And Why Hatchet’s First Album Sounded Like Skynyrd
I still love Molly Hatchet’s tune “Flirtin’ With Disaster”…and I know I’m not alone! A great song, fast tempo, some great guitar-playing, multiple leads – separated by the southern lead singer whistle which means “c’mon and play something” – harmony leads, it’s all there.
Tone of the woody variety also is there. It’s a little more distorted than vintage, but not buzzsaw-like. So I got curious: What was the gear – and specifically, what did Dave Hlubek (who seemed like the main guy, and who I believe came up with the Flirtin’ riff) play?
Turns out that with the possible exception of some old Guitar Player magazine interviews, precious little was written about Hatchet’s gear. And with the Guitar Player website being so lame and the lack of “unofficial” Hatchet fansites on the web, that means I’m piecing together hardly any info to form a coherent picture.
Dave is probably best known for using Hamer “Explorers,” which were just known as Hamers – the only model was the Gibson Explorer shape – or Hamer Standards, a name Hamer still uses. (As a testament to the lack of Hatchet info on the web, I spent way too long trying to track down a decent photo of Dave with a Hamer. Couldn’t find one.)
But as you will see from the 1978 or ’79 video below, it looks like he started out using a Gibson Explorer – and it looks in that video like he has the bridge pickup uncovered (since that pickup is black it can’t be a DiMarzio Super Distortion, which at the time only came in double-cream) and the neck pickup removed.
At some point in 1979, I’m guessing, he started using the Hamers. Here’s some info on Hamer Standards of that era from vintageguitar.com and hamerfanclub.com:
Hamer’s first catalog, dated Fall, 1975, showed only Explorer-shaped instruments. With no model name, they were referred to only as “the Hamer guitar,” and their handmade construction using the finest materials was stressed. This first production guitar, later named the Standard model, had a suggested list price of $799 without case. They had one-piece bodies of select British Honduras mahogany, available with or without a bookmatched, curly maple top.
The one-piece, set-and-glued necks were “carved from the same choice mahogany,” with a six-in-line “hockey-stick” headstock. The Inbound rosewood fingerboards had 22 frets, with pearl dot inlays, and were available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Scale length was 24 3/4. Grover Deluxe tuning machines were used, as was a tune-o-matic style bridge with stop tailpiece.
By the time the Sunburst appeared in ’77, bound rosewood fingerboards with crown inlays were offered as an option, and these appointments begin appearing on some Standards. Custom orders were accepted, so there were also a few Standards with bound ebony fingerboards and block inlays.
Early Standards had Grover tuners, though these changed to Schallers in ’79 or ’80. In September of ’78 a Standard would set you back $1,199.95, list.
The earliest pickups on Hamer Standards were actual Gibson PAFs obtained from Gibson. However, PAFs were designed for jazz players in the ’50s. By the ’70s, guitar players were cranking up much larger amps in large arenas. In order to better balance the pickups in this environment, Hamer began to de-wind the neck pickup to decrease the output slightly.
Very soon the supply of Gibson pickups was gone [and by 1978] Hamer gave its specifications to the young pickup maker Larry DiMarzio, who began making versions of his own DiMarzio PAFs to Hamer’s spec, with a de-wound neck pickup [hmerfanclub says some of these were also wound by Seymour Duncan]. This differed from the approach favored by most others at the time, which was to leave a PAF at the neck and add an even hotter DiMarzio Super Distortion to the bridge. Eventually, Hamer began to stamp its name into the baseplates of the pickups, and these would come to be known as Hamer Slammer pickups (they don’t rhyme!).
Early Hamers had black bobbins on the lead pickup and cream bobbins on the neck pickup. They quickly made a transition to zebra bobbins (one black, one cream) on the lead pickup.
A 3-way pickup-selector toggle switch, two volume controls, and a master tone control completed the electronics.
Standard finishes included tobacco or cherry sunburst, natural wood grain, or opaque black or white. Ebony fingerboards, Les Paul Standard-style “crown” inlays, and decorative fingerboard and headstock binding were available for an upcharge. By around ’80, the Hamer Standard was also offered without the flamed maple top and in a variety of opaque colored finishes.
> Note that several custom Hamers also were made during this period and thus might have different specs.
Live, Dave used Peavey amps – apparently Peavey Mace amps, just like Lynyrd Skynyrd used. Performances in 1978 (or ’79) on Don Kershner’s Rock Concert (Gator County here and Flirtin’ With Disaster below) clearly show the distinctive black and white of Peavey amps onstage.
What he used in the studio is anyone’s guess as small amps and, of course, Marshalls were sort of the rage back then. It’s also likely that Hatchet used the same or similar stuff that Skynyrd used as per this anecdote told by Dave in an interview. Although it’s about Hatchet’s first album (Flirtin’ was on the second album) it’s interesting:
“When Skynyrd’s plane went down, that wrote our ticket. It did. Also, more importantly than that, what people don’t know…Skynyrd had a hell of a following. If that accident hadn’t have happened, they would have been the Zeppelin of the South. Street Survivors was a great record. When you had Steve Gaines on it, he went in and replaced Ed King. They needed that Street Survivors record because their career had taken a lull like a lot of ours….
“When our first album came out…what people don’t know is that it is not by chance that Molly Hatchet’s first album sounds a lot like Skynyrd because we used their equipment in the studio. What you also haven’t heard is that Ronnie Van Zant was our original producer. He had arranged and gone ahead and rehearsed us. We cut our original tapes for that first album in Skynyrd’s studio, in their 8-track studio in Jacksonville. We were going to be Ronnie’s first project other than Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“I grew up with Ronnie. The only thing that he made us promise him is that we would give him gold and platinum [albums], like his band. What happened was, he said, ‘I’ll see you when I come back from this tour. We’ll finish the record and put it out there and see how it goes.’ That was 1977. What happened was that Ronnie never came back.”
Interesting, eh? I never knew that!
Well, that’s about it, except for this entertaining story Dave tells in the same interview about how he came up with the idea for “Flirtin’ With Disaster:”
“The song is about me almost being killed in a car wreck. “When the pedal’s to the floor and you’re lives are running faster…” That’s about a girl driving me to Atlanta to a mid-day talk show. We were headlining the Omni. This guy almost broadsided us. She was in her little Vega with four cylinders, probably firing on three. This guy in an El Dorado almost ran into my passenger door.
“She was taking a short cut through this neighborhood. I said, ‘Step on it.’ Her name was Lynn Hyland. She went ahead and put her foot to the floor. She was trying to get me to this television studio. They had wanted me there at 11:45 and my time slot was at 12:30. At 12:05, we’re in the suburb of Atlanta and this guy broadsided us. She wound up hitting the porch of somebody’s house. Her name is mentioned in the credits on the album. She was good looking! I wanted to f*** her so bad.
[The interviewer asks, "And did you?"]
“Of course! She was the one who gave me the title “Flirting With Disaster.” What she did was get us out of harm’s way. Both of us were kind of numb. She looked at me and said, “That son of a bitch is flirting with disaster. I’ll kick his ass. I’d never heard that term before. I said, “I’m going to title a song after that.” She said, “Son of a bitch?” I said, “No. Flirting with disaster.” She said, “Yeah, anything to get in my pants.” Well, it worked. That’s a true story.”
> Hatchet has a cool website in the vein of their album covers, but unfortunately not much is on it.
“Flirtin’ With Disaster” Live in 1978 or 1979