Piet Botha was born in 1955 and shared his birth date of 18th July with Nelson Mandela. He began writing songs and forming bands while still at school and his first professional gig was as an acoustic duo in 1974 at a local drinking hole in Pretoria.
Piet Botha was the son of the former South African Minister of Foreign Affairs Pik Botha (not to be confused with P.W. Botha). Pik Botha, who served during the last years of the apartheid era was considered to be a liberal, at least in comparison to others in the ruling National Party and among the Afrikaner community at the time.
From 1981 to 1983 Piet Botha was involved with Wildebeest which was one of the first bands to mix rock music with Afrikaans lyrics and recorded ‘Bossies’, a song about the South West African / Angolan Border War, which was very much a no-no during those Apartheid times.
In 1984 he co-founded the Blues Rock group Jack Hammer which was more than just a band, it was a collective of musicians that somehow survived the strange machinery that is the South African music industry and produced some sterling original albums over the years. Since their first performance the one constant factor in the band had been the man affectionately known as “Hammer”, Piet Botha.
During 1985, Piet Botha lived in Los Angeles, working construction, and other immigrant jobs by day, and writing and recording by night.
During the 1990’s Jack Hammer opened for Deep Purple and Uriah Heep on their “Masters of Rock” tour and were also privileged to be the supporting act for ZZ Top (one of Botha’s prime influences) on their South African tour.
During 1997 Botha was asked to write and record an Afrikaans album. The result was the all-Afrikaans ‘‘n Suitcase Vol Winter‘ album, which is considered a classic by many and a superb example of the groundbreaking Alternative Afrikaans genre. A second Afrikaans album ‘Jan Skopgraaf’ followed in 1999. The Jack Hammer ‘Anthology’ album was released in early 2000.
Botha was one of the first musicians inducted into the South African Rock Hall Of Fame in January 2002.
In February 2006 a “Tribute To Piet Botha” gig was held in Pretoria to celebrate the music and life of Piet Botha. This whole day event included performances by many South African artists, all paying tribute to the influence, friendship and mentorship of this humble musician.
On the 6th May 2006 Piet Botha was awarded a South African Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to South African music. He was also awarded a Prestige Award by the FAK in September 2006 for his contribution to the Afrikaans language.
In May 2008 at the annual STRAB festival in Mozambique, Jack Hammer released the critically-acclaimed album, ‘Highway 13‘.
In 2011 Botha appeared in the television series “Wie Lê Waar” (Who Lies Where) on the Afrikaans TV channel kykNET. In the programme he visits the graves of famous Afrikaner icons and tells about their lives. The series led indirectly to the recording and release of the very popular ‘Spookpsalms‘, Botha’s first solo album in 8 years.
In 2012 Piet cemented his over two decades of friendship and brotherhood with the Akkedis band, by releasing a collaborative album under the name “The Lyzyrd Kyngs”. The name comes from a Jim Morrison poem, “The celebration of the Lizard King”. The weird spelling is a combination of ancient English and a serious reference to Lynyrd Skynyrd, a band that has been a source of inspiration for more than thirty years.
A second Lyzyrd Kyngs album ‘A Few Grains Of Sand‘ was released in October 2014.
Jack Hammer’s ‘Handful Of Rain‘, released January 2016, came after many years spent touring, and is an ode to the road, a book of songs, a collection of quiet reflections of a man looking back on his life as a touring musician. Songs of rivers, highways and impossible love: these are the main motifs of this album.
In February 2018 Piet Botha released ‘Die Middernagtrein‘, an album of gypsies, ghosts and other stories of life and living.
Piet Botha played as often as he could. Sometimes solo or as duo, sometimes with Jack Hammer or The Lyzyrd Kyngs. He played not only because his fans loved to see him, but as John Lee Hooker sang, “it’s in him and it got to come out”.
Piet Botha passed away on the 2nd June 2019 after a short battle with cancer.
On the 18th July 2020, to celebrate Piet’s birthday, a digital live album ’13 Towns’ was released.
by Brian Currin, October 2012, updated July 2020
[Reprinted on 20th July 2020 in Saffer Worldwide magazine]