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COURTESY OF GRITZ MAGAZINE (www.gritz.net)

THIRD & LINDSLAY, NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 26, 2004

When your name is Jakson Spires and you’ve been riding herd on some of Southern Rock’s toughest, leanest and orneriest outfits for just a few decades or so now, there’s still a first time for everything. Even for one of Southern Rock’s finest supergroups. Jakson: “We’ve all played in Nashville with our previous bands over the years; we’ve played all over Tennessee. The Southern Rock Allstars have just never been to Nashville, but we’re getting a lot of email from fans there and we’re lookin’ forward to playing there.”

And all too often, “supergroups” are easy to dismiss as either the last gasps of the once proud and mighty but now long-in-tooth eking out the last few cents of their careers. Or they may take the form of pre-doomed rickety assemblages of overblown egos that threaten to blow apart at any second. Thankfully, SRA are neither. Regarding ex-Molly Hatchet and new vocalist Jimmy Farrar, Jakson had this to say: “He’s working out great, man! He’d been comin’ out [to gigs] for about five years now and finally said, ‘guys, we should do this.’ Since then, we hit the ground runnin’ and never looked back.”

And hit it running they sure did that night, opening the gig before an enthusiastic crowd with an explosive version of Blackfoot classic “On The Run.” Careening from this auspicious start into the next tune was a slashing version of one of my all-time favorites, Hatchet’s “Bloody Reunion.” No need here to remind that Jimmy tracked the vocals on the original version and let me tell you, if these battle-weary ears are anything to go by, the years have been more than kind: If nothing else, his trademark measured vibrato enhanced a soulful voice that’s improved with age, no kidding. The man’s still got it – don’t doubt it.

Teetering at the edge of the stage like skirmishers probing ahead of the battle line while bassist Charles Hart and Jakson lobbed the heavy artillery, the three guitar attack of Jay Johnson, Scott Mabrey and guest guitarist Mike Estes thrusted and parried through a set of Southern Rock classics. It was nothing less than a textbook example of exactitude and seasoned professionalism while remaining relaxed and loose, if that’s possible.

Jay, real standout here, showed himself quite the consummate pro. One benchmark – his soloing on his timeworn Gibson Melody Maker on the Blackfoot anthem “Highway Song” was so inspired, a gentleman in front of me was compelled to phone someone on his cell phone so that he could share it. Scott, an Ibanez man with an edgier tone and more aggressive attack got his own licks in to good measure on Hatchet’s “Flirting With Disaster” (A+ treatment on that one) and “Dreams I’ll Never See.”

As Jimmy was to tell me after the show, Mike, a Skynyrd alumnus and Nashville resident, scales the stages with SRA approximately six to eight times per year depending on the proximity of the gig. It’d be difficult for even the most discriminating ear to discern that Mike wasn’t a riding as a regular axeslinger in SRA. Mike did double duty that night, belting out the lead vocals for “I Know a Little” “Call Me The Breeze” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” one high point of which was the precision dual-guitar rendering of the first solo break from both Mike and Jay Johnson. High points abounded that night so it’s difficult to select, but one big bonus was the guest appearance of Shorty Medlocke’s grandson Michael Herring, just as expertly blowing the harp on “Train Train.”

I’d have liked to have heard more SRA tunes like the pile-driving “Tough Situation.” Aside from a melancholic “The Hill,” the evening’s focus was on some of the finest gems from the various members’ previous outfits. Can’t complain; to use the well-worn phrase, it was all killer and no filler. And it should be noted that according to Jakson, the set list changes every night. Speaking of, Jakson’s finest moment was the explosive and formidable drumming that propelled “Gator Country” into the rarefied realm of open-jawed awe. I was getting chills. Seriously.

After the show, Jimmy spoke to the wife and I, relating his genuine affection and admiration for his bandmates. “You see these bands whose members just hate each other. We’re nothing like that.” Well, that’s plainly obvious. Continuing, he added, “If I can make one person feel one tenth as good as I feel, my job is done.” Well done, indeed!

John E (for Gritz Magazine)

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