JACKSONVILLE, FL—The nation's celebrity-biography industry is reeling following Monday's admission by former Molly Hatchet rhythm guitarist Billy Joe Reeves that the rock band's so-called "nightmare descent into booze, sex and drugs" at the height of its late-'70s popularity was "actually not all that nightmarish at all."
"In the summer of 1979, Molly Hatchet was on top of the world. We'd just completed a sold-out tour opening for the likes of Bob Seger and Cheap Trick, and our sophomore effort, Flirtin' With Disaster, was a hit with audiences and critics alike," Reeves told Peter Briley, host of the daytime cable-access talk show Jacksonville Community Voices. "Almost overnight, we were big stars, and things started getting out of control: drugs, alcohol and constant anonymous sex with teenage groupies."
When asked if the experience had been a living hell, a nightmare descent into booze, sex and drugs that almost cost him his life, Reeves stunned Briley with his answer.
"I really wouldn't call it 'nightmarish,' per se, no," Reeves said. "In fact, it was really fucking great. Lord almighty."
Reeves' admission has set off shockwaves within music-bio circles, sharply defying many long-held assumptions about the high price of fame.
"This revelation has stirred up no end of controversy in virtually every corner of the country's $4.2 billion pseudodocumentary industry," said VH1 Behind The Music producer Doug Farelli. "If what this man is saying is true, the very foundation of everything we have come to believe about the celebrity rise-fall-redemption arc may be suspect."
Said E! True Hollywood Story producer Ellen Donovan: "One has to ask: If the excesses of fame are not, in fact, the living hell we have come to believe they are, what else is untrue? What about the heartwarming happy ending, when, after losing all their money, they go clean, settle down and start over again with a better life? Are we to believe that's all just some terrible lie, too?"
During his headline-grabbing interview with Briley, Reeves insisted that sudden fame and fortune did not result in deep inner turmoil and suffering on the part of Molly Hatchet's members, slowly tearing them apart until the band collapsed under the weight of its members' tortured self-destruction. Rather, Reeves said, the struggle, heartache and pain didn't kick in until well after the band had peaked.
"To be honest, if anything, it was the nightmare descent into a lack of booze, sex and drugs that really hurt," said Reeves, who has worked at his brother-in-law's bait shop since leaving Molly Hatchet in 1986. "The excesses of fame were just fine, thank you very much. It was the non-excesses of non-fame that were the hard part."
Jimmy Gaines, a back-up percussionist with Lynyrd Skynyrd from 1977 to 1981, agreed.
"The booze, the sex, the drugs... Those are three great things, and I miss them all terribly," Gaines told MTV News' Kurt Loder during a special investigative report on the controversy Tuesday. "As a matter of fact, I'm looking forward to starting up a second, brand-new nightmare descent into all that stuff just as soon as I can manage it."
Despite the stir his remarks have created, Reeves is not backing down.
"Come on, I'd be high as a kite, a joint in one hand and a fifth of Jack Daniels in the other, and all I had to do was play the first four bars of 'Whiskey Man' and the panties would start dropping," said Reeves, eyeing with wistful longing the Frank Frazetta painting of a battle-axe-wielding barbarian on the cover of 1980's Beatin' The Odds. "And you're asking if it filled me with a gnawing emptiness and despair I couldn't escape? Hell, no. Those days with Danny Joe, Duane, Bruce, Dave and Banner were pretty much the best thing that ever happened to this here good ol' boy, and that's a fact."