the "First (and Last)" album with Lynyrd Skynyrd at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (in Sheffield, Alabama), Rick and Greg T. had worked with producers/session players Jimmy Johnson and David Hood. Blackfoot sent Jimmy and David a tape and they made the band an offer. if they could get from New Jersey to Alabama and back, they would house the group and produce and record an album on speculation, at no cost to the band, recouping their money only when they got a record deal for Blackfoot.
In 1975 "No Reservations" which was released on Island Records. In December the band moved back to Florida. The cold New Jersey winters were making Rick's fragile health worse.
Blackfoot returned to Muscle Shoals Sound again in 1976 to record "Flying High". Island Records, not having made money on the first album, passed on a second one, so "Flying High" was released on Epic Records later that year. The band was playing a lot more of the major concert venues now, with bands including Peter Frampton (on some of his "Frampton Comes Alive" tour), Gary Wright, Kiss, and Ted Nugent.
By Fall of 1977, the band was once again out of gigs and low on hope, close to breaking up. In hopes of getting new management, they contacted Black Oak Arkansas' manager, Butch Stone. Although not able to take on a new project, he was already representing Ruby Starr. (of "Jim Dandy to the Rescue" backup vocal fame), whose band had just quit, and she had dates booked. Blackfoot arranged to meet Ruby and her road manager, Molly Brumfield, at the Days Inn in Jacksonville.
Charlie remembers. “Ruby showed up laughing, proudly waving a recent copy of Hustler Magazine featuring a fan letter about her with an "up-the-skirt" shot of her on stage, leg raised high, in panty hose, without panties taken from the front row at one of her concerts.
“She was a real ball of fire, about five feet tall with flaming red hair and attitude! She fit right in. We figured this could be a fun gig. Back to Gainesville to rehearse for a few days, and then, off we went.”
October 20th, 1977: “It's several weeks into the tour, and we've been having a good time playing with Ruby,” recalls Hargrett. “We are in a Greenville, North Carolina motel that night, getting ready to leave for the club to play our set, when the news comes on the television: Lynyrd Skynyrd's airplane has crashed; there is no word yet on survivors or the extent of their injuries. We rode to the club in stunned silence, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.”
By the end of January, 1978 Ruby Starr & Blackfoot were fed up with each other. Blackfoot road manager John Vassiliou had quit several weeks earlier, and on January 31st, in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, Ruby said that she, too, had had enough. On the morning of Feb. 1st, they parted ways.
In the summer the band was contacted by Brownsville Station ("Smokin' in the Boys' Room") manager Al Nalli and his partner Jay Frey. Nalli bought the band’s contract from Lou Manganiello.
The band worked up around 20 songs or so, including a strong version of a song called "Train, Train," written by Rickey's grandfather, Shorty Medlock.
"Blackfoot Strikes" was recorded in the basement studio below the Nalli Music Store Annex, 312 S. Ashley St., Ann Arbor, (produced by Al Nalli and engineered by Brownsville Station drummer Henry Weck) and was completed by Jan., 1979, an example of true collaboration, and destined to be the band's most commercially successful effort.
The "Blackfoot Strikes" tour begins in March or April, and goes on continuously through the year. Radio stations all over the country are playing various songs from the album, but they didn't key in on any one particular song until around mid-year, when "Train Train" hit the charts. That's when things really started rolling.
"Tomcattin" is released in 1980 on Atco Records. Blackfoot go back on the road, opening for The Who for their entire Spring tour. "Blackfoot Strikes" is certified "gold", and the band is presented with their first gold albums after a Who show at Toronto's Maple Leaf Garden on May 5th.
1980 brings a U.S. tour with AC/DC followed by their first trip to the U.K., with the Scorpions. In 1981 "Marauder" is released, and on Aug. 22, 1981 they play the Monsters of Rock show at with AC/DC and Whitesnake at Castle Donington Park, in England. Immediately after our set, we go to the local airport to catch our rented private plane and fly to Germany for the Summernight Festival.
Record sales are starting to decline. By now, the relatively new practice of radio stations playing new albums in their entirety, uninterrupted, was pretty much in full swing. Listeners could now preview all the latest albums and tape the ones they wanted for free. That was great for the listeners, but not so good for some of the bands. Record sales took a nosedive.
The band decides to add a keyboard player. Ken Hensley, formerly of Uriah Heep is hired.
"Siogo" is recorded in Ann Arbor, with the band telling the record company that "siogo" was an Indian word meaning "closeness" or "togetherness". Actually, the road crew had coined the word during previous tours, an acronym taken from a sign they had put in the front lounge of their tour bus. The sign said something like this: "If you are reading this, you must be a slut, since, otherwise, this sign would have been taken down before you got here. Suck It Or Get Out!".
The folks at Atco Records discovered the true meaning of "siogo" soon after the album was released in early 1983, when their publicist was calling all the Atco field reps to tell them all about the new Blackfoot record. Atco was not amused.
In Summer of 1983, mid-tour, in Los Angeles, manager Al Nalli called the band to his hotel room for a meeting. Album sales were were not good, and the next album may be the last.
Touring with Molly Hatchet something bizarre happes. With no warning, Hatchet's singer Danny Joe Brown, and guitarists Steve Holland and Duane Roland, fly home one night after a show, right in the middle of the tour. Only lead guitarist Dave Hlubek, drummer B.B. Borden and bassist Riff West show up in Kansas City the next day.
“That night, after a real quick "rehearsal" in the backstage dressing room, Medlocke and I sit in with Molly Hatchet for their set,” says Hargrett. “Medlocke took Danny Joe Brown's place as frontman, and I played rhythm guitar behind Hlubek's lead, with rhythm section B.B. and Riff. It wasn't pretty, but we pulled it off. The rest of Hatchet re-joined the tour the next day.”
In November, the band met in Atlanta to record Vertical Smiles with former Yes engineer Eddie Offord. After being told by Nalli that he looks “too old” and is messing up the band’s image, Charlie Hargrett steps down as guitarist.
"Vertical Smiles" was released later in 1984,the band's 8th album, and the first one without Hargrett. Ken Hensley left Blackfoot suddenly in mid-tour, about 6 months after Charlie’s departure, and was replaced on one day's notice by our longtime friend, "Axe" frontman/guitarist Bobby Barth.
By the end of December 1985, Greg T. and Jakson were also out of the band.Rickey continued performing and recording as Rickey Medlocke & Blackfoot with several different lineups from 1986 until 1997, when he was invited to play guitar with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Blackfoot re-formed in the Fall of 2004 with original members Jakson Spires, Greg T. Walker and Charlie Hargrett, this time with Bobby Barth fronting the band.
When Jakson was unable to attend the first couple of rehearsals due to previous commitments to the Southern Rock Allstars, one of Bobby's friends, Austrian drummer Christoph Ullmann, offered to "keep a beat" for the band. Christoph was schooled at the Vienna Conservatory, and plays in much the same manner as Jak.
In 2004 a second resurrection of Blackfoot took place with founding members Jackson Spires, Greg T. Walker and Charlie Hargrett. Medlocke was not available, however, and the frontman role was given to Bobby Barth. Tragedy struck in March 2005 when Spires died suddenly of an aneurysm, but the band decided to persevere for the time being. Following the will of Spires, Austrian drummer Christoph Ullmann was hired as permanent drummer. In 2006, the band toured and was backed up by Jay Johnson on guitar and vocals. The band performed many gigs, including a great show with Wet Willie in Angel City, Georgia. A live DVD was released in 2007. In 2007, the band is touring and consists of bassist Greg T. Walker, guitarist Charlie Hargrett, guitarist and lead vocalist Bobby Barth, and drummer Michael Sollars. In April of 2007, Blackfoot released Johnson.
• No Reservations(1975)
• Flying High (1976)
• Strikes (1979)
• Tomcattin (1980)
• Marauder (1981)
• Highway Song Live (1982)
• Siogo (1983)
• Vertical Smiles (1984)
• Ricky Medlocke And Blackfoot (1987)
• Medicine Man (1990)
• After the Reign (1994)
• Live On The King Biscuit Flower Hour (1999)
Special Thanks to Charlie Hargrett for much of our information, and Wikipedia for additional information.