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Nice Guy, Nice Songs

From 4-H to Miss Molly, Hadden Sayers keeps aiming for the next plateau

Hadden Sayers is a nice guy. He calls one day to tell me that the Hadden Sayers Band has recently played a Fort Worth gig opening for Austin semi-guitar-star Chris Duarte. Seems the Star-Telegram had a reviewer at the show who dug his poison pen deep into Duarte's Stevie Ray redux, but saved glowing praise for Sayers' solid performance. It's the kind of clip most performers -- especially the competitive crop of blues-based guitarists/frontmen aspiring to Vaughan's vacant throne -- would shove up near the front of their press kits, claiming top slot in the guit-slinger pecking order. Two days later I get Sayers' press kit carrying the clip up front all right, but he's blacked out Duarte's name every time it appeared in the article. "I just didn't want anyone to think I was putting him down," Sayers says.

Not the attitude of which cutting contests are made, but Sayers fails to fit more than a few Texas guitar-slinger molds. First of all, he's not from Austin (though he's played there), but Houston, by way of College Station, Sugar Land, Plano and, originally, Lufkin. The only youthful apprenticeships Sayers served were with the Sugar Land 4-H/FFA clique and their bronco-busting charges. Like anyone who's ever strapped on an electric guitar, he's got nothing but admiration for Vaughan, but his own rock pantheon builds to a pinnacle with John Mellencamp sitting on top. And though he can look the part, fronting his own blues-based rock band from his stance behind a battered vintage Strat, he's really not a guitar slinger at all, but more a songwriter and singer who just so happens to be not at all shy about spicing his Southern rock with some tasty, and tasteful, guitar picking. "The most important thing you can do," Sayers says, "is write as good a song as you can and then go out and build an audience." It's not an earth-shakingly fresh prescription for success, but its very simplicity might be the key. It's already opened more than a few doors for the year-and-a-half-old band.

The 27-year-old Sayers' high school musical idols were Billy Gibbons (via ZZ Top's Fandango LP) and KISS (his high school air guitar tellingly modeled after Paul Stanley's rhythm, not Ace Frehley's lead flash). Aside from some Jerry Jeff Walker tunes that he'd picked out on an old acoustic, Sayers didn't start really playing until a 4-H scholarship took him to school at Texas A&M, where he spent too much time with farm animals, started work on his eventual journalism degree and found himself saddled with more free time than he knew what to do with. He bought his first electric, sought out the local musicians and helped form two bands -- the Kerouacs and the Killtones -- that made small inroads into the limited College Station circuit.

After graduation, Sayers took his guitar to Austin, where he ended up doing about nine months on the road playing with Silent Partners, a collection of veteran blues players who had once backed B.B. King. The time on the road was educational in ways musical and otherwise, and Sayers, ever the nice guy, leans across the table to pause the tape recorder while he dishes dirt on certain habits of certain band members that opened his eyes to some of the seamier aspects of life on the road. So Sayers moved back to Houston for a real job to help pay off the credit card debts that every university student piles up, and ended up at a downtown oil trading company working the nine-to-five. But the guitar didn't stay in its case for long.

"The day I got the job," he recalls, "[Miss] Molly's manager called and said they were looking for a guitarist, did I want to come down and audition? Initially I said no, I'd just gotten this job." Miss Molly manager Dickie Malone eventually coaxed him into trying out, and Sayers joined Molly's band, first as a guitarist, then increasingly as a songwriter as well. His playing and his songs (where he's credited as Had Binion) both make substantial appearances on Molly's two albums.

At the same time, the Fabulous Satellite Lounge was just opening its doors with a concept that included a house band, briefly called Planet X, that included Sayers and future Sayers band member Barbara Donaho (formerly with Houston bands the Dishes and the Judys).

The credit cards got paid off quick between the three gigs, but Sayers stayed with Molly as a Whip on and off for three years, not least because of the opportunity to play beside guitar legend and sometime Whip Bert Wills, of whom Sayers is a great admirer.

But about this time last year, the songbook of tunes Sayers was writing began to outstrip the available slots in Molly's repertoire and Sayers decided to take a shot at his own band, making an amicable split with the Whips. Donaho came on board as rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist, Molly bassist Charlie Knight followed Sayers, and Beat Temple drummer Chris Axelrad and Hightailers percussionist Paolo handled the rhythm until some nine months ago, when Axelrad bowed out and Sayers' old A&M bandmate John Hamilton moved to Houston to fill the skins slot.

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