Molly Baron . . . when you smiled, the whole world smiled with you

22 November 2020

Veteran Cape Town musician John Arthur Baron, died suddenly on Thursday. Many music lovers won’t know that name. They’ll remember him as Molly Baron, long-time drummer of one of South Africa’s best-known groups.

They’ll remember a dedicated musician, a humble person, a great entertainer – and someone who had one of the most welcoming smiles a human could ever possess.

Fellow performer Sophia Foster put into words what his fans and music peers will remember most: “His personality, was . . . you know . . . you could see him coming a mile off. It was that smile. The smile never ever left him. It was always the smile.”

Not unexpectedly, Molly’s death saw an avalanche of condolence messages and tributes on social media, such was his popularity.

This blog, in acknowledging his status as one of the legends of South Africa’s music industry, profiled his long career in a lengthy piece here. But that wasn’t even near enough to accommodate the life story of a Bellville South boy that began back in 1967. From a poor background, with minimal education, he nurtured his love for music that saw him strut his stuff from the townships to society’s highest stratas.

I knew Molly from the time he joined the Rockets as a kid barely able to see over the drumkit and I have many good memories of the years I wrote about him. But I will leave it to his fellow entertainers and industry people – the likes of Jonathan Butler, Sophia Foster, Colin “Bones” Delight, Jerry Watt, Richard Jon Smith, and DJ Tubby Welby Solomon – to acknowledge the life and times of John “Molly” Baron.

Colin Bones Delight – lead singer with The Rockets for many years

Colin “Bone” Delight

“I first met Molly in 1971. I had been playing with The Fantastics but the band broke up and I was at a loose end. One day I was lying at the swimming pool at Athlone Stadium sunning myself when I looked up and saw Molly standing over me along with the legendary club manager “Laughings”. They wanted me to join the band because Robbie and Georgie had left.

“He invited me to rehearsals and, from there, history just took over. I was lucky to have Molly take me in, so to speak, and show me the ropes. I hope people reading this can understand what type of person Molly was. People want to talk about struggle, we struggled. We did it tough, we slept in Laughings’s van after the shows. He wouldn’t go home to Bellville after a gig. So I slept in the van with him.

“Molly was a good person. He had an expression on his face when he worked that reminded me of my grandpa. That is why I was so fond of him.”

Jonathan Butler – started with The Rockets as a teenybopper in 1972

Jonathan Butler

“I will always remember Molly as a fearless drummer, a great singer and a fabulous musician. He was the glue that kept the Rockets together when I was with them.

“It was when I became a Christian and saw Molly became a Christian too that we got close and shared our faith.

“My time with Rockets, as their youngest member, was very exciting but very tough also. The guys in The Rockets were like big brothers to me. It was hard at times but I felt very close to them.

“Bones was and will always be my big brother. I don’t think this generation knows that I was the youngest Rocket.”

Jerry Watt – lead guitarist of The Rockets and still leading them today

Jerry Watt

“I was with The Fantastics but we split after our singer Mikey Davids died. I joined The Rockets and Bones joined with me.

“From a young age, Molly – all of us – we were all driven. We wanted the band to be a household name. We wanted the people to remember us for as long as possible. There were hundreds of bands that did the same things we did but we did it differently. We would go to Strandfontein bungalows and rehearse for weeks at a time. That’s how we got to be more creative, working on things like choreography.

“In life, nothing is forever, people get married, people get divorced, people make choices. Molly pursued a solo career, which he did well. He was a great drummer, very solid, one of the best in the country. When he went solo, he started playing guitar, which he did well. He recorded a couple of albums and started doing gigs as a duo.

“Molly was very dedicated. When we did gigs, I drove the truck with the equipment. He would go ahead two-three hours before me to set up the sound at the venue and other issues. By the time we get to the gig, we would have a quick sound check and, boom, we’re on!

“We were all focussed on making the Rockets brand a success. We worked hard; nothing was given to us on a platter. We had our share of hardships. Today The Rockets is a household name. It was a shock when the news came.

“We will always have those memories of what we built together.”

Richard Jon Smith — 70s superstar in SA, backed by The Rockets on big tours

Richard Jon Smith

“I miss a very dear brother to my family and me today, as he suddenly is not with us anymore. I feel that void of his laughter and little sayings and more laughter.

“Molly, you were such an inspiration to so many all over Africa. Just your smile opened anyone’s heart and all was well.

“You were the Rockets always, because you were the mascot.”

Trevor “Tubby” Welby Solomon – DJ and sound and lights consultant for The Rockets on big gigs

“Tubby” Welby Solomon

“It is with a heavy heart that I reminisce on the passing of Molly Baron, a leading light on the Cape Town music scene for many years and a consummate professional in fulfilling his business commitments with whomever he had a deal. In an industry rife with a lackadaisical attitude towards punctuality and commitment, Molly was an exception.

“Whatever shenanigans the group got into in their free time, when it was rehearsal time or time to set up for a gig, Molly took control, the tomfoolery stopped and the group would do their thing with exceptional talent and dynamic delivery. Molly was not only progressive in his music, he was always forward looking in his performances and would always call before shows to organise what sound and lighting would work in the venue.

“I’ll never forget the first time we did the sound mixing from within the auditorium at the Panorama in Elsies River. We had to sit in the seats between the patrons with our mixing desk, what we did not realise was that from time to time the stop was passed down the row and we had to take a skyf before passing it on. That was before Covid of course.

“Another example of Molly’s progressive thinking was when he called me from Mossel Bay on the last leg of their South African tour on their way back to Cape Town. We discussed sound and lighting requirements and he asked for ideas to make a big splash on their return. I suggested chartering an aircraft to fly them from Mossel Bay to Cape Town and Molly eagerly agreed, if other international groups could do it why couldn’t they? Goodbye Molly Baron, thanks for the ride, you shall remain in our hearts and minds forever. See you on the other side brother.” Tubby.

Sophia Foster – veteran diva and support act on The Rockets tours.

Sophia Foster

“I worked with The Rockets in the mid ’70s on the big tour with RJS, Jonathan Butler, Ronnie Joyce, Bones Delight and Lionel Petersen. And then I toured with the Rockets on their own with Sydney Vellan’s tour.

“You know, I have never come across such an even-tempered person.  He became quite spiritual. The smile never ever left him.   It was always the smile. Like always, just such an amazing spirited person.

“He was such a good leader, even with all the politics going on, and whether everyone was gerook. He was also gerook but he was level headed.

“When I was on stage and he was leading the band behind me, he was brilliant.   He knew his stuff. He was the first and youngest drummer I worked with that was like the older guys like Monty Weber and Gilbert Matthews. For his age, he played brilliantly.

“He was a class act when it came to managing the group’s business. He was very together when it came to rehearsals and he was quite strict with those guys. You must remember we were on the road, everybody got it together and we were so tight. It took a strong captain to run that ship. There were lots of side things happening but when it came to the gig, everybody pulled together.

“The sad thing is, I worked and spent so much time on the road with Molly and the rest of those, yet I do not have one picture of myself with them.”

Blogger’s Note: As a journalist I have lots of fond memories of dealing with Molly as the spokesman for the group, but one stands out: He always dropped in to see me whenever the group came back to Cape Town after a long time away on tour to see if he could get some publicity for upcoming gigs. On this one occasion, coming back from Natal, he walks in, smiling that smile of his, and dropped a packet on my desk.  With an impish “this is for you”, he beckoned to open it.  Inside was a tightly wrapped “parcel” of the finest “Durban poison” you could lay your hands on. Up to today, I can’t think why he gave it me to.  I never inhaled a day in my llife.

Such was the humour of John Arthur Baron. Loved you for it Molly.

The early Rockets, from left, “Bones” Delight. Claude Brown, Frank Brown, Molly Baron, and Jerry Watt.

 

Related material

Molly Baron: A ‘Rocket Man’ . . . and yes, it’s been a long, long time

Jerry Watt: The Rockets’ clean-living and stable Mr Fantastic

Bones is still a sheer delight 

Sweet, gentle Walter Brown — gone but not forgotten

All material on this blog is copyrighted and permission should be obtained  to publish any part of it

4 comments

  1. Awesome tribute. I met the band members 1974/5 and been following their lives, music and careers ever since. I had the privilege to write about them and review their music for Ekstra Rapport too. We had several discussions most recently sharing memories to be included in his book. Salute Molly the musician, the person, the composer, the producer , the entertainer.

    Like

  2. The originals, those were the Rockets I used to like and follow. Remembering Georgie Carelse, Robbie Jansen, Colin Bones Delight, Jerry Watt, Frank Brown, Claude Brown & Molly Baron. Masters of entertainment. Thank you for the music guys….

    Like

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