HOBBIT is a band that existed from 1977 until the mid 80s but never was able to release a full-length CD. Suddenly last year we were surprised to hear the band finally released an album and it was a complete full-length CD consisting of material they recorded in the early 80s. The band was almost not known outside the USA, so this CD was a first introduction to the European AOR/Pomprock fans.
And this HOBBIT is playing pure late 70s Pomprock and their songs contain basically everything you need to hear in a pure Pomprockband. Comparisons can be made to ROADMASTER, STARCASTLE, STONEBOLT, STYX etc. etc. To hear such music in this time period is nostalgic and makes you fantasize about the good old times.
I had a very long interview with one of the members, Paul "Turk" Henry - bassist. He had a lot of interesting stories to tell about a band who is finally making their music available on vinyl these days. Let's start with the beginning of the band...
Did any of you do something musically before HOBBIT?
We all had been in several different bands prior to Hobbit. Gene had started in the early 60's in East Texas, and I started in the late 60's, overseas in Turkey, on up until our founding of Hobbit in 1977.
When did you actually start with HOBBIT?
It was January 1977 when I woke Gene up in the wee hours of the night, by throwing small rocks at his 2nd story window, to discuss starting a band! We had both been in music "limbo" at the time, so it wasn't long before we started "jamming"! We took a little driving trip out into the river bottoms of Frankston, Tx., and he played a tape for me of some "stuff" he had been writing, which I immediately fell in love with...........and the rest is history!
Could you tell me more about the beginning of the band?
Gene and I started out with the absolute conviction to only write and play original music. We had very similar tastes in various bands, and we had both read Tolkien's " The Hobbit" and "Lord of The Rings" several times and were quite inspired by the combination of those 2 "tastes". Within several months, Rusty Honeycutt joined the band as drummer, and for the next year, the 3 of us practiced and wrote songs. Though many friends, and friends of friends, and............. came to practices from time to time, it was about a year later before Hobbit actually played a "gig".
At the time we had about 14 songs, and over the next year, Hobbit began attracting many fans around East Texas; we also had produced several large concerts in the area. It was during this time, that the collection of songs called "Join The Celebration" was recorded in Gene's home studio...........a room of about 10'x20'! The recording itself is not the greatest quality, but is, probably, the most representative of Hobbits' unique direction in songwriting, and could be released on CD within the next few months!
Which bands influenced you?
Without getting into a very long list!...........Yes, Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Queen, Beatles, Kansas, Styx, Rush, and G.F.R.
Did the sound of HOBBIT changed much during the years?
In the early years of '77 to
'79, Hobbit was much more directed at, what had been
"coined" as, "Fantasy Rock", with the obvious
Tolkien influence. In early '79 we took our recording to Robin
Hood Brians Studio, (the guy who recorded/produced ZZ Top's first
3 albums) and though he liked the music, he strongly recommended
that we write more pop/mainstream/hit oriented songs. Beginning
with "Love Is Forever"(on the "Two Feet Tall"
CD), we began to follow his advice, to an extent, but not entirely. As we played more live concerts the music did become more accessible and, for good or bad, perhaps in less fantasy/art style of our "roots".
By that time, a lot of similar sounding bands were signed to big major recordlabels. Bands like JOURNEY, LOVERBOY, NIGHT RANGER were big time in the USA, didn't you feel that it was a shame that HOBBIT couldn't benefit of the popularity of AOR/Melodic Rock back then?
Yes, we did feel that the huge success of the AOR/Melodic bands at the time would help in our musical goals! However, the AOR vein did become saturated with all those great bands, and apparently, didn't leave us much room!!! We were, of course, very disappointed, to say the least, that we didn't "make it"...............but we're sure that for every band that didn't make it, there is a book explaining why! We have our own version, too!!
Did you play live and/or toured with the band back then?
Yes, we played extensively from '79 through '86. Although most of our concerts were in the Southwestern part of the U.S.A., we did play in other areas. We also got to open for acts such as Cheap Trick, Loverboy, Night Ranger, Quiet Riot, Axe, Gus, Humble Pie, and Iron Butterfly. Also exciting, were the Spotlight clubs in Los Angeles, like Gazzari's.
Weren't you able to release an LP back in the early 80s (did you release any singles perhaps)
As mentioned in the liner notes
of "Two Feet Tall", we couldn't release the
"album" material due to legal problems. We did,
however, have 2 45's released for local airplay, and had
"Midyear's Eve"(also on the Two
Feet Tall CD) chosen for a "Texas Crude" album put out by Q102FM (Dallas radio station of huge popularity back then) which was played quite frequently in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.
Has HOBBIT split up and if so when did you get back together again?
Gene and I kept Hobbit going all
the way through '86, when the group (in it's 3rd "Age")
dis-banded. With the legal problems mentioned earlier, and what
seemed like an impenetrable wall keeping us from moving
further, something had to "give". We have not re-formed, but still get together here and there, and who knows what is in our future??!! "Me-thinks" only Tolkien could tell!!
You finally did release an album this year, why did it took so long and why were you now able to release a CD suddenly?
During this 3rd "Age" of Hobbit, some significant dis-agreements began between the band and management. These centered mostly on the release/non-release of "Two Feet Tall", and the over-all strategy of how Hobbit should proceed as a business/entertainment entity. A stale-mate had been reached and, obviously, many years gone by, before the "situation" settled out; And we're all damn glad it finally did!!................Hopefully, not too late!
Could you tell me more about the album?
There are a books' worth of "tales" to tell regarding the "Two Feet Tall" project, Gabor...........most relateable..........some not, but I will try to give as good a "highlight" of some as I can. Let me say first of all our Manager at this time (Bruce Stover) believed in going "first class" in everything, or no class! Our journey began, for instance, by being picked up in a limousine at the airport in New York........what a way to start! The studio we were going to record at was called "Wizard" studio of all things, for a band called Hobbit, and had been used by many well known artists in the area (expensive).
We began by taking all our guitars to a special place in the city to have them adjusted and "checked" out, where just about every known guitarist from Keith Richards on had been, and was, no doubt, costly! Afterwards, in the studio, Ed Sprigg (Producer) had us set-up in the "dead-room" for a 2 week "pre-production" work-out. During those 2 weeks we dissected, inspected, injected and selected each song that was to go on the album. Ed didn't think that Keith's tempo was consistant enough, and suggested/forced us to use a click track in our headphones. We had to accept the obvious "changes" this would have on the songs, from original writing, and performance, but since this was our "ticket" to stardom, we decided to go along with Ed's ideas, thinking it was what was best.
That is, all of us but Keith, who was at real conflict with this "clinical" approach, and had the first really heated argument of the project! Keith proceeded to "walk" out, Ed told us that he wanted to hire a studio drummer, to which we, collectively, said "hell no"! We, obviously, got back on "track" and moved forward. We have always felt that even though some of the songs came out better, some would never be as good as "the original", pre-N.Y. days. For example, "Up And Down", "Takin' Your Heart Away", "Till I Get You Back", "Two Feet Tall" and "Faggots" lost most of their dynamics, due to the effect the click track had on guitar chording and basic rhythms. On the other hand, the changes affecting Intensity were awesome and exactly what it needed, especially on Drums and Bass! Ed really "shone" on that song, and with that powerful Zeppelin rhythm, mixed with the orchestra, he really made it into what a lot of past/future "fans", and us, would consider the "Anthem" of Hobbit!!
So we set up the drums with
about 15 microphones on drums, floor, walls and proceeded to lay
down the basic tracks. Ed had begun figuring what order the songs
should be arranged, and since "Midyear's Eve" was the
unanimous choice as the lead-off song, started there and went on. The "first" side flowed together real well, while "side" 2 was more of a collection of the others. After "scratch" vocals were done, we filled in the rest leaving lead vocals for last. There were, of course, some interesting and unique little "tricks" and effects we used along the way. All the "Hobbit" voices throughout the recording were done with a compressor. The "wind" rustling through leaves in "Love Is Forever" are real leaves we gathered from around the studio, dumped on the floor, and with some well placed mics., we just kind of "shuffled" through them. In the "weaving" vocal in "Takin' Your Heart Away", Turk sang through an actual truck muffler!
On some of the Bass tracks a second mic. was placed in a piano with certain keys taped down. The flange effect in the end of "Faggots" was a lot of feet of tape run through 3 different machines that seemed to go completely around the whole room for that flange sound, so we had a lot of fun with that part of the recording! One interesting adventure we had was when we went to see Styx at "Long hair" Madison Square. Bruce had rented a limousine (one of many) and proceeded to the show. You can't imagine the "fans" that were swarming the limo as we got out and when we got back in..........thinking we were some hot shit rock stars, which, I must admit, was awfully fun for us!
As we look back now, the overall effect was probably negative. We started believing we were already "stars" and started losing hold of some priorities. Bruce basically felt that with the proper names and putting enough money out there, the rest would just be easy! There was no doubt he strongly believed in Hobbit, but he should have managed the project on leaner terms and with the control of a strong "Coach". Seemed like so much money and assumed success led to a summer of lost focus on everybody's part. We were all to blame..........but Bruce was The Manager!
We also got to meet some great people, too! Leslie West and Corky Laing (remember Mountain?) were recording "Hall of the Mountain King" one day before our time started and we got to "chat" a little. The "coolest" was when Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople?) popped in one time and hung out with us for most of the day while we listened/recorded, and had a few beers. On breaks, he told us a bunch of great stories about the "old" days in the 60's and gigging in England and Germany, and was just as nice and funny a guy as you could meet! Ian's favorite song was "The Way We Are", and he liked "Intensity" a great deal, too!
Gabor, there are so many more
tales to tell, like getting lost in Harlem in Bruce's Cadillac,
or when Richard and
I got lost looking for a club around 11 p.m., picked up a black guy from a corner who took us there, or eating at Mama Leone's Restaurant, or our favorite club/friends within walking distance of the studio, too many for
now, but maybe one day...........I would like to say that no matter what you hear about N.Y., in the 3 months we were there, we never met one single unfriendly or rude person. We had a blast and "New Yorkers" made our stay
an incredible experience we will never forget! Probably the most memorable part of the Hobbit project was the "symphony orchestra"!
Ed chose a guy named Ron
Frangiapani to write and arrange the sheet music, and produce the
effort. So, when the 25 or so professional musicians showed up,
the entire "dead" room was set up with chairs and music
stands. There were, at least, 50 pounds of sheet music written
and scored for "Midyear's Eve", "Puppets",
"Love Is Forever", and "Intensity". There
were violins, violas, cello's (we loved the cello's), oboes,
flutes, french horns (we loved these, too), a bassoon, and
timpani. There were 3 "first" chair players from the
New York Philharmonic! All the music was set up for each one, and
mics. placed everywhere. It still amazes us how they
played those songs without ever hearing them first! After a couple of last minute changes as the day wore on, everything started to come together. It was a quite a "big" time feeling, watching these "real" musicians play to
and record on our songs!
A songwriting story for
you........ Gene had a song title that he had been thinking about
for a while. It was quite some time later, that he then came up
with a really neat little melody, that would later become the
intro. and ending. Richard followed up with a guitar riff that
would later become the main and heavy part. Turk added some bass
stuff in the intro. and ending that Gene was very
"keen" on, and the rest of it fell into place! It was
one of those times every musician lives for! When we played
"Intensity" for the first time at practice one night in
April 1980, we knew it was "lasting" stuff and is
still, we think, our finest work. Whenever we played it live
,Gene would start it off by saying............."This is a
song about living life to the max, and it is called.........
The lyrics of that song cover, pretty much, Hobbit's "saga", and are still the most powerful Gene ever wrote.
Are there many songs that didn't make the album?
Absolutely!! At that time we had
about 30 songs. It was difficult to choose in some cases, because
we wanted our most unique material on it, but at the same time,
we wanted a "potential" hit, too! So we chose most of
the 10 songs without too much dis-agreement. Some were obvious
musts, while others based on our "fans" in East Texas
were not. About 2 months before we left, we did a
"ballot" amongst friends and followers to pick
"the 10".To our surprise a song called
"Redcap" came in first, and another called "Don't
Know" was very high on the
vote..............but neither one made it on "Two Feet Tall".
Anyway, the final 2 selections
were "Faggots in the Fire" and "Puppets", a
song that Turk and Richard had just recently written. We still
feel, though we like
the song, that "Puppets" is kind of out of place, and "Faggots in the Fire" has a problem with offending some people, even though we swear it is not meant too! Mike Scott (Engineer/Owner "Wizard Studio") and Ed had picked "Love Is Forever" and "Til I Get You Back" as the 2 potential hits. There are still about 4 more CD's worth of Hobbit music on tape, that will all be out one day!
Are there plans for a new CD?
There are plans for a new CD of
our first recordings ever. It was recorded in Gene's home studio,
so we're not sure yet if it will be of a "marketable"
quality or not. We might go back to other recordings first, and
then come back to it later. The title is "Join The
Celebration" "An Adventure Into Fantasy Rock" and
is more in the "Tolkien" vein of writing than any
Can you tell us about possible new written songs?
As I have continued to play in all original bands since the "separation" of Hobbit, Tony (the 3rd "Age") Marsh, and I have written many songs, and I would be willing to bet a years' salary that Gene has quite a few up his sleeve, also!!
Are these new songs in the style of the old HOBBIT songs?
I haven't heard any recordings of Gene's "magic" lately, but I can say that mine and Tony's sound like a very rich mixture of Hobbit and "in-the-vein-rock"! If, one day, a Hobbit "re-forming" does happen and we have the opportunity to work together again, I think we would be able to lay down some very, very good music!
Did HOBBIT had a big following back in the early 80s and are these people aware of the new HOBBIT album?
We had a very serious "following" back then, in our home town Tyler, of course, and all over East Texas, where we played consistantly and often for about 8 years. Clubs we played at were always full to capacity and concerts we put on ourselves always had 1,000 plus people rockin' with us! All that along with radio airplay in Dallas/Ft. Worth and East Texas, Radio sponsored records and events, added to the various opening shows we did from D/F.W to Louisiana, gave us a very sizeable and far-reaching "following" indeed.
Don't want to forget friends who had moved away and somehow got Hobbit played on their local and College stations from Houston, Tx. to Los Angeles! Unfortunately, at this point which is some time later, not every-body we knew then, knows now that "Two Feet Tall" has been released! Local radio stations are now owned by large corporations based who knows where, and they don't offer Indie. Label bands any air-time whatsoever.......none! So, basically we have been working with no advertising, no radio, no backing(dipping into our own pockets), no agent, no management, and only through word-of-mouth, friends, local music stores and the magic of the internet!
Could you tell me of each bandmember what they did after the split back in the mid 80s, any new recordings with other bands/projects?
Gene moved on as an engineer
with a company about 4 hours away from me, hasn't played in any
bands, but continues to write and record in his home studio,
Richard lives about a mile down the road, and went on to
work, and eventually own a business and has not played, seriously, in any bands, but still "picks" his 6-string. Keith moved to Florida and played in a couple of bands , one that was getting some serious attention, and we
haven't heard from him lately, but spiritually, we know he is with us. And I have been in bands on and off continually since then. One group I'm in now is in the process of making a recording/CD as we "speak". Of course I spend the majority of my time with folk like you, Gabor, and new "fans" whom I have developed "E-Mail" relationships with through their purchasing of "Two Feet"!
You already told me about what the guys are doing right now, but musically a lot of things have changed since the early 80s. AOR has almost vanished, but is now making a huge comeback, especially in Europe with big labels poping up here and there. Would you like to play the fun rock'n'roll of HOBBIT all over again?
Boy has music changed since the
80's!! Yes, the most surprising thing, and I must say very happy
and exciting for us, is the huge re-surgence of AOR/Pomp-Rock in
Europe! I think this is one of the reasons, thankfully, that
Hobbit is having such a successfull re-birth or new beginning,
so-to-speak, out there in "music-land"! Outside of our
"core" of 80's "fans", it seems that we are
getting more and more responses from Europe thanks to this
re-awakening! And we love it! We would probably do anything we
could to play the fun rock'n'roll of Hobbit
again...............dreams never die..............., just sometimes get pushed aside for whatever reason!
There are realities in life, though, like feeding the family, paying the bills and working a job! You know the cartoons where the little pebble at the top of the "alps" starts rolling down, gaining speed and accumulating snow, becoming larger and larger as it goes??! Hobbit is just now beginning to roll and accumulate some snow!........We would have to roll much farther and grow much larger before we could bring the "dream" back seriously.........but who knows what can happen.................anything is possible!!
Finally, do you have anything to add to the readers and the fans out there?
A final thought and "tale" for rock'n'rollers out there. It is impossible to describe, in words, how exciting and satisfying it is to write and play original songs. For the time Turk and Gene were productive, we experienced a rare bond that is hard to come by, especially between musicians. The "stuff" we wrote was clearly better than anything we had done before or since that time but.............it "was" "our" "time"! As different as we were, the chemistry gave us remarkable ability to piece together ideas that each of us had. We were certainly catalysts for each other, like simulating an orgasm when a particular guitar riff or vocal melody would turn Turk on!
During the writing of "Join The Celebration"(first "Age") in Gene's home studio, we developed a style that satisfied each other's musical direction. Richard clicked with us immediately upon joining, likeing that early style so much that he quickly fit in. Each of us would have several ideas going all the time, and as we started to put a song together, somebody always seemed to have a part that fit. Once someone's idea turned the rest of us on, it was like everything else in the world kind of stood still and got out of the way until we were done! The feeling of writing, and then playing and singing a new song would forever be the most lasting memory that we had experienced! So if you have to play around with lots of different musicians before you find that perfect mix(which is difficult and takes a lot of time) of 3 or 4 "like minds/tastes"........ it's worth it!!!
One February, we got a "call" from Bruce, that we had been chosen, by Mikel Leff of "Beaver Productions" to open for Cheap Trick at Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport Louisiana.......that night!!! It was such short notice we hardly had time to develop "butterflies"! The excitement began to mount as we went through our sound check, followed by Cheap Trick's, got to meet them quickly, then hurried to the dressing room where Eric "Gorilla" Hillin had brought us some McDonald's burgers, we were starving because we had left directly after work to speed to the show!
Between tuning guitars, shoving
burgers down, and dressing, the feeling going around, knowing
what we were about to experience was "Awesome"!! It was
time..........so with guitars in hand, we filed down the long
to backstage. The lights went out in the auditorium and the sound of 10,000 voices grew to an incredible "db level"! There was just barely enough light to see as we "stumbled" up the stairs to get to the "half a basketball
court" size stage. Amp standby's were turned off, a muffled power chord from Richard, then one from Gene, a couple of drum rolls and Turk's one or two bass notes...........almost ready! As mic. heights were adjusted, Turk,
with all the nervous energy piling up, walks up to his mic. and yells out a " Shreveport, how are we doing tonight?" 10,000 voices got even louder! Terry Holt and "Gorilla had everything ready...........the announcer(local
Radio D.J.) got the nod, went to the center mic., spotlight hits him and..............."Ladies and Gentlemen -- from Tyler Texas -- please welcome -- Hobbit!!"
Richard began keyboard
"slime" and the first chords were hit(voices louder
still!!) Time does fly when you're having fun! The rest of the
show was a blur! What an unbelievable feeling playing in front of
10,000 "ravenous" people, fronting Cheap Trick! A high
no drug can equal! With all the spotlights, and what seemed like
an "ocean" of faces, we played, and played well and the
crowd response was great, and we even got an encore! This is the
kind of experience that brings the required confidence and
"cockiness" you must have in this business...........
what makes all the hours of, sweat, practicing, new and broken relationships, hard work, sore fingers, highs and lows, and all the rest that musicians go through, worth every bit of it!! Don't ever give up.............Don't ever lose the dream!!!
Gabor, I believe this would be
as good a place as any to end..........yes??! And if I may,
please??! Thank you Gabor, and "Strutter'Zine" very,
very much............. first for the great review you gave
"Two Feet Tall" and
now for the opportunity to give some histories and some "tales"! Also would like to thank......... www.cdbaby.com .for helping to start all this Hobbit excitement for us around the "globe", and one final comment to all the new "fans" and "Tolkien" readers out there! We feel, Hobbit is at the point in "Lord Of The Rings" right after The Fellowship split....still with the same goal.......still thinking with one mind. We thank and appreciate all the "folk" out there who have taken the time and money to "try" us out, and are glad they did...... and will finish by saying.............anything is possible! And hopefully one day, with enough CD sales, or a "label" offer we can't refuse, we will have to call ............an "EntMoot"!!!!
REVIEW HOBBIT CD 'Two feet tall'
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