IN MEMORIAM: Jimmy Farrar of “Molly Hatchet” // Melvin “Wah Wah” Watson
Jimmy Farrar (December 8, 1950 – October 29, 2018) was a singer, songwriter and musician born in La Grange, Georgia, and the original lead singer of the Raw Energy band. He was also known as the second lead singer of the American Southern Rock band Molly Hatchet from 1980 to 1982, and in more recent years, Gator Country.
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Molly Hatchet years 1980–82
In 1978, Farrar went back home to La Grange to work a regular job for two years, until joining the La Grange band Raw Energy Band as their lead singer. Raw Energy went on tour six nights a week, 52 songs per night. While in Daytona Beach, Florida in February 1980 the band met Rocky Membrettie, who was a former roadie for Molly Hatchet. Raw Energy put him to work with them as they continued touring, eventually ending up back in La Grange, Georgia, the home base of the band. Rocky Membrettie suggested the Raw Energy band make a tape and take it to Macon, Georgia to Pat Armstrong who was handling Molly Hatchet.
When Jimmy Farrar’s vocals were heard by Molly Hatchet’s producer, he was eyed as a possible replacement for vocalist Danny Joe Brown who left Molly Hatchet in 1980 due to health concerns. Brown was replaced by Farrar, a native of La Grange, Georgia, formerly of cover band Raw Energy.
Raw Energy Band actually began in La Grange, Georgia with original lead singer Phillip Turner who Jimmy Farrar later replaced, before joining Molly Hatchet. Molly Hatchet rented a club called the Warehouse. They set the entire concert stage up in there. They cranked up, Farrar sang three songs and they hired him on the spot, playing two shows there. Jimmy Farrar’s first gig with Molly Hatchet was set to be at the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida opening for Bob Seger for an audience of 65,000 people, but Danny Joe Brown arrived at the last minute and the band did the show without him, which was Brown’s final show at that time with Molly Hatchet. The next show, on 9 May 1980, in front of 20,000 High School Seniors at King’s Dominion Amusement Park in Virginia, Farrar’s first with Molly Hatchet. Along with Jimmy Farrar came a new approach seemed to come to the band’s sound. The earlier albums feature more variation in guitar tone and style and exhibit a distinct southern cultural influence – which seemed to change with the addition of Farrar on vocals. By this time, acts such as Van Halen had made harder heavy metal-influenced rock popular in the 1980s, and may have led to a shift the band’s sound and style. Danny Joe Brown’s stage persona, gruff voice and cowboy horse-whistling had matched well with the overtly southern-influenced sounds of his era. Farrar’s new vocal style, mixed with a new harder-rocking sound has been seen as the reason for Molly Hatchet’s rise in popularity in the early 1980s. The first year Farrar was on tour with Molly Hatchet the band did almost 300 shows. At the end of the tour Molly Hatchet averaged 6.5 shows a week.
With the success of the next album, the Beatin’ the Odds release, the band ventured even farther away from the southern rock sound of their first albums. By 1981, Molly Hatchet had evolved to a straight-ahead rock style and a slicker production, exhibited on the Take No Prisoners release of the same year. The band remained a successful act on the touring circuit. Founding member and bass player Banner Thomas left in 1983 and was replaced by Riff West, while Farrar also left Molly Hatchet in late 1982 for personal reasons, his last show being on 9 May 1982 at Six Flags in Atlanta. He would later rejoin other members of Molly Hatchet in Southern Rock Allstars and Gator Country.
Brown rejoined the band in late 1982 after the departure of Farrar and B. B. Borden.
After leaving Molly Hatchet, Farrar played in a band called Predator for six years. Then he was the lead singer of the Section 8 band. In 1999, Farrar joined the Dixie Jam Band at the Jammin for DJB benefit, and spent several years as a member of the Southern Rock All-Stars.
Melvin “Wah Wah” Watson
Melvin Ragin (December 8, 1950 – October 24, 2018), better known by the nickname “Wah Wah Watson”, was an American guitarist and session musician famed for his skills with a wah-wah pedal.
A native of Richmond, Virginia, Melvin Ragin moved to Detroit and became a member of the Motown Records studio band, The Funk Brothers, where he recorded with artists like The Temptations (his guitar work on “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” is particularly notable), The Jackson 5, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and The Supremes. He played on numerous sessions in the 1970s and 1980s for many top soul, funk and disco acts, including Herbie Hancock; he both recorded and composed songs with the Pointer Sisters.
In 1977, Watson released his first solo album, Elementary, on Columbia Records. The album was co-produced by Watson and David Rubinson.
In 1994, Watson appeared on the Red Hot Organization’s compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African American community, was heralded as “Album of the Year” by Time magazine.
In the 2000s, Watson appeared on the albums Maxwell’s Now (2001), Black Diamond (2000) by Angie Stone, the soundtrack to the film Shaft (2000), Damita Jo (2004) by Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys’ Unplugged (2005), and The Element of Freedom (2009).
Watson died on October 24, 2018 at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica.