The saga of former SouthGang singer Jesse Harte.
“I can’t even get Butch Walker to call me back. I didn’t expect that kind of disrespect." Jesse Harte
“Butch Walker needs to keep the rivalry going even though I barely have enough to make ends meet!” Jesse Harte
The saga of former SouthGang singer Jesse Harte, who never went anywhere after the breakup of glam hopefuls SouthGang while his guitarist Butch Walker, once Harte’s best friend in the world, is a millionaire superstar producer
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge contributor
Jesse Harte is a little out there these days.
Once one of Rock’s most promising figures a generation ago as lead singer of SouthGang – a ultra promising Hollywood glam band from Georgia that never got its due– Harte has barely done a thing since the group’s breakup in the 1990s.
Well, Harte has done something: He has proved opinionated and a bit crazy with his Facebook rants about everything from government conspiracies to Butch Walker turning his back, but as far as music goes, there has not been any news until now with the formation of Harte’s new band, Bloody Red Hearts.
Walker grew up with Harte near Atlanta, and together they formed SouthGang (first called Byte The Bullet) — and what a team they made if you were lucky enough to see the band perform in Hollywood during the post-Poison push on the Sunset Strip.
SouthGang’s songs sounded like side one of a greatest-hits record, Harte proved a striking on-stage figure with an incredible voice, and Walker was the brains of the operation, a fantastic guitarist and incredible songwriter.
Why SouthGang never sold millions remains one of Rock’s great mysteries. But the sad part is Harte is no longer on speaking terms with the great Walker, who went on to form the successful band Marvelous 3 and to produce mega pop stars Avril Lavigne, Pink, Katy Perry, Weezer, Lit and others. And if you want to know why the friendship and musical partnership broke down – at least in Harte’s eyes – then keep on reading.
"I felt SouthGang were unlike most Los Angeles bands that were all about image and following in the footsteps of Motley Crue and Poison." Jesse Harte
METAL SLUDGE: Hey, Jesse, it’s been a long time. I used to love hanging out with you and your band back in the day. Do you miss Los Angeles?
Harte: To be honest, I don’t really miss L.A. It seems L.A. is in a bit of trouble financially, California as a state, to be honest with you. There’s a liberal agenda that’s taken over L.A. with crime on every street corner a few blocks away from where the wealthy people are. Keep the intruders out.
When I was first there, the L.A. scene was rampant and rocking. I enjoyed it, doing a business there until 2006. I thought it would still be the height of the best times. Not to say I can’t come back, but I think something will have to be turned around as far as the acts. Looking at society as a whole, we need to start looking at liberty and less about maturity. People in government. Democrats.
METAL SLUDGE: Too much politics, Jesse. Let’s start over again: Your band Byte the Bullet, later called SouthGang, of course, but you guys will always be Byte the Bullet to me – Bill Gazzarri loved your band. Tell me some of your memories of Bill Gazzarri.
Harte: Well, he was always kind of like a character out of a mafia movie, but obviously Bill wasn’t in the mob, but there was something about him that just gave me a chill. Those were great times, all part of his game plan, and I remember doing a New Year’s Show at Gazzarri’s. It had to be 1989.
Byte The Bullet flyer & advertisemet
METAL SLUDGE: I was there! You did “New York, New York” at the end because it was Bill’s favorite song, remember?
Harte: Yeah, our manager at the time, Pop Landers, he was good friends with Bill. Bill had put a billboard of us on the side of Gazzarri’s. Pop Landers told us to make sure we learn “New York, New York” and that it was one of his favorites.
METAL SLUDGE: Yeah, that sounds right. I remember Pop Landers. Great manager.
Harte: We were doing the song at the end, and I remember on stage it was me, Sam Kinison and Ron Jeremy, all on stage at Gazzarri’s, Sam under one arm and Ron Jeremy under the other arm, and Bill, too, I think, and we were doing kicks like the Rockettes. It was a good time.
METAL SLUDGE: And eventually you had a falling out with your guitar player, Butch Walker, who of course has gone on to great fame and fortune. What happened?
Harte: I wouldn’t call it a falling out. The way I see it, it’s something that had been going on since we were kids. We went to our first concert together when we were 16, and through the years we argued about everything from the Marshall amps we use at the show to everything, and it just escalated from there. I guess there was something between us that’s always been there, something ingrained in both of us, just the nature of who we are. You would think 25-odd years, we broke up in 1992, we both would be over it. I posted something on Facebook, and a friend of ours tells me Butch is upset.
METAL SLUDGE: Why don’t you just call him on the phone and work it out? You must have his cell number, right?
Harte: I don’t have Butch’s number, but I have many mutual friends that do, but I refuse to ask for it. What happened was, Butch had asked me to be in a movie, a documentary, and I asked him for one little favor – to plug my new band, Bloody Red Heart, and I never heard a word from him again. The producer and the director, they kept wanting me to be in the movie about the SouthGang days, but then I’m like, “I can’t even get Butch to call me back.” I didn’t expect that kind of disrespect.
METAL SLUDGE: This sounds ridiculous. You’ve been friends for a long time.
Harte: Well, like I said, there’s been a bit of a rivalry between us since we were kids. He wrote a book, and all these issues from years and years ago, there’s some sort of grudge. He’s holding a grudge.
Jesse Harte then & now.
METAL SLUDGE: I don’t like this. Honestly, I thought there was a real spark with you guys together. I thought SouthGang could have been American’s answer to Def Leppard or something.
Harte: You know in 1989, the Sunset Strip as a whole theme that had graduated Motley Crue and that stuff, by this time it had reached its pinnacle and it had already peaked. We were kind of on the tail end of it. It was still a party town, but then Nirvana came out and killed the whole scene. All the 80s rock and roll bands, everyone was still digging it in America, but the whole Hollywood scene, that had changed greatly. I thought our band was a bit cheesy, to be honest.
METAL SLUDGE: So was Def Leppard.
Harte: Yeah, but in the beginning we were more of a 70s throwback band, more like Dio, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin.
METAL SLUDGE: There you go – a lot of British influence.
Harte: Yes, I would agree with that. We have a little more of that influence in Bloody Red Hearts. We have gone back to that era. Ritchie Blackmore-style guitar, Jimmy Page.
Jesse, Jayce, Butch & Mitch rocking Metal Edge – SouthGang in their prime.
METAL SLUDGE: At least you were big for a while. A few tours, an MTV video or two. It must have been fun going to back to Georgia, your home town.
Harte: Yeah, we played the Rome City Auditorium in 1991, and it was so cool. It was like coming home. I remember getting everyone together, and decided to do an intro tape with “Boys are Back in Town,” to open the show with that, and people just went ape shit. It was a big homecoming.
METAL SLUDGE: In high school, when you’re a guy, as a 10th grader you always dream of fooling around with the hot senior girl, but of course it never happens. Did it happen for you after the show?
Harte: Nah, even in high school, I fooled around seniors all the time.
METAL SLUDGE: Let’s put things this way: Do you feel like you squeezed enough fun out of being the singer in SouthGang? Was it all worth it?
Harte: Well, obviously, with no steady girlfriend, I squeezed a lot of fun out of the ladies on the Sunset Strip, handing out flyers and flirting and having fun. A lot of “private conversations.” Thank you, thank you, now back to the Strip. We had some raging times with Byte The Bullet because we lived off Hollywood Boulevard, and sometimes we’d meet 50 people in one night, so there are some blurry moments. My brain is like Swiss cheese. There are holes I can’t remember, but it was pretty fun. We had our share of good times. But the debauchery was not nearly what it was for Def Leppard.
Watch the video for SouthGang "Tainted Angel" or "Love Ain’t Enough"
METAL SLUDGE: Now you’re the one bringing up Def Leppard and not me. Maybe Byte The Bullet, or SouthGang, you indeed were really onto something. I’m telling you, those songs had a lot of life, and the performance, too.
Harte: I felt like we were unlike most Los Angeles bands that were all about image and following in the footsteps of Motley Crue and Poison. As far as being a Sunset Strip band, we looked good, and the image was glamorous, but we also actually practiced really hard from the time we were 15 or 16, learning covers note for note, doing cover songs like Guns N’ Roses. We would practice those songs 200 times.
METAL SLUDGE: The talent in that band was off the charts.
Harte: Butch was a prodigy guitar player, and I was no hack, so we did pull it off pretty well, and we wrote our own songs. Our first ever performance in Los Angeles was at a No Bozo Jam at the Whisky. I was so nervous I was freaking out. It was first time ever, playing in a place where the Doors and Van Halen started. We had five minutes to set up, then we rolled out and played. I remember a short time afterward, it might have been you, Gerry Gittelson in Rock City News, the review came out in the next edition, and it said: “Byte The Bullet is one of the tightest bands in L.A.” We just fell to pieces. Holy shit, we’ve arrived.
METAL SLUDGE: You got signed eventually to Virgin. How much money did you make?
Harte: We got a pretty good advance. How much exactly, that I don’t remember. I think about $50,000.
METAL SLUDGE: Fifty-thousand each? That’s not bad.
Harte: Yeah, I bought a used car and an apartment. We had been living with eight people in a one-room apartment, plus the girlfriends or groupies, same thing, and some guys who helped with our gear and stuff. The bathtub was brown. Too many people in one room.
METAL SLUDGE: Let’s go back to Butch Walker. He’s incredibly successful, especially as a songwriter and producer. You have to say something good about him. What made him a cut above?
Harte: Butch not only had natural, god-given talent, but he understands melody. He understands hooks and lyrics and songs. And he’s always been very, very driven. As for what drives him, I don’t want to sit here and be his therapist, but he has always wanted to prove he is better than anyone else. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good asset. But when you mix that with ego, it doesn’t form the best relationships with old friends and comrades along the way.
METAL SLUDGE: Do you miss being friends with him?
Harte: Well, in a way, yes. It’s sad to realize two guys in two different spectrums of the entertainment world who grew up like biological brothers, because in a sense that’s how close we were together. We were so close. So it’s a bit strange. It fuels him because Butch Walker needs to keep the rivalry going even though I barely have enough to make ends meet. But I don’t care. It fuels me, too.
METAL SLUDGE: And whatever happened to Pop Landers?
Harte: I have no clue.
METAL SLUDGE: When is the last time you saw Landers?
Harte: Like 15 years ago. I really liked Pop, he was a great guy, but when we did the “Group Therapy” album, we fired him. I wanted to keep him but was outvoted mainly by Butch, who wanted Warrant’s management, Tom Hulett. They were also managing the Beach Boys and some other bands, so we fired Pop Landers. I told Butch, “You make the call,” but I ended up being the one who called him and consoled him. It was sort of a group decision but not 100 percent. The whole idea was to tour with Warrant but we ended up touring with Slammin Gladys instead – that’s a big difference, driving in vans across the country. Erik Turner wanted us to tour with Warrant. The whole thing was a mess, but it was a fun mess.
METAL SLUDGE: You went to China.
Harte: Yeah, we got kicked out of China. We were the first band to go to China. It was Hulett’s idea, and we were kind of the guinea pigs before Warrant was supposed to go there. I remember flying there, it was a long flight, and we got drunk. We got picked up in a mini-van and then drove another nine hours. We were supposed to have a five-star hotel in Shanghai, but it was no five-star, I remember that. It was crazy. It was like going back two decades in time or to the 1950s or something. We played in this arena, and it was like a circus, a mixed response because there were grandmas and little kids and students, all protected by the military.
METAL SLUDGE: Any cute Chinese girls?
Harte: Sure, I guess so, but it wasn’t that type of scene. In China, they throw you in jail for anything – drugs, paraphernalia, porno, all of that is against the law. It was a little scary. We didn’t stay long.
Jesse Harte & Bloody Red Hearts in 2012
METAL SLUDGE: Any regrets?
Harte: I regret not getting back in a band sooner. I love my band, Bloody Red Hearts, these days. It’s a brotherhood, and I’ve always believed in a brotherhood. All the bandmates just need to have the same attitude. I miss that from 20 years ago and I’m glad to have it back again. I’m not saying you can compare us to the late 80s, but we’re having a great time and enjoying ourselves.
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at [email protected]