From Blackfoot to Black Molly
Charlie Hargrett is Still Rocking Hard
by Scott Greene
One of the best bands to rise to the top during the heyday of great Southern rock music was Blackfoot. This four- man power band featured killer twin guitar players and a rhythm section that could lay the beat down lower than a snails underbelly and tighter than shoes two-sizes-small!.
In this GRITZ interview, Blackfoot's Charlie Hargrett tells how his love of music began in the North and followed him to the Deep South of Jacksonville, Florida. There, in the cradle of Southern Rock, Charlie's heart and soul caught the fire that has fueled his career ever since.
Tell us about where you grew up and about your family.
My family moved around a good bit, mostly in and around Westchester County and Long Island, N.Y, until we moved to Jacksonville, Fl. in 1963, when I was 14 years old.
When did you first realize you wanted to play and what was your first instrument?
My uncle taught me to play the ukulele at age six. My first real instrument was a used Martin tenor guitar, a present from my Dad on my eighth birthday.
What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
My first memories of listening to music on my own was in 1957 or Î58, living in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., listening to "Murray the K and his Swinging Soiree" on WINS-1010 radio out of N.Y.C. He was playing Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Big Bopper, all that stuff.
Tell us about your early playing days.
My uncle had taught me "Carolina in the Morning", and songs like that on the ukulele, so I had a good enough ear to figure out a lot of what I heard on the radio. I tried taking guitar lessons at 13, but I couldn't stand the teacher's Mel Bay approach (learning one note at a time), and quit after a lesson or two. When I moved to Jacksonville a year later, I started fooling with a friend's father's old archtop acoustic guitar, and by December, 1964 I finally bought myself a $12.00 Montgomery Ward acoustic guitar. I bought my first electric guitar and amp in late 1965, and had a band going by 1966 (The Mach V). Our first two gigs were at the Jacksonville Coliseum and the Jacksonville Civic Center (OK, we played for a car show and a trade convention, but the venues were cool!).
How did you come to know Jakson Spires? I know the other three grew up together, so how did you get started with them?
I first started hanging out with Jakson and his keyboardist DeWitt Gibbs in 1967. A couple of years later I was jamming at the old downtown Comic Book Club a lot with Jakson's band Tangerine, the One Percent, and others. Another keyboardist friend of mine, Ron Sciabarasi, told me about two guys who were looking for players. Ron took me over to the bass player's house, and it was Greg Walker, with Rickey playing drums. We set up in Greg's bedroom and played a few songs. They told me later that what got me the job was when we played Cream's "Badge," I nailed the solo perfectly (thank you very much!).
We called our new band Fresh Garbage (after a Spirit album title) and started gigging at the Comic Book a lot, playing a bunch of Spirit, Zombies, Doors, stuff like that. After a few months, our keyboard player Ron, who had a day job, started leaving gigs early, leaving the three of us to finish the night. At about the same time, Jakson's guitar player left Tangerine. We let Ron go and hooked up with Jak and DeWitt. This first lineup was Jakson on drums, Greg on bass, DeWitt on Hammond B-3 and electric piano, Ricky out front singing and playing congas, and myself on guitar.
What is the first song you ever wrote? And if different, what was the first song you ever wrote that made it on a record?
The first song that comes to mind is "Baby Blue" (on "Strikes"). I collaborated on lots of songs and contributed lots of parts to songs (credited and not credited), but on "Baby Blue" I wrote the entire music track, as I recall. I never contributed much to lyrics at all.
Tell me about the guys in Blackfoot. I mean how ya'll got along and what ya'll did off the road.
We got along real well for the most part. For a lot of years we spent almost all our time together, living in "band house"-type situations (not always in a house... one year we took over an abandoned Polish summer camp in New Jersey). Like any band we had our share of disagreements. I was going to say that we resolved most of them, but to look back, I guess a lot of them were just simmering beneath the surface, waiting to explode.
Once we started touring, we didn't spend a lot of time off the road. The last several years I was there, we'd go on the road for a few months, go to our individual homes for a couple of weeks (by then we all lived in different cities), and meet in Ann Arbor to get ready for the next tour or album.
What was it like playing with Blackfoot in the band's heyday?
What were your favorite bands to tour with?
AC/DC, Nazareth, Scorpions, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Nugent, The Who... a very incomplete list, and in no particular order. We had a great time with just about everyone we played with.
Tell me about your favorite song by Blackfoot.
"Highway Song," I think.
Tell me about the end of your time with Blackfoot. Did you play on the "Vertical Smiles" album? Did you tour at all on that album?
No, I didn't play on the "Vertical Smiles" album at all, or tour on it (I do recall suggesting the name, though). I went to Atlanta to work on the album, but my musical input wasn't welcome and I was basically told that the band was trying to come up with a new image and that I "looked and played too old". I kept on working on my parts and was ready and anxious to play, but the album was finished without my participation and was presented to the record company, who rejected it and said to go do it again. I told the band and management that I wasn't going to listen to any more of that "looked and played too old" crap, and that if I heard it again that I was gone. Well, I heard it again.
I quit the band cold, without a lawyer, and just walked away from what was actually a 15-year investment. I accepted the pitiful settlement they offered me. I didn't want them to be able to say that I caused the band to fail because I made it harder on them financially when I left.
At the time I was thinking, sink or swim, they couldn't blame me for the demise of the band...I just gave them what they said they wanted. Of course, looking back on it, I probably should have used a lawyer.
Tell me what you did after Blackfoot.
Quit playing and got into repairing guitars, which evolved into a job in music retail, which lasted about five years. Right about the time I got seriously fed up with that, I was asked to join the Dixie Allstars.
You were with the Southern Rock Alstars. Tell me about your time there and why you left.
Around September of 1989, I called Jakson Spires and asked him to join Dave Hlubek (guitar, Molly Hatchet), Billy Jones (guitar, Outlaws), John Mackin (drums, founder), Dave Woodie (keyboards), Pete Frizzell (bass) and myself in the Dixie Allstars. After about two months, the lineup pared itself down to Jakson, Hlubek, Frizzell and myself. Overall, we had a real good time playing out, and we toured the east coast and Midwest for a few years. Without getting into details, I left the band on a very friendly basis, and I still see and play with the other three guys fairly often. It was after my departure that the band underwent more personnel changes and evolved into SRA.
How was it to play with Jakson again? Did you stay in touch after the Blackfoot days?
It was and is always great to play with Jak. We were out of touch for about five years after I left Blackfoot, until I called him about the Allstars gig.
Tell me about your involvement in the Jams for Danny Joe Brown.
Riff West asked me if I'd play, and I told him I would consider it an honor and privilege. I had a great time playing, and seeing and hearing old friends. Danny's had a rough time lately, and it was my pleasure to be able to help like that.
Tell me about the other bands you have been in since the Blackfoot days.
Dixie Allstars, a few versions of Black Molly, and a just-for-fun local band- band plays in Gainesville maybe once a month, Cedar Key every couple of months.
Tell me about your new band, Black Molly. Who's in it, how'd you get it together, any plans to record?
Black Molly has always been a real good band, but has been plagued by personnel changes and other problems. The band got started when Molly Hatchet bassist Banner Thomas and I started playing together a few years ago. I hope the band will record, but I don't know when.
Anything you want to say to the fans who have supported you all these years?
I can't say "THANKS" enough! Words escape me. I appreciate everyone so much more than I can say.
Read more about Charlie at siogo.com