The world of Southern Rock was dealt an indelible blow, when in the space of six days two legends of the genre both passed away tragically. On March 10th ex Molly Hatchet vocalist Danny Joe Brown died from complications arising from his diabetes condition, only days after being released from hospital after a spell with pneumonia. Six days later Blackfoot drummer Jakson Spires died after suffering a brain hemorrhage a few days earlier. Both were fifty three years of age. Although both were far from household names to the general public, they were legendary figures to fans of the Southern genre. Brown in particular was arguably the finest vocalist to grace Southern rock, while Spires, nicknamed 'Thunderfoot', lent an explosive edge to Blackfoot in their heyday. Both deaths were barely mentioned by leading music sources, a typical situation. Imagine if it had been a stiff like Bono.
In what seemed a strange twist of fate I had found myself listening to a lot of both Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot in the days prior to both mens deaths. Hatchet's 'No Guts, No Glory' had been on constant repeat on my car stereo, particularly the tracks 'Under The Gun' and 'Sweet Dixie', in which Brown gave his characteristic roughouse delivery. A few days later I began airing Blackfoot's 'Siogo', widely panned but in reality a classic. I was thinking to myself how effective Spires drumming was in the track 'Goin' In Circles', only to read about his passing just a few minutes later once arriving home. It was mere coincidence that I happened to be listening to these albums at the time of their deaths, but it still strikes me as odd.
Danny Joe Brown's career had been disrupted by his battle with diabetes since the day he joined Molly Hatchet in 1975. Brown and Hatchet became one of the greatest bands in the genre after only two albums, 1978's self ttiled debut and 1979's 'Flirtin' With Disaster'. They had a sound heavier than anything Lynyrd Skynyrd had attempted and 'Gator Country' might well be the definitive Southern epic. The backdrop to their sound was Brown's muscular throat and gruff tone, giving the band their image. When Brown left the band prematurely in 1979 he claimed it was due to his diabetes, but he later admitted to in fighting with the bands management leading to his departure. Brown's lone solo album, 1981's 'The Danny Joe Brown Band' is one of the greatest Southern albums ever made, with true classics like 'The Alamo', Sundown' and 'Hit The Road' amongst others. Hatchet were competent without him, but replacement Jimmy Farrar, despite two excellent albums, could never fill Browns shoes.
Brown rejoined Hatchet for 1983's 'No Guts, No Glory' and 1984's 'The Deed Is Done', but due to failing health left the band in 1985. Brown regained his health enough to record Hatchet's 1989's 'Lightning Strikes Twice', but again bowed out until 1995's 'Devil's Canyon', in which he only recorded half the album, his diabetes sidelining him for good. There were several benefit concerts for Danny over the years and he handpicked his replacement for Hatchet, vocalist Phil McCormack. Given his spells of illness his we should be thankful for the body of work he left behind. It leaves a legacy of a tireless performer who recorded some of the best rock I've ever heard. He was the type of frontman I admired, tough, stoic, analarming presence and a superlative voice that defined a genre. He's in my hall of fame.
Jakson Spires career was equally as accomplished. As a founding member of Blackfoot he achieved success with the band in the seventies and early 80's, Blackfoot on the same level as Hatchet musically. Ricky Medlocke eventually took control of the band, which caused Spires to leave in 1986 but he was the only real drummer in Blackfoot's history. Spires wrote a considerable amount of Blackfoot's music, and many of their albums, including 'Strikes!', 'Tomcattin' and 'Marauder' are genuine Southern greats. After Spires left the band he became a session player, but recently had been part of the Southern Rock All Stars, a superstar ensemble who had recorded several albums and toured heavily.
Sadly Spires died just as Blackfoot were about to start a comeback tour, minus Medlocke, but including classic members Charlie Hargrett and Greg T Walker. Taking Medlocke's place on vocals is Bobby Barth, who had a stint in Blackfoot in the 80's. Despite Spire's death the band is set to continue their tour, albeit much diminished. Ricky Medlocke commented that he had visited Spires days before his death, putting aside their differences in the process.
With these two men now gone, such musicians are almost becoming an endangered species. They weren't especially old, which makes it even more unfortunate. The world is worse off without them. Theyade music which was never forced or pretentious. They were working class heroes, men the common man could appreciate. They made music you could relate to and they never sold out or did anything you could resent them for. The pathetic Rock And Roll Hall of Fame might never induct these men into their ranks, but they already have all the credibility they'll ever need. Their fans will tell you that.