INTERVIEW: Hobbit [Part 1] (Aug 2003)
The Hobbit Story - Part One..
Lee 'The Took' Bradfield brings us the first in a series of ongoing segments with the Texas band Hobbit. Over the next few months within GLORY DAZE, Lee will take us on a journey with these much loved pomp rockers, which has its origins way back in the Seventies. While the rest of the world was boogie-ing down to 'Saturday Night Fever' or remonstrating with John Travolta's hairstyle in 'Grease', the beginnings of a pomp legend was beginning to take shape, far from the locations where this style of music is better known, but right in the heart of ZZ Top territory!
This special ongoing article with Hobbit, will culminate with the release of their new, forthcoming album due later this year. More details on that further down the line. Anyway, on to the story.. George (Editor)
THE HOBBIT STORY - PART ONE
Although this is an interview with Hobbit's Paul 'Turk' Henry, my first question is to you, the reader: what makes a legendary AOR band? Is the criteria simply album sales and media popularity, or is it quality melodic songs and memorable live performances over a period of time, whether they sold millions of records or not? I'm asking you to consider the second option in the case of Hobbit, and you just might discover that AOR's best kept secret during the classic '78 to '85 period goes beyond being one of AOR's true legends, they redefine the meaning of resilience... this is their story. With Gene Fields (vocals and guitar) and Paul 'Turk' Henry (vocals and bass) having discovered their shared enthusiasm for the works of JRR Tolkien in the mid 70's, the nucleus of Hobbit was born - in the unlikely AOR hot zone of Tyler in East Texas! Soon enough Rusty Honeycutt was added on drums, and the fledgling 3-piece unit wasted no time in writing and recording their first batch of tunes. Paul takes up the story.
We must have spent the first year just writing songs, and it was amazing how easy this came together, and how much fun it was. Somehow, we rounded up enough money to buy a four Track reel-to-reel recorder, and by early 1978, we started the 'Join the Celebration' album project. We had covered the small room with red and blue carpet, and it was not too bad. We got the basic tracks of drums and bass done in a couple of weeks, but it took about 4 months to complete it. So many different things were recorded on the same tracks, and it took six hands and good memory to mix it. Obviously, the recording quality was not that good, but we still look back on the 12 songs in that collection as some great stuff, and it really defined the Hobbit style of Fantasy Rock. Even in those days, we liked linking songs together and using odd sounds and effects. I doubt if anyone else ever did a song called 'Bailey's Turnip'!
In 1979, Richard Hill joined the band on lead guitar and keyboards, rounding out all the ingredients necessary for what we consider classic AOR. The logical next step was to bring these songs to live audiences in their native East Texas, incorporating a theatrical / visual twist to their stage show, and to record further tunes with the extra dimension Richard brought into their sound. Some of these tracks started getting heavy airplay on East Texas radio stations, resulting in them appearing on various Radio Compilation lp's - Hobbit's star was on the rise.
Finally, we began to start playing live, and decided to promote our own concert at a large auditorium. We created a couple of real impressive radio commercials. We edited several pieces of songs that we had recorded into 30-second spots. Then we wrote the stuff for Turk to say. He was great! His voice was perfect, and he added some dynamics that made these commercials like stuff you would hear on the Dallas and Houston radio stations. The concert was a great success - we drew over a thousand people. Most of these paid the $4.50 ticket price to get in. Producing the show was a real trip - arranging the songs, lighting, and special effects. We played about 15 songs, starting with 'Daydream Harvest' and moving through 'Faggots', 'In Mordor', 'Fallin', and 'Langley Island'. This was a blast! We had built a big fog machine with a 55-gallon barrel and a 100-watt heater.
We had someone drive to Dallas that day and buy some dry ice. We used the fog at the introduction narrative that Turk did on 'In Mordor'. [This song has now been changed a bit and recorded new for 'All for the One'.] Maybe the highlight of this show was a special 'trick' that went like this: Early that day, we had the PA speakers set up on either side of the stage. We then strung up small piano wire about 12 feet off the floor of the auditorium. There were two strings, and each one went from behind the big speakers across to the very back of the auditorium. From the right side, it crossed over the audience to the left side and visa versa. Each one passed over the big speakers by a few inches. Then we had some skyrockets left over from New Year's fireworks. We put small eye screws into the wooden sticks, and ran the piano wire through these, before stringing them up very tightly. There were three rockets on each side, easily sliding on the wires - waiting behind the speaker stacks.
We had someone waiting with lighters behind each speaker stack, and they lit all the rockets at just the right time. You can't imagine what a surprise it was to see these things shoot like 90 miles an hour just over everyone's head. After 'Join the Celebration', we played the recording of the chant that we did in Dallas - it just faded into this as we ended. We put our guitars down and threw out bunches of flowers. We didn't just play - we produced real theatrical events. These first concerts really solidified the Hobbit fan base.
At this point, we encountered a fork in the road and chose what might have been the wrong direction. Our first professional recording encounter was with a guy named Robin Hood Brians. He's the guy who recorded ZZ Top's first three albums, right there in Tyler Texas. Anyway, after listening to all of our 'fantasy rock' songs, he concluded that we needed to move away from this and into commercial pop music if we ever hoped to succeed. Because of his credentials, we did in fact begin to write much more accessible music. This was not altogether a bad direction for us, because the first song was 'Love is Forever' and we got great airplay with it. Still, as we look back we're certain that our greatest strength is not in this direction; either musically or lyrically.
Meanwhile, it was a great accomplishment being chosen by Q102 in Dallas to be on their 'More Texas Crude' album. They passed on our commercial pop songs, but they loved 'Midyear's Eve' and it was the last pick for the album. We did a good job of the recording, and finally the whole album was released in the Dallas area in April. Instantly, we received a lot of airplay right there in Big D! This was a major accomplishment for an all-original garage band from East Texas. We were joined on the album with nine other Texas bands from all over. There were more than 400 tapes sent in to this contest. All of the songs got some airplay, but 'Midyear's Eve' sustained longer than any other song on the album.
Around this time Hobbit's reputation as a hot live act was spreading far and wide, resulting in their sharing the stage with some of AOR's heavyweights such as Loverboy, Axe, Night Ranger and an unforgettable one night stand with Cheap Trick.
An exciting time was when we were chosen as the opening act for Cheap Trick, at Hirsh Coliseum in Shreveport. It all happened so fast that we didn't have time to get a build up of butterflies. Hobbit was opening for Cheap Trick? [you gotta be shittin' me] It was exciting to meet the guys from Cheap Trick; Robin Zander, Rick Neilson, etc. The excitement really took off when we got set up and started our sound check. Cheap Trick went through theirs next. Gorilla went to get some hamburgers at McDonald's, and we were all starved.
As usual, we had our guitars in the dressing room, and tuned them up. We were all dressed and ready. The feeling we had in that dressing room, knowing what we were about to experience, was awesome. This was a major accomplishment for everyone who was involved with Hobbit - everyone who had believed in us. All of a sudden, it was time to go. We filed out and through the big hallway out to the backstage. They had turned out the lights in the auditorium and the crowd noise picked up. With guitars in hand, we climbed the steep stairs up to the stage. We looked out into that void of people and it was unbelievable. Our hearts were pounding and we all lost our breath for a moment. This instant might be the highest peak on the journey.
It was barely light enough to see around on this huge stage. It was like a basketball court! Turk yelled into the mic as we walked across the stage, feeling like a deer caught in car headlights. Gene quickly walked over to the center microphone and checked the height, and the tape with spare picks. Keith hit a few rolls on the drums - we were ready. The crowd was getting louder! Terry and Gorilla had everything in order.
The radio DJ stepped up to the center microphone. As he started talking, a spotlight came on. The microphone was so loud, and the whole place was now in touch with it. 'Ladies and gentlemen - from Tyler Texas! - Please welcome! - Hobbit!!'. Rick led off with the 'slime' intro with the Arp synthesizer for 'Faggots in the Fire'. This was still our best song to start with. The rest of the show was a blur!
It was unbelievable playing on a stage that big in front of a sellout show of 15,000 screaming kids. It was so high, and the spotlights were so bright that it was hard to see their faces. It looked like an ocean. We also played the newest song, 'Up and Down.' We did great, and the crowd response was awesome. To our surprise, the crowd brought us back for an encore, which was unusual for an opening act. This kind of experience turns on a confidence and a cockiness that is required in that business.
The concert promoter offered Hobbit this opening spot to finish the whole US tour, but we still had regular jobs at the time, and had to turn it down. Not long after, we played another big opening show for Loverboy. They had gotten real hot with that song 'Turn Me Loose'. We talked for a while with Mike Reno, and the guys in the band. He especially left a positive vibe. It's funny how encounters like that sometimes mean so much to someone. They were where we wanted to be. We always tried to be that way to other young musicians who were a little bit in awe of where we were. Anyway... We played good that night, and got great crowd response. Even the Loverboy guys came up after the show and were real supportive.
PART TWO OF THE HOBBIT STORY - TO BE CONTINUED..
Hobbit - 1999 Two Feet TallHobbit - 2001 Rockin' The ShireHobbit - 2003 All For The OneHobbit - 2003 All For One Interview Part 1Hobbit - 2003 All For One Interview Part 2Hobbit - 2003 All For One Interview Part 3Hobbit - 2003 All For One Interview Part 4Hobbit - 2008 Lost And Found
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