April 10, 2017 – Banner Thomas – bass for Molly Hatchet, was born on September 6, 1954 in Savannah, Georgia.
About his musical ambitions during childhood he said: “There was always some kind of music to listen to in my house when I was a child. Unfortunately, it was all either on the radio or on records. There were no musicians in my family. I still got exposed to a lot of good music, from Nat King Cole and Al Hirt through Elvis and Johnny Horton to Tennessee Ernie Ford. Then the Beatles came along. By the time the sixties were halfway over, I had a guitar and was learning songs by the Monkees and Donovan, the Beatles and the Stones. Then I discovered Hendrix and Cream, and by the time Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath came out, I was hopelessly addicted. By the time I graduated high school, I had already been in a few bands. I was a music major at college for about a year or so, then I dropped out and joined an early version of Molly Hatchet. Who knows where I would be now if I had finished school? Probably not talking to you now.”
In 1974, Thomas and Guitarist Steve Holland joined Dave Hlubek’s band he had started in 1971. By 1975 the band would become Molly Hatchet, a project that would be completed when guitarist Duane Roland took his position in the band in 1975, Bruce Crump became the drummer in 1976 and Danny Joe Brown replaced Hlubek as the band’s vocalist at around the same time.
Hlubek has stated that the unfortunate plane crash demise of Lynyrd Skynyrd opened the door for Molly Hatchet. Members of .38 Special, fronted by another VanZant (Donnie) brother referred the band to manager Pat Armstrong who, with partner Alan Walden, had briefly been co-manager of Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1970. Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant was slated to produce Molly Hatchet’s first album, having helped in writing arrangements and directing rehearsals prior to his death. Hlubek along with Banner Thomas also wrote, co-wrote and co-produced many of the band’s songs.
Molly Hatchet cut their first demos in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 8-track recording studio using their equipment. Other demos were cut in Jacksonville’s Warehouse Studios. Warner Bros. Records expressed interest in the resulting recordings from these sessions.
Bassist Banner Thomas, a member of Molly Hatchet’s lineup during the band’s earliest and most commercially successful years as a recording act, has died at the age of 63.
News of Thomas’ death has been confirmed by the band via social media with a post noting his death occurred the morning of April 10, and offering “prayers and condolences” to his family and friends. According to the Florida Times-Union, Thomas had been “battling pneumonia in recent weeks.”
While Thomas’ tenure with Molly Hatchet lasted through a relatively small portion of the veteran group’s lengthy timeline, he was an important component of their early success, locking in with drummer Bruce Crump to form the rhythm section that powered the band’s first four LPs. Thomas also co-wrote a number of Molly Hatchet songs — including the group’s signature hit, the title track to 1979’s Flirtin’ With Disaster LP.
After peaking inside the U.S. Top 20 with that album and racking up more than two million copies sold, the group started to see its popularity fade as trends moved away from Southern rock toward the end of the decade. Although 1980’s Beatin’ the Odds and 1981’s Take No Prisoners both made the Top 40, neither could build on Disaster’s momentum, and by 1983, both Thomas and Crump were out of the lineup.
“We all started thinking we were stars, and that drove wedges into the cracks that started forming. I was as guilty as anybody else,” Thomas reflected in 2002. “I’m sorry I quit the way I did, when I did, but it looks like I picked a good time to get out. Not long after, under pressure from management and the record company to produce more hit singles, the band started to lose its identity and started to look like Loverboy. I’m glad I wasn’t there for that.”
After leaving Molly Hatchet, Thomas remained in the Jacksonville area, where he went on to co-found the group Big Engine, moving in and out of that band’s lineup at various points over the years. In 1992 he did another tour with Molly Hatchett. Then, he went on to play with other Florida bands and returned to Big Engine in late 2000. More recently, he was a part of the local act Those Guys,
Banner Thomas died from complications of rheumatoid arthritis, at 62, on April 10, 2017.
A Thomas tribute show was aired by local Jacksonville radio station 104.9 WXKW on April 12; Those Guys have also announced plans for a benefit to help defray his medical and funeral bills.