They were discovered and managed by Bill Ham of ZZ Top fame. They recorded six albums between 1976 and 1982, and they were on the road for the better part of 200 days a year, for years. We are speaking about the group Point Blank. John O'Daniel talked with us about his group.
Q - John, I actually saw Point Blank in concert many years ago. I just can't recall who you were on the bill with. I believe you opened for somebody at the Syracuse War Memorial.
A - It could have been ZZ Top or Areosmith or Bob Seger or Foghat.
Q - I'm going to guess it had to have been ZZ Top.
A - I'm going to say so too, like in the middle '70s, '75, '76, somewhere around there.
Q - Sounds about right. You were discovered and managed by Bill Ham. Where and when did Bill Ham catch your act?
A -It's been a long time. If I remember this correctly, one of the guys that worked for him at the time saw us at a bar in Dallas and told Bill about it. The thing that most people don't know is that Rusty, my guitar player, had been under contract with Ham for two years before I met him. Rusty was Billy Gibbons' guitar tech. He would sign personal management contracts with Bill Ham at that time when I met him and was trying to put a band together. That's where I came in. I was in Tulsa working with Leon Russell. My drummer friend called me and said "this guy's in Houston. He's a great left-handed guitar player. He's got a deal with Bill Ham. He's going to be putting a band together. You need to get down here." And so I went to Houston and we all met and started playing. But Ham knew about Rusty before. He'd heard him play. He already had him signed.
Q - So, he knew he was going to put together a group with him in it, he just didn't know who the other players would be.
A - Oh, yeah. Right. He tried to sign Stevie Ray too. Rusty, Stevie Ray and Eric Johnson. All those guys are about the same age. They'd been around together and Ham had Eric Johnson and Rusty under contract. He wanted to sign Stevie Ray and put Rusty and Stevie Ray in a band together. Stevie was more into the Traditional Blues thing. Rusty was more of a Rock player, so it never panned out, which was good for me.
Q - I bet when you guys signed that management deal with Bill Ham, you thought you were on your way.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - You had Bill Ham as your manager. You were on Aritsa Records, Clive Davis' label. John, what happened?
A - (laughs) Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed. Seriously. We toured for two years before we ever had a record out. We toured with ZZ (Top) and everybody you can think of. '76 is when our first album came out. But in '77 Skynyrd crashed. We were playing in Harlingen, Texas, headlining a small theater show. On our way back home when we heard about the plane crash, we were on our way to Baton Rouge to meet Lynyrd Skynyrd. We had 62 sold-out shows and we were going to be special guests on their headline tour. We had just released our second album when their plane crashed and that canceled us out of 62 shows. You know how the concert business is. Back then we were working 4 to 5 days a week. So, we didn't have time to book another concert tour. We were out of work for six months.
Q - You feel if Skynyrd's plane hadn't crashed, this would have been Point Blank's big opportunity.
A - I think so, because the next album is when we came out with "Mean To Your Queen". It was a whole different album. A much better album, but Southern Rock started fizzling. I think Lynyrd Skynyrd was the head of the snake of Southern Rock as far as I was concerned. The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet came on later on. The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, us and Marshall Tucker were in there. That was pretty much the Southern Rock scene at the time.
Q - How about The Allman Brothers band? Don't they figure in somewhere?
A - Well see, I don't consider them Southern Rock. They are their own thing. I love The Allman Brothers. I have a weird outlook on that and I'll put it to you real quick. Southern Rock to me is a compilation of Rock 'n' Roll and Bluegrass. What we call Southern Rock here in Texas is a combination of Rock 'n' Roll and Country. Mostly Texas Swing, Bob Wills, that sort of thing. So, our music is considerably different. It has the same feel and all that, but in different places. The Allman Brothers had a lot of Bluegrass and Jazz influences. "Elizabeth Reed" is not what I call Blues, that's real close to Swing Jazz to me. I love it all.
Q - Before your record deal, you were on the road. How did you make enough money to stay out on the road? How could you afford all the expenses?
A - We didn't. We went in the hole. It came out of Bill's pocket. Bill Ham paid for all that. We didn't have any money. We signed our contract on the way to our first real concert show in New Orleans with Marshall Tucker at The Warehouse. We stopped long enough to sign our contract. We never read 'em. We never looked at 'em. Never had anybody else look at 'em. When you are 20, 21 year old kids, "here, do you want to sign this or not?" (laughs). I don't regret it. We'd never have gotten to do in our lives if it hadn't been for Bill.
Q - Bill Ham didn't cheat you, did he?
A - No, not at all. We were on the road three years without a product. There's no way in the world we could make enough money to pay the expenses for 8 people, food, hotels, gasoline, the van we were riding in. We went in the hole every time we played. But Bill believed in the band and he kept putting money into it. And we ended up owing him a lot of money. (laughs)
Q - Did he ever recoup the money he put out for you guys?
A - Oh, yeah. He got a lot of it back through the record labels. Bill does business completely different from any other person I've done business with in this business. If he believes in you, he'll go to the end of the earth for you. That's what he did for us. But he got his money back from the record labels. He owns all that music, the publishing on all our music.
Q - He owns 100%?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - So, you signed away your publishing rights, did you sign away your merchandising rights as well?
A - Probably. I never read it (the contract). It was a little dumb on our part and a little smart on his part. Did he ever screw us? No. I'm working with him now.
Q - I'll get into that in a minute. You recorded how many albums for Arista before you went to MCA?
A - Two.
Q - Who chose MCA Records?
A - Ham.
Q - So, between 1976 and 1982, Point Blank recorded six albums. How many groups do you think could do that kind of thing today? I think none.
A - It's a whole different business these days. First of all, a record label is unnecessary. They are like lumbago. It's a pain you don't have to have. Things have just changed. When we toured with ZZ we would sometimes play five times a week; we played Thursday, Friday and Sunday for sure and maybe a Wednesday. But we were skipping tours too. We'd play three dates with ZZ and then hop over and do two dates with Ted Nugent. Then we'd come back and do three dates with ZZ and we'd hop off and do two days with Bob Seger. That's what Ham did. He sat in the office and brokered deals. A business manager. But he kept us working.
Q - At one point, the group was performing over 200 dates a year. You left the band in 1981. Was that because you were working so much?
A - No, it was because of the other guys in the band felt like they wanted to lean in a different musical direction. They wanted to be Journey and I'm a Texas Rock guy. I don't like that kind of stuff. I can't write it. I don't feel it. Don't want to do it. So, I decided not to be a part of that. It was more of a musical disagreement. I wanted to stay with what we were doing and keep doing what we do and they wanted to change over to the spandex and scarves and I'm still in blue jeans and boots and loud music. (laughs). But Rusty and I came back together. It's just like we never missed any time.
Q - In 2005 the present lineup of Point Blank came together and you have been performing ever since. Between 1981 when you left the band and 2005 when you rejoined Rusty, what did you do for a living?
A - I played golf.
Q - A pro golfer?
A - Yeah. I played professionally for 10 years. I've never quit singing, whether it's a local bar band or whoever. I did a lot of studio work. Did jingles. And I played with a band here in Dallas called The Straddle Blasters. That band is comprised of probably some of the biggest and best players in this area. A good band. A fun band. We did this Soul music like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, that kind of stuff, and had a great time doing that. So, I just made ends meet just like every other musician.
Q - You've got Bill Ham managing you. You mentioned you don't need a record company. You've got a website
(www.PointBlankSouthernRock.com). But who's going to do the promotion for you? Bill?
A - Yup. Lone Wolf Productions. We've been doing this for a long time. We didn't just jump into this blindly. We got together in '05 to do this benefit for one of our roadies who needed a liver transplant. I had a liver transplant in '98, so I know what it's like to wait for a transplant. We all got together to do this show just to raise some money for him and that was with the original bass player, Phillip Petty and Rusty and myself, Buzzy, our original drummer and Michael Hamilton our keyboard player and, gosh, I think even Bubba came and sang, the guy who replaced me when I left. Rusty taped the show for posterity. He did multi-track just for the heck of it. It turned out pretty good. He posted some of it on the website and the next day we got a call from Sweden and the Sweden Rock Festival wants us to come and play. They offered us more money than we were used to making. We thought, let's go do it. We never went to Europe. When we were doing our tours in the '70s and early '80s, we did not have a clue that we had any fans in Europe. We were too busy to think about it. When all this came about, we found out how many fans we had. We thought since we've never been, how many chances are we going to get to go to Europe free? We had so much fun that when we got back, we all decided let's just see where this goes and we'll keep playing. Once we started writing together again, it just fell right back in place like we never left. Now, Phillip has passed on. He died last year (2011). "Wild" Bill (Randolph) passed away 10 years ago (2002). Kim Davis passed away last year (2011), last October. Michael Hamilton passed away three weeks after that. Rusty, Buzzy and I are the three left. Buzzy got out of the music business. He's a fishing guide and runs a computer store on a little obscure lake. Rusty and I are playing together. It's just kind of weird how things make full circle.