Still Jammin' for Danny Joe
Riff West's Life in Molly Hatchet,
Foghat, White Witch and Service to
All Creatures Great and Small
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Tell us a little about where you were born and raised.
I was born in Texas, and grew up just about everywhere. My dad moved every two years, he was a 30-year Naval officer. I moved constantly.
When did you first become interested in music as a possible career?
The Beatles on "Ed Sullivan." Like everybody else, and all I ever wanted to be was just a bass player. I never wanted to be one of those guys that played everything, I just picked the McCartney instrument, and that's all i ever wanted to play. That's my style. I never wanted to do a whole bunch of different styles. I'm not a Flea, or that type of player.
So you keep your clothes on?
(Laughing) Yes! I keep my clothes on. I wear more than a sock, yes.
But I grew up mostly on English rock, and you know, Buffalo Springfield and Poco, stuff like that. Of course The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, Steely Dan.
Can you tell us about some of the first bands that you played in?
I started a band called Angel years ago, and then went right to White Witch, Molly Hatchet and then Foghat.Those are basically the only bands I've been in.
We've received several requests for a story on White Witch.
We just lost our singer recently Ronnie Goedert. He died about a month ago. If you want to do a story I'll gladly help you on it. It was one of the best times of my entire life. It was the age of innocence. We were young and crazy and having a good time.
When did you join Molly Hatchet?
In 1981 when Banner (Thomas) left. I spent a year with Jimmy (Farrar). We did the whole Take No Prisoners tour. I joined right after that album. Then Danny Joe (Brown) came back. Molly Hatchet did break up in 1990. I stayed with them through their last show in 1990. There actually was a final tour, and a final concert.
With Danny Joe Brown?
Yes, with the original band. We played somewhere in Ohio with Meatloaf, and all of our old friends and old crew came out. That was it. We were taking a break, and were going to get off the road for a year or so. There was really no intention of the band actually breaking up. We just wanted a break.
During that time we figured out we didn't all want to go back out, but Danny did want to go back out. We didn't have any problem with that whatsoever. He went back out as "Danny Joe Brown of Molly Hatchet." It wasn't Molly Hatchet. He had Bobby Ingram in his band at the time.
Bobby did play with Molly Hatchet there at the end, but he was a hired side man. He had his own band China Sky, and was on Polydor Records, so he couldn't be in both bands with two different record companies, so he was a hired side guy. He was unable to sign with Molly Hatchet because of the other contract.
Eventually the management licensed the name to Danny and Bobby. They were partners at the time. None of us wanted to go back out, and as long as Danny was in the band we were fine. We were all for it.
And after a couple of years, around 1993, Danny left, and Bobby became the leader of the band. I admire Bobby for what he has done for ten years. He's kept the name going. I don't have anything at all against Bobby Ingram, he was one of my best friends at one time. I don't begrudge him for trying to keep the name going, for making a living for himself, but I don't agree with it. We always wanted Danny Joe to be the singer of Molly Hatchet when the name was licensed. We always thought it was going to be Bobby and Danny, not just Bobby. But I don't hold grudges, it's just not worth it.
What is Danny Joe Brown really like?
From this day until the day i die, I will say Danny is one of my best friends. He's a meathead! I call him that all the time. He knows it. But he would do anything in the world for you. Danny could never beat his demons, you know, the alcohol- he knows that. And being a diabetic, that's a lethal combination. I've known those guys for years, even before they got a record deal of anything. And I'll tell you a story. My mom has been incredibly sick for years. I was already out of the band and in Foghat, and Danny would always ask me how my mom was doing. My mom always thought Danny was like Charles Bronson, the neatest little guy in the world. Danny knew my mom was dying at one time, and luckily she didn't die, and Danny grabbed me and prayed for my mom. Another time he called my mom and prayed with her without me knowing it. For me, my parents are my best buds. I knew right then if Danny ever needed my help I'd be there for him. So even though Danny can be a meathead, he's had a lot of problems, he's got a temper, he's done things we wish he didn't do, and he's done things that he wished he didn't do, he's still a great guy. And I'll do anything in the world for him.
How's Danny's health now?
It's real bad. He's in and out of the ICU constantly. That's another reason I made up a couple of "mock" cds made up so he could see and hear it. Even though we'll start taking orders soon, it's going to take five weeks for me to have the actual cds in my hand. And I would be mortified if this thing took so long that -
That he died. I fully understand. I am doing a cd right now that is a tribute to a friend who is dying of cancer, (Bobby Lowell) and I am pushing to get it out so that he can see and hear it.
Let's talk about "Jammin for DJB." Besides the cd, you are doing a video, right?
We are. That is more loop holes than I could ever imagine. But we are working on it.
Who else played at that benefit? Wasn't Pat Travers there?
Pat was there. Pat's my neighbor. Captain Beyond reformed and played. Artimus Pyle, The Southern Rock Allstars, Charlie Hargrett. At the end we all came back out and did an acapella version of "Freebird." It was a great time, and between the two shows, this one and the one in Macon (that Bruce Brookshire organized), we basically helped Danny make a down payment on a condo. Now Danny lives by himself. He has a nurse come in, but he doesn't have to live with his mom or in a nursing home. He has his own crib. If anybody knows Danny and doesn't want to help him, I find that pathetic. We're going to help him.
When will the cd be out?
It should be out around Thanksgiving. We could have been finished a little earlier, but the record company that did "Live at the Agora" Phoenix Gems, and our manager Pat Armstrong asked me to hold off about three months. So what you have is basically the same band twenty years later, although we are not Molly Hatchet, we're The Dixie Jam Band. Bobby legally has the name Molly Hatchet and we don't claim to be Hatchet. This is just a cd with all of the original members. And Duane Roland, who did not play at the benefit due to legal reasons, came in and put tracks down, overdubbed.
So do portions of the profits from the cd go to Danny Joe?
It all goes to Danny. We are a non-profit. Everything goes toward helping Danny, whether it's the huge medical bills, or whatever. Danny can't work. He can't go out on the road. So anything we can do. He's Danny Joe Brown. He's our bud. He'd do the same for me. He'd do it for you.
How did it feel when you first reunited with your old friends to play?
It was great. We rehearsed the night before, and it was magic. I'd been playing phone tag with everybody for about eight months because we had a schedule and it got cancelled. So we all knew the songs and the order we were going to play them. I made tapes up and sent them to everybody. Basically everybody did their homework and we just came in here and ran through everything. It was just incredible. At the last minute Jay Johnson from The Southern Rock Allstars filled in for Duane. We didn't know until the morning of the show whether Duane could legally do it or not. It got to be such a legal hassle, and we couldn't stand the chance of losing the whole show any longer, and Duane knew that. We talked it over. Sometimes you have to make compromises in order to do things.
Something else I wanted to touch on was your involvement with Foghat. When were you with them?
Right after I got out of Molly Hatchet, I got the call from Lonesome Dave. Actually, right after Hatchet broke up in 1990, our entire crew went with Foghat reunited, including our road manager and everybody, our techs, bus driver. Our road manager had said, "Man Riff, you've got to be in this band! No body smokes, nobody drinks, they're all vegetarians. They're all like you!"
So Lonesome Dave knew me,and called me up to invite me to do the western tour with them. I said, "Yeah!" So I stayed with them a while, and they were going to have some pictures taken, and Dave said. "Do you want to have your picture taken with us? Do you want to join the band?" I said "yeah!"
I miss Lonesome Dave a lot. Out of all the bad people in this business, he was one of the good guys. He was a dear friend and I really miss him. He was one of the nicest people. He renewed my faith in music. After ten years with Hatchet and seeing all the bull that went down, I was really burned out with it. I was ready to get off the road. But just getting with those guys was great. Dave was the kind of guy who would deliver the same show at a little tiny club for 40 people that he would do at Madison Square Garden for 10,000 people. They loved playing. They went out because it was fun. They didn't need the money, they just wanted to play. I just grinned every night. When they put all four of the original Savoy Brown guys back together, I came off the road to begin my benefit work. But Dave was one of the good guys.
Tell me a little about the "Animal Magnetism" CD you produced. Is it still available?
It sure is. It's something I always wanted to do. I do animal benefits every year for their Orlando Humane Society. I've been doing it for about fifteen years. And I had wanted to do a solo album for the animals. I had been working on it, and I am pretty vain, but not that vain. I couldn't call it Riff West and Friends, after I got all these people. It turned into a compilation album. I felt so silly even sticking my name in there! (Laughs) Who is this Riff West guy? I just called everybody. Linda Ronstadt, Edgar Winter.
Some of the songs I flew people in, and some of the times I went to them. And we had Linda McCartney.
I still have a band together called Riff West & Friends. All I do is benefit work. I just sing, and we do some White Witch stuff, some Hatchet stuff and some Foghat stuff. That's it. Just having a good time. All I ask everybody is to keep rocking and rolling, and pray for Danny Joe. Not just Danny, but pray for anybody that needs good thoughts.