OK, first of all, don’t blame us.
It would seem that, in light of the controversy caused by my Hell Drivers feature from March 17th, the band have decided to ditch the Hell Drivers name completely and quit the "Motor City rock revue" format.
Instead, they’ll be going out as the Rockets, the band that guitarist Jimmy McCarty and drummer Johnny ‘Bee’ Badanjek founded and played with between 1972 and 1983, performing classic Rockets material alongside new songs that they plan to eventually release as a new Rockets album.
The old Hell Drivers line up remains intact, so vocalist Jim Edwards will in effect replace Dave Gilbert, who tragically passed away in 2001. Marvin Conrad plays bass in place of John Fraga, and instead of rhythm guitarist Dennis Robbins, the "new" Rockets will continue to play with keys man Danny Taylor.
The Rockets received a Distinguished Achievement Award at this year’s Detroit Music Awards, an event which saw the band, still billed as the Hell Drivers, perform a three-song Rockets set.
That show would appear to officially be the Hell Drivers’ last, so apparently taken were McCarty and Badanjek by the warm reception that they received while representing the Rockets.
So the question is, is this the right move for the band?
It’s certainly a financially smart decision. As the Rockets, they will inevitably be offered far bigger headline shows than they ever could have gotten as the Hell Drivers (I’ll hold off calling them "a bar band"). The Rockets have already been announced as the Friday night headliners at this year’s Stars & Stripes Festival (the other headliners are Vince Neil and Warrant which, whether or not you like hair metal, shows the immediate difference in status the name change has made).
They will undoubtedly face criticism from those who believe that the Rockets died with Gilbert. People should and will decide for themselves if this band is correct in using the Rockets name. But before you condemn them too quickly, consider the New York Dolls. It’s a fairly close parallel. Two original members (even though, in the Dolls’ case, there are only two surviving members) using the name of their old band after failing to make a significant impact with their solo projects.
David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain were given a whole heap of crap from all sides for dusting off the New York Dolls name, but after a few years of great live shows and two excellent new albums, the critics have been silenced for good.
That’s what the Rockets will have to do also – release an album that does justice to the band’s awesome legacy, and really wow the big crowds night after night. They have to create new history, roll with the punches and be respectful to the Rockets’ legacy. Throw in a bit of luck, and they stand a chance.
The original Rockets in the CREEM Magazine offices back in the day.