BLACKFOOT ON THE REUNION
By Michael Buffalo Smith
In one of the best surprises of recent Southern Rock history, the hard rocking, take no prisoners band Blackfoot has reunited and are touring again. We caught up with the band during rehearsals, where we interviewed founding drummer and song writer Jakson Spires, and said hello to the rest of the band as well.
Jakson, how was Blackfoot formed and when?
I was in a band called Tangerine, and Charlie, Rickey and Greg, were in a band called Fresh Garbage. We did a lot of stuff together as a combo. When the Allmans first got together, they only had one drum set so they used mine for the double drummer thing. We had a good thing going there and we had all grown up together since we were 5-6 years old. Me, Greg and Rickey. I had met Charlie at age 15. We had played around together and we felt that because we got along so well that it could transform into music that same way. It did, and we just kind of took it from there. The two bands merged and the keyboard player for my band Tangerine stayed with us for about one year and then he went on to do other stuff. We called the band Hammer. Then we heard about another band doing an album out on the west coast, this was September, 1969, so we changed our name to Free and about one week later we heard about the band with Paul Rodgers. We knew we had some Indian heritage so we came up with the name Blackfoot. We wanted a strong sounding name. Blackfoot is actually the Blackfeet Indians and Blackfoot is the plural of that, it’s reverse English. They were a nomadic tribe that moved seasonally and hunted, and we were very nomadic moving every night. We played in the South and at the time the Southern thing was real big. Laid back, country blues or the real jazz influenced blues of the Allman Brothers, and then there was Marshall Tucker, Charlie Daniels, and Wet Willie and Skynyrd. Even though we liked all that stuff we didn’t play it. We were more influenced by the heavier stuff, like Deep Purple, Free, The Who, and The Move and stuff like that. So we headed that way. There were not that many places for us to play in the South because we were too heavy for what was going on. So we moved up to New York and did it up there for a while and then moved to New Jersey for a bit. After a few years, Rickey had went with Skynyrd to play drums and then Greg joined a little later on bass,and the whole thing was maybe a year apart.We reformed and started the band up again, actually with a different bass player for around a year, in the early '70s. A guy out of North Carolina, Lenny Sandler. Greg was working with another band in upstate New York and I called and asked him if he was doing anything. I went up and got him back and we stayed together like that for awhile. Right up until Charlie left. Then we got Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep), then we got Bobby Barth from Axe right up until 1985. The corporation broke up in 1986. It was a great time and great band and we did stuff that you would not even believe or comprehend. We still can’t talk about a lot of it. (Laughs)
When you think back to those days what are some of the highlights that you can think of, of course, in the realm of those things that you can talk about?
Well, I mean touring with Ted Nugent, playing with KISS, The Scorpions are real good friends of ours, AC/DC, toured with Deep Purple, The Who, went to Europe for many tours and had a great time over there. Hopefully, we will be going over there this year too. Touring with The Who was great because we had just come off of 18 months of touring at the time of the Strikes Tour. We were doing it worldwide and I had thought we were going to have some time off. I do remember being offered the thing by their manager, Bill, at the time and falling and rolling around on the office floor laughing hysterically that we were getting ready to go to Seattle and start after we had just gotten home. We always seemed to get along with musicians from other countries more than we did with the ones from America. The exception would be Nugent, because he took us out when no one else would get near us.That was then and this is now. (Laughs)
Well what is the status of the SRA now that you are doing Blackfoot and Farrar is doing things with his old guys?
It’s still up there. I have some offers and if I am not available then I will have to get someone to sit in. We have had Mike Estes come in and Charlie and Tommy Crain of course, it is still a revolving door thing.
You guys have a good live album out.
It’s done well too. We just got another order from England.
How did the Blackfoot reunion thing happen?
Well, we had been talking about it for some time and Rickey and Al had mentioned it to people and stuff. Nothing had ever happened and Rickey was with Skynyrd and doing his acting thing and we wanted to do it and as far as we are concerned he had an opportunity to do it and decided not to. That is fine with us and we wish him the best. We went out and got Bobby Barth, a friend of ours that is a front man, leader of Axe, and singer, guitarist for years and had actually played with us for the last couple of years when we were on the road. This has worked out great and we couldn’t have asked for anything better.
I was going to ask you how you came up with Bobby Barth but you already knew him from playing before?
We had known him since the middle '70s and we had written a bunch of stuff together for Axe and Blackfoot. We’ve still got stuff that we are talking about doing with this band too. We went back and got the standard stuff we always did but we also put a lot of stuff in the set that we didn’t do very much or hardly ever did. The mix of it has worked really well according to the audiences.
How many reunion shows have you played so far?
We have played four so far and are getting a great response and having a great time. We sold out in North Minneapolis, Minn. and we sold out in 35 degrees below zero. Then we did Las Vegas, at the Fiesta Rancho Casino and it sold out and they put tables up and we were out there about 2-hours signing stuff for people. They seemed to like us and if we are having fun you know they are.
What’s it like, because I’m sure that you are having deja vu. What is it like looking around and seeing Charlie and Gregg, how do you feel?
I feel lucky to be alive. It is horrifying enough that we are in our 50s and no one ever thought we would live past 30, that was the cut off for sure. The way we lived wasn’t always pretty. But to hear us still playing like this is incredible. There is no one touring right now that plays like this.
What are your touring dates immediately for Blackfoot?
We have a ton of dates coming in. We are going to Sweden, Holland, and Europe this summer. Hopefully, we will have some time off to put together new stuff. There is some stuff that Bobby and I wrote years ago that was never recorded and we want to get some of that together. Just to see where it will go. We all thought that it ended too soon, but that was basically Ricky and Al’s idea and that is fine because they can do what they do and we are doing what we want to do. Hopefully, everyone is happy with it.
There is a such a reputation for ‘high energy’ with Blackfoot from the past, do you feel like you still have that?
Well, it’s more intense. That’s not to belittle anything done in the past but I made this remark in a recent interview, it’s true we have talked about this for a long time and then when we rehearsed the first time I had this huge grin on my face when I realized we have not lost anything over time. I am sure the other guys told you that no one ever quit playing and Jackson and I did album projects together when we would go in as a rhythm section. We did a lot of stuff with just the two of us with our songs and we all kept playing and Bobby and I worked together. So I think what happened was, we seasoned without getting old, we got better and definitely got smarter. I don’t know about prettier (Laughs). The energy level is higher and more intense, because we are so grateful. You can feel the power onstage and you go to this place that you can’t describe.
Yeah, it doesn’t happen very often but when it does it’s magic.
You have heard Jakson, and you know his energy level. Charlie is still all over the stage, “Daddy Long Legs.” (Laughs), I don’t take flying leaps off the drum riser like I used to but I do still move around as much if not more and my knees just don’t take that impact.
With the reunion, what do you hope to accomplish?
Well, you know we have a point to prove and there are a lot of eyes on us. We go out with probably more confidence than we ever had, and it was pretty high in the old days. To also show the public that not all reunion bands come out to rape the public and some have one or two people but this is the original and we are quality musicians and entertainers and just put on a great show. If it weren’t for the people we wouldn’t be out there. This is a compliment and honor for each of us everytime we step out onstage. We are very grateful.
Bobby how do you feel about this project?
Well, we have all been friends for so many years and I joined back in 1984 and it came as a shock to me that it all ended in 1986 when it did. It has been wonderful and I love playing with these guys. They play great together and have been playing for so long that they have one mind. It’s kind of scary.
You were in a band called Axe. Tell me about that band?
It started back in the mid-'70s and we had a couple of albums on MCA and two on Atlantic and Atco, the same label that Blackfoot was on, and the same management company as Blackfoot. That is how I got to know the band. They had 2-3 chart singles and toured around the world with pretty much everybody. There was a bad automobile accident that me and the other guitar player were in and he was killed. That kind of messed my head up for awhile. So we just let that thing slip away. So the first thing I did after Axe was Blackfoot. We toured with Ozzy, Nugent, four different tours and Judas Priest.
What are your future plans and what do you want to accomplish with the reunion?
It’s such a great deal for us to get back together after these years. We realize that we still have the ability to play. Not everyone can do that. We still have the heart and ability to do it. We have been so intrigued with that and having fun being together, we are just going to do it until we drop. (Laughs)
What are some of your most fond memories from the heyday of Blackfoot?
As the years go by and I look at it, there were so many times I can hardly know where to start. I can’t start because I would be leaving something out. Monsters of Rock in England, and getting our gold records when we were out on tour with The Who and they did the presentation of the Strikes record.
How long did you tour with The Who?
We did the Spring 1980 tour with them and played with them at the Pontiac, Michigan show at the Silverdome. It was the first show after their Cincinnati show when those folks got killed. That was December, 1979 when we played at Pontiac, Michigan and after that show they asked us to do the Spring 1980 tour and we went around the country with them and into Canada. It was nice.
What do you hope to accomplish with the Blackfoot reunion?
I guess bringing this back for new fans and back to the old fans. I left the band 21 years ago and I think we are hoping to pick our careers up and do it again. It is amazing to come around again like this.
Has it been accepted pretty well?
A couple of people have said they miss Rick. He is a personality of his own and a star without question. But I would say that the band is just as good in a different way, and Bobby is a different style but he is a great singer and guitar player. The more we play the more second nature the Blackfoot thing comes to him. Bobby is not trying to be Rick, not at all, but we are playing those tunes the way we originally did them. It’s great.
GREG T. WALKER
Going back to the original run with Blackfoot, what would you say would rise to the top in exciting and happy experiences that you had with this band?
One thing comes to mind right off the bat. We did a show in Zurich, Switzerland and it was an ice hockey arena that was an overblown coliseum that seated 16,000 people. I know when we were doing “Highway Song” there were 16,000 lighters that got turned on at once. I remember looking out there and thinking about being 7,000 miles from home and that all of those people came out to see us it was a very memorable event.
Then when we did the big festivals in Europe like Castle Donnington and Reading where you have got in Reading 80,000 paid attendees and the other was about 65,000. That was the European part. It was a happy experience for us because we were always glad being out there. To us every night was like the last night we would play. When we were touring with a lot of the bands before we started being able to headline ourselves,we just had a blast. Ted Nugent took us out when no one else would. He said we made him work and he loved a challenge. Foghat, the Nazareth tour, those were a couple that we enjoyed and hung out with everyday. The Who, we did the North American and Canadian Tour with them and Deep Purple was another one that called us and wanted us to tour with them.