Flirtin' With Disaster In The 1980's
Molly Hatchet and Robert Ellis Orrall - 1982 at some college in Massachusetts.
I would like to preface this story with some facts about myself.
- I love the South and the people from the South.
- I love country music and country rock. NOT so much the music of today but back with the likes of the Allman Brothers, George Jones, etc. Old school.
- I love beards. I have one. I have had it for more than 25 years now.
- I love Molly Hatchet's songs that they had as radio hits.
- I HATE bullies.
I really don't know why we were on the bill as the show opener. Probably because our album "Fixation" was out and getting a lot of airplay. I mean we were kind of nerdy, clean cut looking (Except for our dear Kook Lawry on guitar), power poppers that played songs with lyrics about "white noise" and had titles like “How Can She (Even Like That Guy?). Not really the kind of act you would put opening for Molly Hatchet, but there we were.
It was a venue in New England and maybe even a college if I remember correctly. Yes, it was a local college. Molly Hatchet. Hmmmm? I knew that one, hit track they had which was played here on Boston Rock radio. “Flirtin’ With Disaster”. Cool. I liked that song and I must admit the recording was really great sounding but at this time, myself and the rest of the band were into the amazing songwriting skills and sounds of artists like Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Squeeze.
From the Fiery Shards of Southern Steel!
LIVE IN CONCERT!
with special guest Robert Ellis Orrall
When we arrived at the venue we had our usual small crew with us which consisted of our best friends. We were all lead in by our local booking agent (that we liked) by the name of Mark Flashen. Mark was always good to us and did his best to get us exposure. He was more of a soft spoken type of person but kindly aggressive when he needed to make good on his bookings. Even if it meant putting this kind of pop band in front of ravaged, college, Molly Hatchet fans. Okie dokie. Let’s give this a go!
When we arrived we were immediately instructed (warned) by the "Hatchet Man In Charge" (Molly Hatchet road manager) of what was what. This meant a lot of things as we would soon find out. More on that in a bit. Oh, as a side note, it is very tedious to keep typing the entire name of the headlining band here so I shall now refer to them from here on as MH.
Let’s first reflect on the amazing spectacles that one would see backstage at a MH concert in the early 1980’s. The first thing that I noticed, and mind you I was still green to actually performing in these big concert settings, was that everyone on the MH crew had hair down to close to their waists as well as giant beards. It was indeed a special, southern club. Many had overalls on as well. AND these were NOT small people. They also were not issuing the friendliest of looks to us, the smaller, nerdy, pop band with short hair that was to be the opener.
We were lead to a small room which would be our dressing room. I noticed as we walked by the headlining dressing rooms that the floors were covered in white strips like it were a highway. I realized that they were actually strips of white tape put down by the MH crew so that the actual MH band could just look down and see their way to the stage. They even had the words “To Stage ->” with arrows formed with that white tape. There it was guiding MH all the way down the hall, "To Stage ->", to the side of the stage and then up four steps, "Steps ->", to the stage with another “Stage ->” for that final vote of confidence. One other thing that we saw during our first look at the venue was this large oxygen tank with a mask draped over it and located just off stage right. Hmmmm? I was to discover later that the vocalist for MH, also known as “The Kid”, would need a blast here and there during the show. Ok, we don't want any of them passing out if they have health issues.
By the time we arrived to set up and sound check the MH crew had already done a line check for their boys. This is when the crew and NOT the actual band run through the gear and microphones and make sure all are working. They were on a tour so it’s most likely the crew had done it a number of times and had it down so well that the Molly Hatchetts didn’t even have to actually be there for sound check.
Here Are Y'all's Rules
The first rules we got shoved at us were at the lighting board. Remember this was a professionally produced concert with a huge sound system and lighting rig. The LD (lighting director) for MH took out a roll of masking tape and with an arm stretch the size of a bald eagle’s wingspan, unfurled two rows of tape over most of the lighting controls and switches stating “Ya’ll don’t touch them lights there under the tape. They are not for you to use. You use the row below. Got that? I’ll be here watchin’ ya anyhow.” That left us with maybe a sixteenth of the lighting that was rigged for the show. Let’s put it this way for better understanding. Imagine entering an empty, darkened Walmart at 1:00am and the only light source you had was one kitchen match. That was what we were allowed to illuminate what had the potential of being our darkest hour, or should I say 26.5 minutes of show time.
Ok now it’s over to the FOH engineer for the MH’s. (FOH is the Front Of House sound engineer). This is the person in control of all the audio gear and also the person who controls what you hear from the artists, or in this case, MH. (Jaded a bit, I know. READ ON!). If you, my precious reader, do not fully understand concert sound, here is a quick lesson. Every instrument and every voice onstage needs to be able to be amplified through the main sound system. So for example a drum set may have a bass drum, snare drum, a couple of tom toms. Each item gets a microphone. Same with the vocals and all other instruments on stage. The sound engineer has control over each and every one of these audio sends and it is their job to blend (mix) them all together at the sound control desk that you usually see mid arena on the floor. In those days before digital, the sound gear was HUGE in size. It looked more like Central Command at NASA. The MH FOH Engineer also had the arm stretch, wing span of a bald eagle and indeed out came his personal roll of masking tape as he proudly taped off 2/3’s of the audio channels we were NOT allowed to use. “Ya’ll don’t touch them audio inputs there under the tape. They are not for you to use. You use the ones next to them. Got that? I’ll be here watchin’ ya anyhow.” This sounded vaguely familiar and seemed to becoming a pattern. At this point I was more concerned there would be some MH crew member with masking tape waiting for us in the opener dressing room, bathroom stating “Ya’ll don’t touch them shitters there under the tape. They are not for you to use. You use the one on the left. Got that? I’ll be here watchin’ ya anyhow.”
Our Set Up & MH Crew Dinner
Our crew was given the go ahead from the MH crew leader to bring up our gear onto the 15’X6’ area of the stage designated for our performance. This area was in front of the MH gear which included more guitar amplifiers than there were PA speakers. No drum riser for us. Nothing. Thankfully we had very limited stage gear and I even went as far as striping down my already small drum kit to accommodate the four microphones allotted the entire drum kit for the show.
An odd thing was going on during this. The caterers, hired for the event, had set up several six foot buffet tables on the floor of the venue directly in front of the stage. Usually catering is set up in a separate room backstage where those who would need to eat (including the show opening band) would indeed relax and eat. In this case, giant roll away stations of hot food were positioned next to the tables. This is where the twenty MH crew members, and ONLY the MH crew members, were to have their dinner. One by one these gigantic, bearded, long haired, snarling, shuffling, burping, farting, hacking, crew members assembled on the arena floor and indulged in their hot buffet dinners which would replenish their energy and distain for the nerdy, pop loving, hungry, yanks opening the show.
We had all our gear in place and were about to do our sound check. I was ready for our sound engineer to mix the four microphones allowed on my kit as soon as he gave me the go ahead. Once the signal was given I gave my bass drum a couple of hits as well as my snare drum. Several seconds following and as though it had been launched from an air compressed potato launcher with the speed velocity of an F-15, a green tennis ball soared from the southern dinner coral and hit me square in the head. Bang! This was followed immediately with a warning from southern buffet table central to “Shut the fuck up! We’s eatin’!”
Now I want to stress this again right now. I LOVE the south, have toured there many times, love the food, love the people, the culture, and love most of the music but please remember I am an Italian from Somerville, Massachusetts.
The MH crew was beside themselves laughing. I was not. Nor were my bandmates and nor was our agent Mark who came running out to the middle of the stage screaming at the top of his lungs at the giants on the MH crew. I was not hurt but superlatively pissed. I gave them ALL "the finger" and vowed to myself to get them back best I could. How was I going to do this? Let’s be real here. A fight? Oh come on now. With these huge goons? We would have been pummeled. No, I calmed myself and we finished sound check.
Show time came quickly and of course the "Hatchet Man In Charge" was on our case. “Y'all get on and off right when I tell ya. Got that? I’ll be here watchin’ ya anyhow.” We indeed went on and did one of the most amazing shows we had done up until that point. We were tight, loud, and full of energy and confidence, and best of all the Molly Hatchet crowd LOVED US. We did it. We got through it. We even made the paper next day in the show’s review. The writer brought up the “tennis ball” incident that he somehow heard about and basically stated that our set was one of the highlights of the night. I hasten to add that we never had any contact with the actual MH band members. Only their lovely crew. And indeed I had got my revenge y'all.
Drum Tracking On Your Music
"Be sure to follow the "Tracking" link if you would like to have me record drums and percussion on your music." ~ David