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Southern Rockers Blackfoot Remember Ann Arbor Days

Of the Oakland Press

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The members of Blackfoot are steadfastly southern rockers, formed and still based in Florida. But Michigan plays an important part in the 36-year history of the group, best known for its 1979 anthem "Highway Song."

In the late '70s, dissatisfied with the commercial showing of its first two albums, Blackfoot signed on with Ann Arbor-based manager Al Nalli at the suggestion of tourmates Brownsville Station, a Michigan band that was also a Nalli client. "He had more connections in the music business," explains bassist Greg T. Walker. Nalli also had a studio where he produced Blackfoot's album, starting with the 1979 breakthrough "Strikes," so it was only natural that Blackfoot's members -- all but guitarist Charlie Hargrett -- gradually moved to Ann Arbor.

"We weren't there very much, of course, except to record once a year, or sometimes on a brief three days off from the road," Walker, 57, recalls. "But we had a great time. It was a great place to be."

Michigan did, however, thicken the blood of the Florida boys.

"We always recorded in January -- what an awful time to be in that part of the country!" Walker, who is of Native American (Muskogee Creek) descent, recalls with a laugh. "Being a slave to fashion, I looked good -- nice boots, nice jeans with shirts and all that kind of stuff -- but I was always cold. I took me years to figure out how to dress for winter time.

"I got the insulated coveralls, the big ol' boots that look three times too big. I'd wear all that when I hunted, but you wouldn't catch me on the street dressed that way. I was a rock star, don'tcha know..."

Blackfoot broke up in 1996, but Walker resurrected the band in 2004 with Hargrett and drummer Jakson [cq] "Thunderfoot" Spires, who died in March of 2005. Singer-guitarist Rickey Medlocke, now part of Lynyrd Skynyrd, has never been part of the reunion, but Walker says he's been pleased with the progress the group has made during the past four years.

"Getting (the band) back after losing it, it was just a quest of mine," Walker explains. "So just doing it again was rewarding enough; the first show we played it was like, 'Oh, thank God we're back doing what we love to do.'

"But since then it's been absolutely incredible. It's grown every year and is getting better and better. There's a lot of stuff that's different from the old days, but people still want to see us up there playing those songs, which is great."

Blackfoot performs with Molly Hatchet and Manny Charlton of Nazareth at 6:30 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 7) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $35.50 pavilion, $10 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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