With Special Guest Molly Hatchet
2120 South Michigan Avenue, home of Chicago’s Chess Records, may be the most important address in the bloodline of the blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
That address – immortalized in the Rolling Stones’ like-named instrumental, recorded at an epochal session at Chess in June 1964 and included on the band’s album 12 X 5 – serves as the title to George Thorogood’s electrifying Capitol/EMI salute to the Chess label and its immortal artists.
Thorogood has been essaying the Chess repertoire since his 1977 debut album, which included songs by Elmore James and Bo Diddley that originated on the label. He has cut 18 Chess covers over the years; three appeared on his last studio release, 2009’s The Dirty Dozen. On 2120 South Michigan Avenue, he offers a full-length homage to the label that bred his style with interpretations of 10 Chess classics.
The album also includes original tributes to the Windy City and Chess’ crucial songwriter-producer-bassist Willie Dixon, penned by Thorogood, producer Tom Hambridge, and Richard Fleming, plus a cranked-up version of the Stones’ titular instrumental.
Chess Records had been making musical history for a decade before it moved into its offices on Michigan Avenue, in the heart of the Windy City’s record business district, in 1957. Leonard and Phil Chess, sons of a Polish immigrant family and South Side nightclub operators, bought into a new independent label called Aristocrat Records in 1947. The brothers bought out their partners in 1950 and gave the label the family name; by that time, they had racked up blues hits by Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, Robert Nighthawk, and St. Louis Jimmy.
Chess’ studio spawned timeless ‘50s and ‘60s recordings by Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Howlin’ Wolf, which served as inspiration for the Stones and their blues-rocking brethren, and then lit a fire under their successors George Thorogood and the Destroyers.
Thorogood recalls, “I remember as a teenager reading about Mick Jagger meeting Keith Richards on a train. Jagger had a Chuck Berry record, and he said he wrote to Chess Records and got a catalog sent to him. Just out of curiosity, I took out one of my Chess records, got the address, and I wrote to Chess Records. And they sent me a catalog of the complete Chess library, and I started buying up these Chess records. I bought every single one of them I could possibly get.
“And I remember reading the backs of those Chess records and seeing the address, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, and I said, ‘That’s the same address as the Rolling Stones’ instrumental!’ And I started putting one and one together and coming up with a big two.”
Over time, Chess’ catalog and artists became the sources of Thorogood’s higher education in music. “That was my school, the college that I had to learn my trade in,” he says. “I had to figure out how these people did these things.”
The new album also celebrates the performers who shared stages with Thorogood and the Destroyers and encouraged them when they were just coming up on the East Coast blues scene.
He says, “The people who helped me out were all the guys in Muddy Waters’ band, all the guys in Howlin’ Wolf’s band. They were wonderful to me, and they wanted to help me. They saw what I was trying to do.”
2120 South Michigan Avenue isn’t just Thorogood’s salute to a great record label – it also pays homage to the tough, larger-than-life men who made the music.
“It was a lifestyle as well as an art form, as far as music goes,” Thorogood notes. “They were singing about what their life was like on a daily basis. Sonny Boy Williamson and Wolf and Muddy Waters – they didn’t think they were the baddest cats in the world, they knew they were the baddest cats in the world. They had to be, or they wouldn’t have survived. There’s nothing glamorous in it – that’s just the facts. They had to fight their way through on a daily basis just to keep their heads above water. That’s very clear in a lot of their songs.”
Some of the songs from the Chess catalog heard on 2120 South Michigan Avenue were staples of the Destroyers’ live repertoire; Thorogood says, “A lot of the things I recorded I was doing 25 or 30 years ago, and I had stopped doing them.”
He adds that since many Chess recordings have become linchpins of the rock and blues repertoire, both on record and in concert, some careful winnowing had to be done for the album: “We did a lot of research and said, ‘Wait a minute, the Rolling Stones did that song, John Hammond did that song.’”
Producer Tom Hambridge is the ideal collaborator for 2120 South Michigan Avenue. A veteran of tours with Chuck Berry, Roy Buchanan, the Drifters, and other stars, Hambridge won a 2010 Grammy for his work on Buddy Guy’s Living Proof, and wrote the album’s Guy-B.B. King duet “Stay Around a Little Longer.” He received Grammy nominations for Guy’s Skin Deep (2008), Johnny Winter’s I’m a Bluesman (2004), and Susan Tedeschi’s Just Won’t Burn (1998). He also fronts his own band, Tom Hambridge & the Rattlesnakes.
The special guests on 2120 South Michigan Avenue sport direct connections to Chess and Chicago’s blues scene. Guitarist Buddy Guy made his Chess label debut 51 years ago.
Thorogood remembers, “I went to [the Austin blues club] Antone’s for the first time in 1977, and I saw Buddy Guy play. It was the first time I saw him, and I never forgot that he led off with [Chess artist Tommy Tucker’s] ‘High Heeled Sneakers.’ I thought that was just unbelievable. Buddy just tore it apart, like he does everything – that’s his style.”
Harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite is heard on two of the album’s tracks, a cover of Little Walter’s hit “My Babe” and the Stones’ “2120.” “Memphis Charlie” haunted Chicago’s South Side clubs in the ‘60s, learning at the feet of Chess titans like Little Walter Jacobs and Sonny Boy Williamson and hanging out with such like-minded contemporaries as Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, and Elvin Bishop of the pathfinding Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Thorogood says, “I don’t play harmonica. Little Walter plays harp, and Sonny Boy Williamson plays harp, and Howlin’ Wolf plays harp. So I said, ‘Well, what am I gonna do about this?’ It’s an easy choice. I said, ‘There’s only one cat we can get to play ‘My Babe’ by Little Walter, and that’s Charlie.’ He’s the last cat!”
Through the entire project, Thorogood and the Destroyers attempted to put their own distinctive spin on the Chess material while maintaining fidelity to the originals’ attack.
“When you do Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, when you play Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, there’s no experimenting,” Thorogood explains. “That’s a religion, and you’ve gotta do it right.”
The historic music heard on 2120 South Michigan Avenue didn’t merely change George Thorogood’s life, as he himself notes.
“It’s not a musical phenomenon, it’s a social phenomenon. The man who created rock ‘n’ roll was Chuck Berry, and he listened to Muddy Waters. Bo Diddley went to the same school and listened to the same people. Rock ‘n’ roll changed the whole world. That never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Chess Records. It’s the source of the whole thing.”
THE HISTORY OF MOLLY HATCHET
In the early 1970s a new form of music was emerging in the South. A mixture of blues, country, gospel and the English invasion of rock and roll that later was to be coined the phrase “Southern Rock.” The music was filled with style and emotion and with bands in the forefront such as the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and a band from Jacksonville, Florida called Molly Hatchet. Named after a famous 17th century axe murderess “hatchet molly” who would behead her lovers with the hand tool Lizzy Borden made famous.
Their self-titled debut album which included Danny Joe Brown, Dave Hlubek, Duane Roland, Steve Holland, Banner Thomas and Bruce Crump in the lineup was released on Epic records in 1978 and reached multi-platinum status as the band established their reputation of working hard, playing tough and living fast through intense touring with such bands as Aerosmith, Bob Seger, The Rolling Stones and many more. In 1979, Flirtin’ With Disaster was released and history was in the making. The band continued touring on the road with an average of 250 live shows per year and like the first album it also achieved multi-platinum status. Lead singer, Danny Joe Brown left the band in 1980 and contacted Bobby Ingram, a Jacksonville based guitarist and friend, who gave brown his first singing gig in 1975 with a Jacksonville based band called Rum Creek. Brown and Ingram then put together with keyboardist John Galvin the Danny Joe Brown Band and continued touring until 1982. The album was produced by Glyn Johns at
Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas as he has worked with legendary artist The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, The Eagles and many more.
During this time, Beatin’ The Odds (1980) and Take No Prisoners (1981) was released with singer Jimmy Farrar. Brown returned to record No Guts … No Glory (1983), The Deed Is Done (1984) and Double Trouble Live (1985).In the fall of 1985, Bobby Ingram of Jacksonville came into the band as lead guitar and songwriter and the band continued to tour over 200 dates a year and in 1989 record Lightning Strikes Twice for capitol records.
In 1990, while Ingram, Galvin and Brown continued the tradition as Molly Hatchet the tough touring schedule lead to the other members departure from the band. The Greatest Hits album was released in 1991 and certified gold. The band from 1990 until 1995 took a break from recording but continued to write new songs and tour in the United States, Canada and Europe. Devil’s Canyon, the first studio album in 6 years was then recorded in Hamburg, Germany in 1996 under the care and guidance of Rainer Hansel, CBH Records. With producers Kalle Trapp and Bobby Ingram the album was voted the number one rock record in Europe for 1996. With a history of diabetes, brown was unable to fulfill studio and touring responsibilities and he brought in Phil McCormack to take over the lead vocal position. Long time member Bobby Ingram – lead guitar, Phil McCormack – lead vocals, John Galvin – keyboards, Bryan Bassett – lead guitar, Andy McKinney – bass, Mac Crawford – drums, make up the current lineup.
From the release of Devil’s Cannon and the world wide touring coordinated by Steve Green, Artists International Management, the band has continued performing the classic hits such as “Flirtin’ With Disaster, “Gator Country,” “Whiskey Man” and “Dreams I’ll Never Dee,” as well as, the current hits in the true spirit and southern tradition of Molly Hatchet. The 1998 release of Silent Reign Of Heroes was recorded back in Hamburg, Germany with producer/guitarist Bobby Ingram and is kept in the same spirit and tradition as the past with new hit songs “Mississippi Moon Dog,” “Saddle Tramp,” “Miss Saturday Night” and the title track “Silent Reign Of Heroes”. Included on the album is an acoustic version of the classic hit “Fall Of The Peacemakers”. The band is currently on an extensive 18 month world tour in support of the new release “Kingdom of XII” where guest artist Charlie Daniels appeared on 2 tracks the album charted in Europe and had much success.
In 2003 the band is celebrating it’s 25th anniversary of the first national or international release with first a double Live album “Locked and Loaded” recorded in Germany as they consider this their home away from home and it is the first time in 7 years that a Live album has made the European Charts and SPV GmbH is still there beloved record company with Rainer Hansel and Manfred Schutz. The band has plans on touring in support of the 25th anniversary and will release a new studio album of all of the classic songs re-recorded in this generation of the band with Artists International Management, Inc. as their agency. And Locked and Loaded a double CD that was recorded in Germany at the International Harley Davidson Festival in front of 80,000 Southern rockers that has now been captured on DVD and being released fall of 2005. After 4.5 years of touring and tracking outside of the studio on their own material it was time to release an album that in the bands tradition go back to the roots of straight forward southern rock and roll that’s unequaled of anything the band has recorded before in the 25 year legacy. The album “Warriors of the Rainbow Bridge” recorded in the mountain tops of Bavaria was the perfect setting for such a comprehensive project. As we live day by day no one knew that Bobby Ingram would suffer the lose of his wife Stephanie during the tracking of the album and finish after a delay. Stephanie was the seventh member of Molly Hatchet and she did many things behind the scenes that no one ever saw and she was never the person that would ever want anything in return. The Southern Rock community has lost a great person that she gave all and loved Molly Hatchet and the friends she made along the way. If that was the first emotional heartbreak, Danny Joe Brown the singer for Molly Hatchet passed away from complications of diabetes he had suffered with for many years and he gave so much to the rock and roll industry and music around the world all of our heartfelt condolences and prayers go out to his family and children and he also will never be forgotten. In 2006, Duane Roland, guitarist of the band passed away and also left a legacy that will never be forgotten. We will all miss him and his music lives on. In 2005, Dave Hlubek, a founding member after playing in various bands around the United States has returned to Molly Hatchet after 20 years. Everyone was glad to see Dave having a good time and doing what he does best…the tradition lives on!!
So as we enter the next 25 years of music Molly Hatchet supports tradition that keeps developing the common bond and unity that keeps this style of music alive and well and rest assured Molly Hatchet is a band that after 28 years is always workin’ hard, playin’ tough, livin’ fast, and still Flirtin’ with Disaster!!!