The Producers: Molly Hatchet, the Nuge, and Missing “Budokan”
1978 was a pretty busy year for me, with four album releases and a family move to Los Angeles: Ted had Double Live Gonzo, a two-record live set at the beginning of the year, and Weekend Warriors toward the end of the year. We recorded the first Molly Hatchet album in Orlando, and did Heaven Tonight with Cheap Trick, again in Los Angeles. As with the Jeff Beck /Jan Hammer live album, for Ted’s live album we recorded a number of dates, and then sat down to listen to the material. Again, we found that most of the best performances came from one night (in this case, San Antonio), and we did some repairing in the CBS New York Studios – the only time I actually did any recording in New York City, and the only time I worked in a CBS studio. Live LPs in those days (and I’m sure today, as well) were carefully crafted affairs, designed to sound as if they were recorded at the show, but in actuality fairly worked-over in the studio to repair the mistakes.
Live recordings had tracks for the hall’s public address system and for the audience, to capture the size of the hall and the size and energy of the crowd; because they already carried a record of what happened onstage, we couldn’t depart very much from what was actually played, but if you were careful, you could either correct or completely replace the vocal and guitar tracks. We brought Ted into the studio in New York, and we had a pretty enjoyable time fixing up this album, since Ted can be fairly zany in front of a mike. At the end of one song, we heard Ted onstage yelling “San Antonio! San Antonio!” Right after we heard this, as the tape played on and Ted was still in place behind the studio microphone, he added “suck my bonio!” This produced much mirth and merriment in the control room (we were younger and less mature then) and we kept it for the master — it’s just a little buried in the mix. After all, Tipper Gore and the Parents’ Music Resource Center had yet to come along.
I wasn’t happy with the energy or size of the crowd sound, so I asked the engineer to make a two-track (stereo) tape loop of pure audience from this San Antonio crowd. During the mix, I had three different audience tape loops going, so I could have as much or as little as I wanted from one or all three. One was just the crowd, one was the crowd with whistles, and the last was the crowd with whistles and firecrackers. The three two-track tapes ran on separate machines during every mix, and I used one, two or all three to beef up the crowd noise, being careful not to use any one section more than once. It was tedious, but worth the effort. It may be disappointing for readers to learn this information, actually, but I felt it was necessary to do this in order to compensate for the limitations of live sound recording at the time (that sounds good, right?).
The other Nugent LP released in 1978 was Weekend Warriors. It was recorded down at Criteria Sound Studios in Miami, and to me it was the least exciting of the five LPs I did with Ted. I thought that the material had become slightly repetitive at this point, and that Ted, brilliant as he was, had said most of what he had wanted to say musically. During the recording, I received a call from the Epic office in New York, asking me to fly to Tokyo and to supervise a live recording of Cheap Trick at Budokan. I declined, saying that I had another week to go before we finished this album, and that I couldn’t really leave now. So that’s how I missed producing Cheap Trick’s hugely successful Live at Budokan. Criteria was an excellent studio, and happened to be within a block of the first Tony Roma’s, the rib place. We used to call it “Tony’s Aroma,” since you could smell the ribs in the studio building if the wind was blowing in the right direction.
It was during this project that I pulled my last all-nighter. One night we worked very late and hung out afterward, liberally enjoying our downtime. The memory of driving back to the Holiday Inn on Biscayne Boulevard is indelibly etched into my mind. I was just ending my work day as the sun was coming up. I was exhausted, my brain felt as if it were on fire, my mouth felt like a dustbin, I was parched, barely conscious, and here I was behind the wheel, looking into the bright, cheery faces of happy commuters who had just awakened from a good night’s sleep. I felt horrible, and swore never to do this again. I didn’t. Nor did I ever take a redeye coast to coast after that, as I had several times in my youth. So at the tender age of 33, I crossed the behavioral line into middle age when it came to getting a good night’s rest. Without it, you just can’t put in a good day’s work.
Molly Hatchet was managed by a nice gentleman named Pat Armstrong, who was a fine, churchgoing pillar of the community, but pulled no punches when it came to dealing with this bunch. He ruled with a pretty firm hand, and he had a relationship with a studio owner in Orlando. I’m sure he negotiated an excellent deal for this one-room studio on a residential street in a quiet section of town. It remains the only studio I’ve ever seen that featured an in-house chapel. The couple who owned and operated it were born-again Christians, and it was ironic, to say the least, that the likes of Molly Hatchet were in there working. There was a small house next to the studio where the band stayed, so at least we didn’t have a problem rounding them up after a late night.
The wife of the couple who owned the studio wa s a very pretty young woman with very long hair which she wore in pigtails or a ponytail. She was, I thought, exactly what a nice young born-again Christian should look like. She had a nice way about her, and was always smiling. Her husband was a nice-looking, earnest young man who seemed like a “righteous dude.” Some time during the first month of recording, some of the road crew was given the afternoon off and decided to go to Disney World: they invited the wife to go along. It seems that she and one of the band’s roadies, nicknamed “Jughead,” ran off together that day, and weren’t seen again – at least during the project. I never did find out what happened to them, but I was pretty amazed by the whole affair.
There were times when we’d be in the studio and the Jack Daniel’s would be flowing, and some of the band’s friends would be visiting the session, and I would quietly wonder how I ever got so far from home. Here I was with a bunch of hell-raising, hard-drinking self-professed rednecks all from south of the Mason-Dixon line, and I was in charge of this project – a nice Jewish boy from a New England prep school/Ivy League background with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. Somehow, though, it worked out very well, and we made five records together – three of them multiplatinum. Dave Hlubek, one of the guitarists, punched a door right off its hinges during that first session. It was an inexpensive, thin door, but it was still quite something to see. During one of the subsequent Hatchet albums we recorded in Orlando, we were missing Dave Hlubek for a couple of hours at the beginning of one afternoon session. Some investigation revealed that Dave had been arrested for “doing donuts” at a local gas station in his brand new Corvette. “Doing donuts” apparently meant driving very fast in tight little circles.
The guys would ask me to come out drinking with them after the session – their idea of a good time was to go to a bar, drink lots of good Southern bourbon, and then clear the place. They loved to fight. I passed. But I did enjoy the feeling of security when we all went out to dinner or to a club. Only Bruce Crump, the drummer, kept a cool head and tried to stay out of trouble. Duane Roland, the other guitar player, was a consummate musician, a soft-spoken guy, and had a terrific sense of humor. He had actually been shot in the stomach by his father when he was a teenager. Duane (what else?) used to do his guitar leads without ever looking once at the neck of the guitar, and then he’d proceed to double them – again without looking. Most of the time he’d just close his eyes.
When you listen to something like “It’s All Over Now” (a cover of the Stones’ hit), you’ll find this remarkable, because Duane actually played every single note that Keith had probably originally intended to play… and then he doubled it – all without looking at his instrument. Danny Joe Brown, the band’s singer, was large and very solid, and spoke with a whiskey-soaked voice and a great southern accent. He was as southern as you could get, and it was a pleasure to listen to him speak. In person he was gentle, but he could flatten you with one punch. He would punctuate his vocals with shrill whistles and an occasional “Hell, yeah!” Danny Joe was diabetic, and once shared with me his secret formula for getting around this – he said he shot himself up with more insulin than prescribed, so he could drink Jack Daniel’s, which he loved and which, of course, was loaded with sugar. Eventually Danny Joe’s hard living resulted in an unfortunate early death. Listeners would know that voice anywhere.
One time we were doing backing vocals at the Record Plant in L.A. after recording most of the album in Orlando. I had my friend Tom Kelly and Richard Page ( of Mister Mister) and Tommy Funderburk doing some chorus parts. One particular song called for a high, sweet Eagles-like chorus. After one playback of just the voices by themselves, Danny Joe turned to us and said “if they hear that in Jacksonville, they’re gonna clean beat the shit out of us.”
For the third or fourth album, we did the basic tracks and some of the guitar work at Compass Point in Nassau, which was Chris Blackwell’s studio. I had the apartment above the studio, and the others had cottages by the sea across the road. Gary Ladinsky and I would hang out at the pool until noon, and then we’d record with the band til about 4:30. At that point, we’d all take a break and walk about a quarter mile down the road to a place called Traveler’s Rest, where we’d have a couple of conch fritters and a Goombay Smash or two, then return to work and break at about 10 to go to the Playboy Club casino and gamble ’til midnight. On balance, this was not a difficult project to handle.
Steve Holland, the third guitarist, decided to get married during the recording, and we took a Sunday off to attend the ceremony at the studio and celebrate the event. Regrettably, Steve proceeded to get wasted before the ceremony and hurl an ethnic slur at me. I had had it with Steve by this point, and kicked off my sandals right there in the middle of the road by the studio, assumed the ready stance and said “Let’s go – right now.” To my utter astonishment, he backed down. The guy was bigger and younger, and probably could have pulverized me – but maybe he was too drunk, or maybe he could tell that I was fully adrenalinized by that point. We didn’t feature a lot of Steve’s guitar on that album.
We entered the studio in the winter of 1978 to record my favorite album, Cheap Trick’s Heaven Tonight. I was comfortable with the band, and the material for this album sounded particularly good. One of the pluses about working with Cheap Trick was the depth of their material. They didn’t have to write an album’s worth of new songs in a couple of weeks, because they had so many good ones that were saved for the second or third album. My favorite keyboard player, Jai Winding, played keyboards on this album, from Hammond B3 to grand piano to a variety of synthesizers.
I borrowed the synth line for “Surrender” (Conan’s a fan!) from the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” It just seemed to sew the song together perfectly. On the fade, I suggested that they run through the band members’ names instead of just carrying out Mommy & Daddy. I also joined the chorus in the studio for “the “Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright” refrain. While Cheap Trick seem to find lots of things to complain about, you don’t hear them complaining about my keyboard ideas on songs like “Top of the World.” This was a guitar song until we put the piano part in, and I feel that it really nailed the song down. Rick was always a big ELO fan, and the band had been performing “California Man” for years at that point. It was a breeze to record. Robin’s voice was a little too pure to get the right scream, so that’s me screaming about 20 feet from the mike at the end of the song.
Robin Zander was indeed the man of a thousand voices. Where I’ve struggled for an entire day or night in order to get half of a complete song with other vocalists, Robin would come in and fire off two lead vocals in one afternoon, double them both and add harmonies. He was remarkable, cooperative, funny and a superb singer. Bun E. was the same on the drums. He never made a mistake in a take. He’d do three or four complete takes for a basic track, and then we’d choose the best. It wasn’t always easy to choose, but Bun E. knew what he liked. He rarely put his hand to his chin and looked skyward while deciding on something. As the song goes, he knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it. We’d usually complete our basic tracks in about three or four days, and the minute I said he was free to go, he would literally stand up, hang a sign on the front of his snare drum that said “gone fishing,” say goodbye, and leave the studio. I wouldn’t see him again until the tour started.
Jai put some pretty interesting programmed synth on “Takin’ Me Back,” and I wrote the script for the jive-talking deejay at the end of “On the Radio.” We actually hired the number one AM deejay in LA at the time to come in and read the script. We had lots of fun that day. For some reason, I always hear the songs “Heaven Tonight” and “Gonna Raise Hell” as being similar, even if they are completely different. They both have a sinister side. The middle of “Heaven Tonight,” when Robin repeats “You can never come down,” always reminds me of the breakdown in “Gonna Raise Hell,” when he screams “Mother” over and over. They both felt like epics.
I remember coming into the studio every day and just enjoying the hell out of listening to everything that went down. We had very few problems during the making of this album. As critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine said in his review, “Even with the fairly slick production, Cheap Trick sound ferocious throughout the album, slamming heavy metal, power pop and hard rock together in a humongous sound. Heaven Tonight is the culmination of the group’s dizzying early career, summing up the strengths of their first two albums, their live show, and their talent for inverting pop conventions. They were never quite as consistently thrilling on record ever again.” I like this guy.