Appreciating the Career of Banner Thomas

Banner Thomas

On the morning of April 10, 2017, rock lovers woke up to the sad news of the passing of Banner Thomas, a bassist who was best known for his association with Molly Hatchet. He helped the band in releasing four successful albums and later on soldiered on with different bands. Unfortunately, his body gave in to pneumonia which he had been battling in the weeks leading up to his death. By the time he died, he was not doing well financially, and his fellow band members of Those Guys set up a benefit to assist with the funeral and medical expenses. He may not have left a fortune, but his legacy lives on; thus, we continue to appreciate the career of Banner Thomas and his contribution to rock music.

Stirring up His Love for Music

Thomas is not among the musicians who can proudly say that music runs in the family. Then again, you don’t have to be related to a musician to become one, as Thomas realized. With music always blasting in his house, the late bassist soon gravitated towards becoming a musician. He told Phillip Archambeau that his earliest influences include Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, Johnny Horton, and Ernie Ford. Later on, Thomas discovered rock music thanks to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and Black Sabbath, to whom he admitted being hopelessly addicted.

Luckily, even if the family was not interested in music, they did not stop Thomas from pursuing it even in high school. He got his first guitar and had his first professional gig at 15. The late bassist played in several bands throughout high school and felt music was his calling because he decided to study it in college. Unfortunately, he could not stay in school and had to drop out to pursue music professionally by joining a rock band he described as an early version of Molly Hatchet. Looking back to his decision to drop out of college, Thomas knew that probably if he had gone on to graduate, he would have charted a different path.

Joining Molly Hatchet

In 1971, Dave Hlubek and Steve Holland founded Molly Hatchet. They needed a guitar player, and luckily, Hlubek got to meet Thomas in 1973. The bassist was in a music store with another guitar player, Donald Hall. Donald was trying out a new guitar at the music store when Hlubek happened to be within earshot and heard the guitar player. Hlubek was impressed by Hall’s guitar playing skills and asked him to join his band. As a good friend, Hall vouched for his friend, Thomas, telling Hlubek that Thomas was quite a good player and asked if he could join the band. Strangely, there is no record of Hall playing with Molly Hatchet, but Thomas joined the rock band.

According to Swampland, Molly Hatchet got their name from a legendary prostitute who would mutilate and decapitate her clients. The members were already taken in by Lynyrd Skynyrd and wanted Ronnie Van Zant to help produce their debut album. Unfortunately, Van Zant died in a plane crash in 1977 before the band could release their debut album. Still, that was only a bump along their road to success because Thomas helped the band make successful hits.

He is credited as the person responsible for making “Gator Country” the biggest hit of the debut album “Molly Hatchet.” Consequently, the album was gold certified on June 28, 1979, then went platinum after a year and a half. The success was only the beginning, and Thomas still co-wrote “Flirting with Disaster,” the title track off the second album. It became the band’s best-selling album to date, and his songwriting skills must have been exceptional because that second album went triple platinum.

Thomas Leaves Molly Hatchet

In 1980, Molly Hatchet released “Beatin’ the Odds,” but the lineup had already started changing by that time. Danny Joe Brown, the lead singer, had to leave the band in May 1980 due to complications related to diabetes. Jimmy Farrar replaced him, and according to Wikipedia, the band’s Southern cultural influence changed with the new addition. By 1981 when they released “Take No Prisoners,” the distinct cultural influence had changed completely.

Thomas revealed that “Beatin’ the Odds” was his favorite of the songs they recorded as a band because they were still doing hard rock by then. Therefore with the release of “Take No Prisoners” and the obvious change in the sound, the late bassist could not take it anymore. He quit the band in November 1981 and blamed himself and the other band members for the cracks that had started to form. Thomas said that success got into their heads, and they began thinking of themselves as stars. An argument with Hlubek set him off, and he quit; his only regret was that he left the way he did but leaving the band was not a regretful action.

Flexing His Musical Muscles Solo

Thomas noticed that after he left, the band lost its identity as they were under pressure from management to make more singles, and he remarked he was happy that he had already left by then. He was right; according to Celebrity Access, soon after he left, Hlubek also had to be replaced by Bobby Ingram as the lead guitarist because Hlubek was battling serious drug addiction. Ingram could not steer the band to achieve the success they enjoyed before, and Thomas did not mind showing his hate for the guitarist. The bassist referred to Ingram as a thief and liar who did not pay him the royalties for co-writing “Rolling Thunder.”

Life had to go on, and after leaving Molly Hatchet, Thomas co-founded Big Engine and started working on solo projects. He put his songwriting skills to use, saying he would come up with a solo album which would probably be terrible, but if it picked, at least he could embark on a rock star ego trip. By 2016, according to St. Augustine Social, Thomas had accepted that trying to maintain the energy he had at 20 was the biggest challenge of his musical career. He continued playing with the local bands until his demise in 2017, aged 63.

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