The Hell Drivers
Deliver Rock Heaven
When the Hell Drivers play, one realizes how long the sound has been away.
Even though two of the members of this band are somewhat legendary — Jim McCarty and Johnny “Bee” Badanjek — the sound their pedigrees bring to bear in the Hell Drivers is both as familiar as an old troublemaking friend, and new and fresh as anything currently coming out of mainstream music.
In other words, it’s that classic Detroit sound, found in the history of its members made new again — fresh, alive and driving.
“Other bands out there may have our energy but not our history,” explains McCarty. “And some of the other classic acts out there may have our history … but not our energy.”
No one makes music like this anymore. McCarty — along with band mates Bee on drums, veteran local vocalist Jim Edwards, bassist Marvin Conrad and keyboardist Danny Taylor — also drive home the point that no band could make music like this, but them.
Growing up in Detroit, McCarty and Bee were “fixed up” by their fathers, who were friends. The elder McCarty and Badanjek discovered their sons, who were close in age, both enjoyed playing music and thought it would be nice to get them together … and they’ve been together ever since, representing one of the great unsung rock partnerships. They began playing together, guitar and drums, the “original early White Stripes,” as Bee says. McCarty agrees that their original chemistry never fails them.
“It’s always been magic between Bee and me,” McCarty says. “There’s an energy between us. We have a ball, and the audience can see that.”
In 1962, Bee and McCarty began playing with Mitch Ryder in Badanjek’s basement, eventually becoming the Detroit Wheels. McCarty and Bee played on all of their early classics. Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels had their first big hit in 1965 with “Jenny Take a Ride,” which reached #4 on national charts and #1 on the R&B chart — the first time a self-contained rock group had ever done so. The group had its biggest hit with the “Devil with a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly” medley, which reached #2 on the national charts.
In 1972, after playing apart in various projects, Badanjek and McCarty reunited to form a new group called The Rockets, which recorded a number of albums through the 1970s and 1980s. Bee’s songs launched the group into national prominence and proved his ability to score consistent hits such as “Can’t Sleep,” “Turn Up the Radio” and “Takin’ It Back.”
Over the years, Bee and McCarty have played with and contributed their talents to Bob Seger, Buddy Miles, Cactus, Alice Cooper, Edgar Winter, Albert King, Mark Farner, Dr. John, Nils Lofgren, Les Paul and The Romantics, in addition to many other less-known bands.
When McCarty, Bee and Edwards began jamming consistently on Wednesday nights at a local bar, people began to notice, even traveling from as far away as Dayton, Ohio and Alpena. Crowd favorites proved to be the Rockets’ songs, which fans had been unable to hear for almost 25 years. McCarty and Bee needed a singer to deliver the material and the success of these shows proved they’d found their man.
“We needed a singer who could pull it off and do it the way it’s supposed to be done,” McCarty explains. “And we got the singer.”
Edwards’ powerful and expressive voice perfectly fronts the instrumental attack. The group, now calling themselves The Hell Drivers (appropriately, a term used to describe automobile thrill-based productions performing at fairs and racetracks since the 1930s), decided to keep the group going and focus on being a sort of Detroit rock revue, best evidenced on their CD, Live from Detroit, featuring classics such as “Turn Up the Radio,” “Jenny Take a Ride” and “Money (That’s What I Want).”
The Hell Drivers set consisted of a full night of songs that Badanjek and McCarty had written or recorded over the last 45 years. They added a keyboard player (Danny Taylor) at the suggestion of their old friend, Bill Blackwell, to fatten the sound. ...