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Jimmy Farrar: Still Alive and Well

by Scott Greene

What do you think the "odds" are of someone who struggled and worked hard to make it in the music business and when they finally made it they walked away for what they consider to be the most important thing in life?

Well, that's just what Jimmy Farrar did - he walked away from fame and stardom and went back to take the most important role of his life, that of husband and father. In this Gritz exclusive, Jimmy tells his story in his words, from the bars of La Grange, Ga. to the stadiums of the world. This is Jimmy's chance to tell the story of how he came from a simple beginning to lead one of the south's hottest bands and why he chose to leave it all and go home to raise his family.

Can you tell us when and where you started singing and what kind of music was your biggest influence?
I started singing as a child to the radio and we had a maid who had a stack of 78 records, people like BB King, John Lee Hooker and all the blues greats and I would sing along with those records. I was maybe four at the time. And I sang in church like every one else. I did not care much for the Beatles, I was in to the Blues and Motown. Then, as I grew older, a friend (Frank Holiday) asked me if I would go with him to Atlanta. "Why?" I asked. He said he was going to practice music. He said he had an "almost band" and they needed a singer and my friend with me said, "He sings" and Frank asked me if that was true. I said, "Yea" and he went and got me a stack of albums and gave me a list of songs and said, "Learn these - we will go next weekend and practice."

We went up the next weekend and the rest of the band wanted to hear me sing and we did "Mississippi Queen" and that was my first song with any band. They hired me on the spot. The name of that band was "Intrepid" and I am still good friends with all those guys today. And shall we say it's been all down hill from there. The music bug bit me and I have not been able to shake it yet. To me, playing music is something that you have to live, not just do for a living.

How long was that band together?
About a year and I grew tired of living in Atlanta so I moved back home.

How long before you got another band going?

Jimmy: Well, I laid it down for awhile 'til I went out one night to a local club and there was a band there called "Catt" and they asked me to sit in and sing one. I did and then went and sat back down and they came over and asked me to do another one again. I did and when I was getting ready to leave to take my date home, Will Arnold came up and asked me if I wanted a job and I said, "Sure" and I went home and packed my bags that night and we went on the road. And we were on the road for like 18 months and then I got at odds with Will, so I came back home and decided to give it a rest for a while. I went to work for about 2 years till again I was at a bar and this guy I knew came to me and the same thing happened again and I still feel bad 'cause I took this other guy's job. That band was called "Raw Energy" and I played with them for five years. We were in Daytona Beach in February, 1980 and we ran in to this guy named Rocky Manbrettie. He was a former roadie for Molly Hatchet. He needed a job so we put him to work and we went back out on the road and we ended up back in La Grange. We did not have an agent at the time, we were booking club to club word of mouth and it was scary at times, not much money but enough to keep us alive.

Rocky suggested we make a tape and take it to Macon to a guy he knew named Pat Armstrong who was handling Molly Hatchet. Rocky and I went so he could get his royalty check from a song that he wrote for Hatchet and get Pat to listen to our band. I did not know it but they had been having a lot of trouble with Danny's health and it's hard to be on the road and sick. Rocky gave Pat the tape and he cranks it up and he listens to the first song. Then he fast forwards it to another song and then he went to the end and listened to that song and turned it off and said, "Son, you have a hell of a voice." I was flattered and said, "Thank you." And he asked me to sign a contract with him as my personal manager and I said, "Sure, but what about the rest of my band?" He said we would get them later and at that point I knew something big was up.

So that's how you got the job with Molly Hatchet.

Not yet. I walked out the door but he caught me and said, "Hey, I might ask you in the future to go with another band to further your career." I said I would think about it and he said, "Fair enough." I got in the car to go home and he had Tom Werman on the phone playing that tape for him and Tom told him to hire me right then. Three weeks later we had a gig and when I got home at like 1:30 am and the phone was ringing. I answered it and it was Pat and he said, "Can you be in Macon tomorrow for a try out?" I asked him who and he said he would not tell me. I said I am not coming. He gave in and said it was Molly Hatchet.

Were you a fan of Molly Hatchet before this time?

To be honest I was so busy with my own band I had not listened to much of their music before this time. We did two songs of theirs in our band - their cover of "Dreams" and "Gator Country" and just to add one comment: Steve Holland, who arranged Hatchet's version of "Dreams", is a musical genius and a great friend. So I went to Macon and my dad dropped me off at the agency and Pat had rented a club called The Warehouse. I went in and they had it all set up and I had never met any band members before this time. I did talk to Dave Hlubek on the phone right before I left but that was it for my involvement with the guys in the band before I walked in the club.

How scary was that - having to sing with these guys?

Well, you talking about someone getting nervous quick - I did. But I introduced myself and said, "Let's play." We did "Dreams", "Gator Country" and I think "Flirting with Disaster". I'm not sure about that. It's hard to remember - I was so excited.

Did you know why Danny was leaving?

Well, what I knew was it was a mutual deal where they both (the record company and Danny Joe) wanted to make a change. As far as I knew, that was the deal.

I went to leave and I heard Steve Holland say, "We are wasting time here. Tell him to pack his bags and let's go to Jacksonville." I walked on out the door and went to the hotel. My future wife was there waiting for me and we had not been in the room for very long and the phone rang and it was Pat asking me to dinner. Dave was there. We had dinner and spent time with them getting to know me and to feel me out and see how I would fit in the band. We had a wonderful time and Pat is the best host and the smartest businessman I know. About two days later the phone rang and it was Dave. He said, "You ready to play some music and sing for us?" I said, "Is a hog's ass ham?" He laughed and he said, "You have a ticket at the Atlanta airport." and I said, "OK, I am on my way." I got to Jacksonville and Banner picked me up and we became fast friends and he is a wonderful friend and all the guys are just good people. You know what I mean? They are folks who have changed through the years and have hearts of gold. They had a gig set in the Tangerine bowl in Orlando with Bob Segar and they were not sure if Danny was coming or not so they told me I might have to sing this gig and there were 65.000 people there and I had yet to play one show with these guys.

Wow, talking about jumping straight in the fire.

Yea, we had never even had a chance to hold a rehearsal and I was scared to death but Danny showed and they played the show without me. I was hanging out back stage by the trucks and the guys came back and Danny was with them. He looked at me. When our eyes met, I knew he knew who I was and what I was doing there and that was his last show with them.

So what was your first gig with them?
Well, we practiced for four or five days and then played in front of 20,000 high school seniors.

How did that show go? And what were you feeling, going from playing in bars to being in front of 20,000?
Well, after I got my breath it was fine, but I was nervous for a minute or two. We got done and I was the last one down the stairs and Dave was standing there and he grabbed me and kissed me dead on the mouth and said, "Boy, you did it, you pulled it off."

What about the fans that night - how did they react? Did they know you weren't Danny Joe?
They went crazy. They knew who I was and they accepted me right off and it was a great show - one of our best. There were very few places where folks were not happy but not many and it was a wonderful time for me.

When was this first show and how long before you went in to record "Beatin' the Odds"?
That first show was May the 9th, I think, and we went in the studio in July in Orlando.

When you took this job did you think you were in it forever or did you have in your mind that at any time Danny Joe could come back?
Jimmy: Well, nothing in music is certain. So, yea, I knew he could come back but I decided to do the best I can and put my mark on the music and do it my way. I did not try to be Danny. I sang the song with my heart and soul and I hope the fans felt it.

That's the one thing I have to say as a fan - you sang the old songs your way and never tried to be Danny Joe and for that I respected you. So what was the first song you wrote with the band?
Well, the first song I wrote with the guys was "The Rambler". That's what was so good about Molly Hatchet - the whole band wrote and like on "Beatin The Odds", every member had a hand in some of the writing and it was a total band effort. On "The Rambler", they came up with the music and it took me about 20 minutes to come up with the words. I have to be inspired to write a song and it has to mean something or you are just stringing a bunch of words together that have no meaning. That is, to me, what set Southern Rock apart from all other music. The songs are not just words written on a piece of paper; they each represent something that the person who wrote it has lived and I think the fans can relate to that. Music, to mean something, must be 'familiar to the heart' of the listener. They have to have lived it to love it or at least it has to be presented in a way for you to feel like you have lived it for it to mean anything.

How did you try to relate with the people at the shows to get them into the music?
I tried to personalize each song so that the average person could relate to what I was saying. Most of the fans in the crowds had no idea how it was to be playing music in a working Rock and Roll band and if I could make them feel it just a little then my job was done.

After the release of the second album, when did you start to feel maybe this was not going to work out the way you wanted and what was the turning point for you?
Well, I had to fly home for the birth of my son and I only got to spend one night at home and then it was back to the airport and back to the West Coast to play more shows. That was very hard for me. We had a lot of internal problems in the band, drinking and drugs and just stress from the road. And living away from my family was like a living hell for me and I knew that I could not raise my family 5,000 miles away and I made the choice to go home and raise my family. The last gig I played was May 9th at Six Flags in Atlanta.

So when you left did you ever go see the band play after that and did you ever see Danny sing the songs you wrote with the band?
No, I never went to see them after that and I think Danny only did two songs from my time with the band: "Beatin the odds" and "Bloody Reunion".

When and how did you hear about the jam and Danny being sick?

Well, I am on emailing lists and that's where I heard about Danny being sick and I talked to Patty Acker and she had done a thing for Danny in Atlanta and I called Riff West and made the suggestion that we do something for Danny to raise some money and he said, "That's a good idea" and he took it and ran with it. This was the first time I had seen most of the guys in the band in 20 years except Banner Thomas and Steve Holland.

Can you tell me about some of the things that you had to go through to get the jam together? And what kind of harassment did y'all have to endure from the "new band"
Well, there was a lot of pressure from them for us to not get together and play in any form or fashion.

And why do you think that is?

I think it scares them for us to play together.

What do you think of the "new band" and their music?
I have not listened to it so I can't really say. I do own "Devils Canyon" and that's all I have ever heard from them. I think Bobby is a good player and Phil can sing his butt off and he is a super nice guy. I just wish he would sing it more his way.

How did you feel singing at the jam in front of all those folks after so long?

We had more fun that night than I can ever remember and it felt just like coming home after being gone for a long time. The fans were great and the band was loose and having a ball.

Have you played with any bands since?

I played with a band called "Predator" with the guys I started out with and we played together for five or six years. Then I went to another band with a bass player named Russ Lawson. He is gone now. We had a lot of fun playing together. That band was called "Section 8" and we did all our own stuff and it had to be the best band I was ever in.

What are you doing now for work and fun?

I still work at the same place and for fun I jam around with some guys in Alabama and I hunt, fish and just live my life.

If the old guys decided to get back together and play music, would you join them?

Hell, yea, I would be there in a minute. I would jump on it like a duck on a June bug.

Are there any plans on any more jams?

Not at this time. I heard that the video and CD from the jam are almost ready for release but never say never 'cause you just can't tell about us musicians.

Anything you want to say to the fans?

Thanks for two of the best years of my life and thanks for your love and support. As a player, you live for the hour and 45 minutes you are on stage each night and I want to thank them for the energy and for making the shows special. My job was to make each person feel like they were part of the band and with Hatchet fans it was easy 'cause they loved and supported us so much.

Jimmy, I just want to say thanks for this interview and for all the memories you have given each of us through the years. I know I will never forget the shows I saw you play and the music you were a part of is a piece of Southern History that none of us will ever forget.

I would like to thank Julia Mcclaughlin for her help in editing. -SG

This interview took place in 2000. Jimmy joined the  Dixie Jam Band at the Jammin for DJB benefit, and spent several years as a member of The Southern Rock Allstars. Today he performs with Gator Country alongside several other former Hatchet members.

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