By Keith Sharp
Two distinctively different artists, one a New York `beatnik’ perfectionist performer/producer, the other a raunchy Southern USA rocker. Both played guitar and both died September 3th 2017.
Yes, there were differences between Steely Dan’s Walter (Carl) Becker (who passed away from an unknown illness at the age of 66) and Molly Hatchet lead guitarist Dave Hlubek (who suffered a heart attack at the age of 65). As partnered with fellow perfectionist Donald Fagen, Steely Dan rolled off a series of hit albums and songs in the mid 70’s with tracks like “Reelin In The Years”, “Riki Don’t Lose That Number”, “Do It Again” “Peg” and “Hey Nineteen” from albums like `Pretzel Logic’, `Can’t Buy A Thrill’, `Aja’ and Gaucho. A resume that earned them entry into Cleveland’s Rock Hall Of Fame in 2001.
Molly Hatchet’s credentials were less impressive, the Jacksonville, Florida band only having one legitimate hit, “Flirtin With Disaster” in 1978 off their second album of the same name. Still, they soldiered on through the next three decades, consistently switching between lead singers Danny Joe Brown and Jimmy Farrar. Ironically, Hlubek was the sixth member of a constantly revolving band personnel to pass away over the years.
Becker and Fagen met in New York, began to evolve a sound which combined jazz, R&B and traditional pop. Noted more as songwriters than performers, the pair wrote together at the famous Brill Building in New York, catching the attention of Jay And The American’s Kenny Vance who invited the pair to tour with the band.
Their big break came in 1970 when Becker and Fagen were invited by Gary Katz to fly out to Los Angeles to become in the in-house songwriters for ABC Records. When their music appeared to be too complex for other artists to perform, they were invited to record their own compositions. Proving that music content could compete with personal image, the pair eventually rolled out a series of classic progressive rock records using a plethora of top session players like Mike McDonald and Jeff (Skunk) Baxter (later to join The Doobie Brothers) and Jeff Pocaro and David Paitch (later to help form Toto) and even Mark Knopfler.
Named after a steam-powered dildo featured in William S Burrough’s book Naked Lunch, Steely Dan’s music was described by Rolling Stone magazine as “The antithesis of the Seventies with their obsessive perfection” but the pair was unwilling to tour and that painfully obsessive nature in recording became a detriment during the Gaucho sessions in 1980 which eventually sparked a break-up between the pair. That album produced only seven songs but one of them, “Hey Nineteen” became one of their biggest hits.
They spent over a decade apart working on solo recordings and records by other artists, but rejoined to record a 1995 release “Alive in America” and two more studio releases; `Two Against Nature’ in 2000 and `Everything Must Go’ 2003. Still touring together this year, Steely Dan performed a residency in Los Angeles this April and their last performance together was May 27th at the Greenwich Town Party in Connecticut.
Molly Hatchet’s career wasn’t nearly as critical a success by comparison but they were an important part of the that mid-Seventies Southern Rock movement which produced the likes of The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band and 38 Special.
Formed in 1971 by Hlubek, Molly Hatchet (named after a notorious prostitute who decapitated her clients) were initially passed on by Warner Music in favour of Los Angeles rockers Van Halen but were picked up by Epic Records in 1977. Produced by Tom Werman (Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent), Molly Hatchet developed a harder rock sound and enjoyed success with the title track from their second album; `Flirtin With Disaster’.
Unfortunately, a merry-go-round of band replacements would dog the band, who became more famous for their Frank Frazetta album jackets rather than the contents within. Yet they hung in there, releasing a total of 14 albums and were still going strong when Music Express booked them for the 2014 Sturgess Festival in Merritt B.C.
Having lost Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, Glen Campbell and Canucks; Kenny Shields (Streetheart) and Skip Prokop (Lighthouse) in recent weeks it’s just a sad state of affairs as those music heroes of the 70’s start hitting their 70’s and some even younger are taking their own lives, It seems inevitable that penning obituaries is going to turn into a daily occurrence. So who is going to be next?