Jakson Spires: On Blackfoot and The Southern Rock Allstars
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Most people remember Jakson Spires as the hard-working drummer for the heavy Southern Rock band Blackfoot, but these days he is playing as hard as ever in a hot band called The Southern Rock Allstars featuring Dave Hlubek (Molly Hatchet), Jay Johnson (Rossington Band) and Charles Hart. In an exclusive for GRITZ, “Thunderfoot” Spires opens up about the SRA, Blackfoot, Southern Rock controversy and the importance of fans.
How did The Southern Rock Allstars come to be?
This band has been playing for a little over two years. Of course, Charles (Hart) just came with us in October. We had several different incarnations of The Dixie Allstars before that. Charlie Hargrett was out with us for a while, and Billy Jones from The Outlaws. The Dixie Allstars was a band that just kept going out and playing the old stuff. We’d work up some of my old songs and get them to the point where they sounded good but we wouldn’t play them out live. We had cut “Ghost of You” and a song called “Cry of the Heart” back in 1992. We never got round to doing anything with it, though. We were off the road for about a year because of things that were happening with the person who was handling our booking and finances and stuff. I started coming to Muscle Shoals and me and Jay (Johnson) were cutting some tracks that were originally going to be for his solo album. The stuff started sounding good and people liked it so, me and him started thinking we needed to throw something together and go out and play. We called Dave (Hlubek) and Greg (T. Walker), our old bass player in Blackfoot, and Mark Ray and, of course Charles once in a while. It really wasn’t a set band until a little over a year ago when Pete Geddes called me and he needed a job. He was a guitar player and we needed a bass so I told him I didn’t really think he’d be happy but he said he wanted to do it. He basically went to bass and did a good job. I guess it finally got to him and he wanted to do other things so, in October, he left. Charles was our first choice anyway but he’d just gotten this job at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio engineering that he’d been waiting on for years and he couldn’t just blow that off. We understood that. He would come out on occasion to play with us when he could. He’s worked out a thing with them now where he can come back and work with them when we’re not on the road. We finally reached a happy medium with that.
How’s the new CD been doing for you?
It’s been doing a lot better than we thought. We’re already into the second pressing. We just got the new ones week before last. It’s all revamped with Charles in it and all. We’re getting big orders from Switzerland and Germany. It’s selling real well and there are a few places that are playing it but you know how this programmed rock is now. It’s like pulling teeth to get anybody to do anything.
What have been some of the more memorable shows you’ve done recently? It seems like it has to be an adventure out there.
Oh yeah it is. Both of the Danny Joe Brown benefits were good for us. Getting to see old friends and stuff and play with people you more or less grew up with. We’ve had some killer shows lately. It’d be hard to pick just one. A couple of weeks ago we drove up to Indiana. We left here in a snow storm and drove there in a snow storm to play at a place called Doc Holidaze, believe it or not. D-A-Z-E. I mean, we were in a blizzard. We got there and set our stuff up and they were going “We didn’t even think you guys were gonna come, man.” I said, man, we’ve never missed a show! It was like a whiteout. We went to the hotel and unpacked, came back and the place was packed! It was just killer. We walked in and the owner, Jim said,” I’d never have believed that this many people would come out on a night like this.” I said, “Me neither, man. I wouldn’t go out on a night like this [for anything.” You’ve got to appreciate your fans for that. And some places we play, we hear about bands, some of them are friends of ours, where they’re twenty minutes down the road while the fans are standing out in the freezing rain or something, waiting to have their CDs and stuff signed. People just don’t do it no more. They don’t feel the need to be bothered with it. These are people that have kept me alive and supported my children. I’ve got four kids to feed and put through school and if it weren’t for these people I couldn’t do it.
What’s it like playing with Dave, Jay and Charlie?
Obviously it doesn’t make any sense to play with people you don’t get along with. Not after what we’ve been through. That’s one of the main reasons we do what we do. It certainly isn’t for the money. (Laughs) Although we make a decent living, some of the bands we play with have full blown crews and stuff, and buses. We pretty much do everything on our own which, to me, is a feather in our cap. I don’t know of anybody that could do what we do of any of the bands that are out there doing this right now. Me and Jay started this thing as a perfect deal for me and him. When I write stuff I put it into my memory bank and he runs the machines and stuff. I just come in and cut the drum track and teach him the part or whatever or he knows the part and puts the guitars down and we’ll do dummy vocals. Then we’ll bring Charles and Dave in to fill it out. The good thing about this band is we all get along. We don’t have to close the door at night after a show and beat each other up to get to the next gig. And everybody plays the same -- it’s a hard-playing band. Jay and Dave and Charles attack their instruments the same way I beat my drums. Of course it keeps us out of jail from hitting women, too. (Laughs) Beat your instruments and don’t beat women.
Lets talk for a minute about Blackfoot. How was that band formed?
We all kind of grew up together in Florida and we were in different bands. Us and Skynyrd, The Classics IV, Johnny Van Zant, .38 Special, The Allman Brothers, Grinderswitch -- all of us grew up together within a three-mile radius in Jacksonville. But we were in two bands that were playing a lot of the same places and we just formed it like that in September of 1969. We were together until 1986.
Tell us about the personnel changes the band went through.
Ricky and Al kind of phased Charlie Hargrett out unbeknownst to everybody else while we were off the road during the “Vertical Smiles” album. But we had Ken Hensley from Uriah Heep after that and we burned him out in about two years. Bobby Barth from Axe, another band that Al Nally was managing. His guitar player and him had been in a wreck in Texas and Michael was killed. Bobby was the bass player and he was recuperating. When Ken quit the band we rehearsed one night and played Chicago at the Vic Theatre the next night and just kept going for the last two years. It was a great band and we had a great time and stuff. But, to tell you the truth, Rickey was so in debt to Nally and listening to stuff he wanted to do, he kept wanting to change direction and do this and that to sound like everybody else.
People wonder why the band isn’t together and why Rickey this and why Rickey that. I just tell them look, the last time they had a song or album that charted, I was in the band. But that was the direction Rickey and Al wanted to go. They tried to change back to it but it was too late. People could no longer relate to it. It wasn’t Blackfoot, that was the thing. When we split the band up, it was put to me that I could hire another singer and guitar player and me and Charlie and Greg could go out and call the band Blackfoot since I named the band. You know? They said you can do this because we’ll never use the name again. So, I go out and I’m doing sessions in L.A. for six weeks and when I come back Rick Medlocke and Blackfoot was out. It was a mess. He even took an album that me and Greg and Charlie had done and when we split the corporation up he took the album we had done and put out Rickey Medlocke and Blackfoot.
I have a real hard time with bands who go out and play under the old name when they don’t have any original members.
I just got told two nights ago by a promoter, “I know you’re from Blackfoot. I saw you guys in Wisconsin a lot. But y’all don’t have anybody important from Molly Hatchet, you don’t even have the second lead singer. And you don’t have the guy, Bobby Ingram that replaced him.” I said, wait a minute. Bobby Ingram don’t sing a note. Dave started the band and wrote the songs. I said, how unimportant is that? I said why don’t you look at the back of their current album and look at the back of “Flirtin’ with Disaster,” and tell me which one of the original band played on that new record? None! I told him to hire them for three times as much as he could hire us for, let them play sixty minutes, treat him like [dirt] and be happy. I told him we’re going to go out here and play. If you don’t want the band don’t hire us. But don’t sit there and tell me what we ain’t!
What do you think of the current touring band called Molly Hatchet?
You wouldn’t believe how many shows they’ve ruined for us. We’ll get shows booked, and their people will come along behind us and try to undercut our prices and stuff, and say, “You’re getting Molly Hatchet, man!” Yeah, right. It’s like when we would go out and do shows with Toy Caldwell and the Shadow Riders. He’d get up there and play his songs and he’d say, “People wonder how I can get up there and play these songs when there’s a Marshall Tucker out there playing them, too. Well, I wrote the [expletive deleted] things and I’ll play them whether you like it or not!” That’s the way I feel about this Blackfoot stuff. If you wrote it, get back and play it. I’ve about had it with all this crap. People come up to me and say, “How can you play this stuff when Rickey wrote it and Rickey sang it?” I say, look at the records Rickey did after Blackfoot split up and you tell me who wrote the songs. As for these guys who are just in it for the money, all I can say is anybody who will screw their friends can stay away from me. Life’s hard enough, Michael.
So you wrote a lot of the Blackfoot music too?
All of it. I’ve been going through that for years but more and more people are finding out. It was put to me by Al Nally that I had to put Rickey’s name on songs. What I do is I write on acoustic guitar. Everything’s a ballad at first. Then I speed it up or slow it down. I’ll bring it to the band and I’ll hum leads and stuff. I have the finished song in my head, I just don’t have the ability to play it. I used to be a guitar player but I got a real bad burn on my left hand, my chording hand, when I was 15. That’s why I play drums. It took me eight years to get two of my fingers working for half-chords and bass chords and that’s how I’ve written every song I’ve written. With two fingers. But Al came to me and said, “These songs are great and they’re going to be hits. But you know Rickey and his ego. If his name don’t start getting on some of these songs he’s going to freak out and the band’s going to break up. I said, Al, like I give a [rip]. I mean, I put Charlie and Greg’s name on songs that they didn’t even hear until they were recorded, just to give them extra money. Like that new Skynyrd record. There are five songs that are my riffs from old Blackfoot songs. That riff from “Preacher Man” is right out of “Fire of the Dragon.” And the whole melody line from “Preacher Man” is “Double Back Again” from ZZ Top. I sat there and said, I wonder if Billy noticed this if they play it live. It’s just a mess. That’s another band. If they called themselves the Johnny Van Zant Band, they’d be playing the same places we are.
Who are some of the other Southern Rock bands you guys are friends with?
Doc Holliday, The Kentucky Headhunters, .38 Special, the REAL Molly Hatchet, Randall Hall Band, Artimus Pyle & APB, Mike Estes, that’s all I can think of right now.
Who were/are some of your favorite drummers?
John Bonham, of course. Ian Paice, Michael Giles, Ace Allen and Artimus Pyle.
What’s next for the SRA?
We’re workin' on the new CD and basically touring all over.
What would you say has been the most rewarding aspect of your career so far?
I’d say just being able to play with the people I play with. Jay is a Godsend. And having a few good friends and my family, basically. My children are everything to me. I’ve got a 16 year-old at home, soon to be 19 year-old freshman, Ameek, at the University of Minnesota, a son that’s in Worton College in Pennsylvania and my other daughter Salara is a ballet teacher in Pennsylvania. They have just turned out incredible. I’m just lucky to know them.