After Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane went down, there was a but of a rush to fill the void left by Ronnie Van Zant’s death.
At first people people thought that maybe one of the bands of Ronnie’s brothers, Johnny & Donnie, might fill the hole. Not so much, as Johnny changed his band’s name, released a bunch of albums to squat until he just said fuck it and joined the reunited Skynyrd in 1987, and has now been with them three times as long as Ronnie was.
Meanwhile Donnie Van Zant’s shot at being Jim Belushi rested with his band .38 Special, was derailed by a guy named Don Barnes, and .38 Special went the bland pop route, scoring singles like “Hold Me Loosely” and “Caught Up in You,” which I couldn’t stand then, though maybe they’ve aged — hang on, let me check YouTube real fast — nope, they’re still pretty bad.
And it fact, the video for “Caught Up In You,” — which was a top 10 single, for chrissakes — is hilarious in its incongruity: everybody looks like they were just cast in a Skynyrd biopic, and they’ve got two drummers, none of which makes any damn sense when you listen to the generic straightforward pop-rock son they’re playing. Ah, the 80s.
Much better was the Rossington-Collins band, where Allen Collins and Gary Rossington sidestepped the “how to replace Ronnie” problem by hiring a woman named Dale Krantz to do the singing. Even with Billy Powell and Leon Wilkenson from Skynyrd as extra ringers, though, I remember the Rossington Collins songs as being good not great.
Best of all, of course, was Molly Hatchet, which rode on top of the guttural growl of a guy named Danny Joe Brown, a three-guitar attack where they actually used all three guitars, and of course those over-the-top Frank Frazetta album covers, which hinted at the power of the music inside.
Which, outside of the first album’s cover of the Allman Brothers “Dreams,” I don’t remember. I never bought the album Flirtin With Disaster, though I must have heard it at some point, because Tim did buy it. He does, however, report that outside of a couple of songs, the record isn’t all that great.
But the title track sure enough is. Opening with a guitar rattle and then settling into a southern-fried boogie groove that’s full of curlicue guitar hooks and modulation after modulation, “Flirtin’ With Disaster” sounded great on the radio, proudly wearing its Skynyrd influences like a confederate flag jeans jacket patch.
I’m travelin’ down the road
I’m flirtin’ with disaster
I’ve got the pedal to the floor,
My life is running faster
I’m out of money, I’m out of hope,
It looks like self destruction
Well how much more can we take,
With all of this corruption
Of course, if it was all boogie grooves and myth-making lyrics, it wouldn’t just be flirtin, but a full-on disaster, instead there’s a nod and a wink throughout the song — guitar break comments during the verses, stop-times, reversals — right down to Danny Joe Brown’s laugh after he Van Zants “And you are too, baby” and the whistle he tosses in during the guitar solo handoff.
It is, of course, an appropriately long guitar break, all three guitarists getting in their licks, climaxed by everybody playing the same thing at the same time, and yet another modulation, before then head into the final set of verses and chorus.
In the end, “Flirtin’ With Disaster” wasn’t going to make anybody forget Skynyrd, but it was definitely a highlight of that Day on The Green at the Oakland Coliseum that Craig & I went to in 1980 when we saw Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio and left before Journey came on.
Flirtin’ With Disaster
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