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Presents lynyrd skynyrd last of a dyin’ breed

“This band has been through so much… and we’re still out there doing it.” Johnny Van Zant

“Real stories – that’s the kind of songs we write.” GARY ROSSINGTON

Main pic: Gary and his loyal companion. Right: scenes from the Skynyrd ‘boys’ club’ during the Dyin’ Breed sessions.


Johnny Van Zant: It’s difficult to judge a record when you’ve just made it – it’s like having a baby, it’s still so young. But I think this record is more in-your-face. To me, we’re like that Ricky Nelson song, Garden Party: ‘You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.’ So I’m pleased with the album, and I think the Skynyrd fans are gonna dig it. Rickey Medlocke: On the last record, God & Guns, we tried a little bit of something different with that country rock sound. But this time we went back to more of a rock and blues thing. Lynyrd Skynyrd has always been known as a classic rock or Southern rock band. So this time we said, “Let’s forget everything else and just make a great rock record. Let’s write great rock songs.” Gary Rossington: To me, this album sounds like the old stuff. It was the most fun album we’ve ever done.




Johnny: One thing is for sure: we’re still writing about things that we know. We’ll never change in that respect. Gary: There’s a lot of good songs on this album – fun songs, songs about women and about living your life. Our die-hard Skynyrd fans are just good bluecollar people working for a living and taking care of themselves and their own, just trying to get along in life. And that’s the kind of songs we write – real stories, a couple of ballads, love songs and sad songs. A lot of times, unbeknownst to

Kristin Van Zant

Johnny: We always get in a room, start laughing, telling jokes, and just write. No-one is in charge. We’re just off the cuff. We’ll all come up with a lot of stupid stuff. Somebody will go, ‘That was ingenious!’ It’s pretty much a boy’s club. Just getting in a room, having fun, and drinking... Well, a lot of coffee. Gary: Most of the time we write one or two songs a day. We come up with some kind of idea of what the song’s gonna be about, and then if somebody has got a little lyric or a hook line or a guitar riff or a lick, once we get that one thing we just sit down and do it. We’ve been writing a long time, so it’s not like a procedure but we know how to do it now. We get an idea, sit down, and don’t get up till it’s done. It’s hard work, sometimes! Rickey: Everybody will start putting their ideas in – filling the pot up, so to speak. I mean, I might get ideas together at home with lyrics, riffs, whatever, but

I like writing as a team. When it comes right down to it, the majority of the record is Gary, Johnny and I. But sometimes we’ll work with other writers. Gary: We don’t like to limit ourselves when it comes to writing, and we like writing with other people, so we’ll write with them for a day or two and, at the end, we either keep the song or not. Johnny: One guy we love writing with is John 5. Years ago, when we were writing the God & Guns record in Nashville, a friend of ours said, ‘Hey, John 5’s in town – y’know, the guy from Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson. Would you guys be up for some sort of hook-up?’ We were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ They said, ‘You know, he might not be your guys’ cup of tea, because he’s a little different looking.’ So the day comes, and we opened up the door and John’s standing there. He’s just come from a photo shoot and his hair’s all fluffed up, he’s got make-up on, big Kiss boots, his fingernails are painted black. We were like, ‘Man, you are a freak!’ And he goes, ‘Dude, I was thinking the same thing about you!’ I went, ‘We’re gonna get along great.’ So we hit it off. And John has written with us again this time. Gary: The way we write, it’s pretty simple: we just tell the story and get a good beat going where you can tap your foot. I learned a long time ago that if you can tap your foot to a song, people like it. If a song goes all over the place and stops and starts, it’s not really a groovy song. If you can’t tap your foot, it’s no good. 13



Ten years after the death of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s iconic frontman Ronnie Van Zant, the band was reborn, with Ronnie’s kid brother Johnny as its singer. Here, in his own words, is Johnny’s amazing story. WORDS: DAVE EVERLEY



ohnny Van Zant was just a boy when his brother Ronnie perished in the fateful Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash of 1977. He grew up fast after that. By 1987, he was filling his brother’s shoes in the reunited Skynyrd, and he’s been there ever since. It’s difficult to imagine the mettle required to survive the loss of a sibling in such traumatic circumstances, and then shoulder his legacy so publicly. Yet Johnny Van Zant is both his own man, and part of a family that gives him the strength of character to meet each new day: the family known as Lynyrd Skynyrd. Let’s go right back to the start. Tell me, what are your earliest childhood memories? God... As far as family goes, going fishing with my dad. And working with him too. As soon as I could pick up a shovel I was working with him. What did I do? I did everything. My dad started out as a truck driver, but then he got hurt in an accident, so he had to come off the road. He had to find another occupation, and basically his occupation was everything. Anything he could get into to make a buck. And when I was old enough, I helped him. My dad came up the hard way. His dad died when he was six and he lived through the Depression. Was there much money around when you were growing up? We weren’t rich – we were rich in family, but as far as money went, we weren’t at all. Hell, I remember living in Florida and not having an air-conditioning unit. That was terrible. When we got one, we thought we were millionaires. We were, like, “Wow! We’ve won the lottery!” I had two brothers and three sisters – six of us in the family, and my mum and dad, no air conditioning and one bathroom. But that’s what makes every member of Skynyrd, y’know. We’ve seen the flipside. None of us came from rich backgrounds. None of us had it handed to us. And that comes through in the songs.


When did you stop helping out your dad? Well, I never stopped helping my dad – never. He died at 89, and even then if he said “Jump”, I said, “How high, sir?” But he never stopped helping me too. It was a good relationship. I miss him a lot. It was one of those things. Our family was there for each other. When you were growing up, your brother Ronnie was a rock’n’roll star. You must have been the coolest kid in school. You know what, it didn’t really hit until I was in high school, and my last years of school. Free Bird had come out on the first record and it didn’t really hit. Then Sweet


Home Alabama came out, and boom! – everybody went back to the first record. But it still didn’t hit until the plane crash. Skynyrd were huge by that point. That was when I was in the 12th grade. Then people were like, “Oh man…” Did you ever hang out with Lynyrd Skynyrd in the studio? They rehearsed in our living room, so they were always around. Then they had a place in downtown Jacksonville called 206 Riverside Avenue, and they rehearsed there and made it into the studio. My brother Donnie’s band, .38 Special, had their own rehearsal hall right next door, 202 Riverside. As a kid, I was just dying to be able to do it. I was like, “This is the coolest thing next to pie”. Music was just always around me. How did the three of you get on as brothers? I was the baby, so I got picked on. They were always gonna make sure that I was gonna be a man. But no, we got along great. As brothers you have arguments. Ronnie and Donnie more than anything. They were always at each others’ throats. But they loved each other too. With two brothers in bands, it sounds like music was always going to be your life. Yeah, I guess. But I started out playing drums. I always wanted to be a drummer. We had a circle driveway, so we had a swing set out there. We’d be out there playing, with two of my sisters singing. My sisters could really sing, they just never got into the music business. We’d sing Elvis and Beatles songs – anything that was hip at the time. I had a little band and we’d rehearse in my bedroom. It’s funny, my mom could never say ‘bang’ – she’d always say ‘bam!’: “Quit bamming on them drums! You’re driving me crazy!” I have four daughters, and they’re always bitching: “We’re bored, there’s nothing to watch!” I always tell them: “You got 400 channels! We had four!” [laughs] It wasn’t like we had a whole load of stuff to do – music was our choice. Your first real group was The Austin Nickels Band. What are your memories of that? Ha! We were just kids in high school, playing skating rinks, skateboard parks, anything we could get. Austin Nickels, that was the name of the distributor for Wild Turkey liquor – that’s where we got the name. But we had to change our name when we got signed to Polygram Records. Austin Nickels were going to sue us for using their name, so the record label were like, “OK, you’re a Van Zant, let’s call your band The Johnny Van Zant Band.” I went for that, y’know? We went to LA in ’78, ’79, made our first record [1980’s No More Dirty Deals] with Al Kooper.

“Skynyrd rehearsed in our living room – as a kid, I was dying to make music.”

Johnny Van Zant: “You gotta be a good person, be a simple person. What goes up has to come down.” 35

the skynyrd story Nature boys: Skynyrd kick back in Parsippany, NJ, during a break on the road, September 1974.






DaviD Gahr/Getty iMaGes

Lynyrd Skynyrd defined Southern rock with a sound forged in the heat of the Florida backwoods. And with a true street fighting man as their leader, Skynyrd took no prisoners on the path to glory.

n spring 1969, the British group Free rocked up in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, to play the local ice rink during their first US tour. Free’s lead vocalist Paul Rodgers came from Middlesborough which, like Jacksonville, was an industrial city noted for its steelworks and chemical plants. Free’s frontman also had a reputation for solving trouble with his fists. It was something he shared in common with a 21-year-old singer and local tearaway named Ronnie Van Zant, who turned up to watch the show. Stood alongside Van Zant were two friends, teenage guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington. The three had been playing in a group together since high school. But witnessing Free changed their lives forever. “We didn’t even know their songs,” says Gary Rossington today. “But we watched them set up with their beat-up old Marshalls, and we thought they were cool ’cos they had long hair. And, boy, when they played, we were just floored. It freaked us out.” After the show, the three went back to Van Zant’s apartment and stayed up all night, talking. “Free were the first guys that really made us get serious,” reveals Rossington. “After we saw them we started rehearsing a lot harder.” Like Paul Rodgers in Free, Ronnie Van Zant’s no-nonsense attitude helped drive Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ronnie was a wayward child raised in the tough self-

the albums

FIRST BLOOD (Pronounced 'Léh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)

First helping: a lean and hungry Lynyrd Skynyrd, ready to make the world theirs.

MCA, AUGUST 13, 1973

Skynyrd’s debut harbours a tender vulnerability beneath its hard, lean edge.


ight from the git-go, Lynyrd Skynyrd were a game-changer. No, they didn’t invent Southern Rock – that accolade having already been won by The Allman Brothers Band – but they transformed it with the release of their debut album, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd (or (Pronounced 'Lêh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd), as it was printed on the sleeve). Both bands came from Jacksonville, but where the Allmans, with their two drummers, were all about the blues, Lynyrd Skynyrd, with their – count ’em – three guitarists, were all about the rock. Something that instantly becomes clear on the opening brace of tracks: I Ain’t The One, as sassy and defiant a warning


of what’s in store as laying your guns on the table; and Tuesday’s Gone, which sounds like a soulful, southern echo of The Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses. In short, less like a debut from a band of young hopefuls, more a mission statement from a gang of bad muthas here to fill your jug, baby. It’s the hard, lean edge you really notice first time around: tracks like the peacocking Gimme Three Steps, with Ronnie Van Zant’s deliciously tongue-in-ear lyrics about a cat in a hat begging for his life for fooling with another man’s woman; or the swamp-deep wisdom of

Skynyrd sound less like a band of young hopefuls, more like a gang of bad muthas who are here to fill your jug, baby. 106


I Ain't The One Tuesday's Gone Gimme Three Steps Simple Man Things Goin' On Mississippi Kid Poison Whiskey Free Bird ★★★


Ronnie Van Zant vocals Gary Rossington guitar Ed King guitar Allen Collins guitar Billy Powell keyboards Leon Wilkeson bass Bob Burns drums

Simple Man, its crescendo guitars pouring whiskey into the wound. Repeated listens, though, reveal a more profound aspect to Skynyrd and their misleadingly simple music. The fact was you could have your jollies with the arch gunslinger blues of Mississippi Kid – Ed King’s smoking guitar as sharp as a neck scar – or mess up the joint with the clattering

elemental funk of Poison Whiskey and its sweet as co-co-caine organ from producer Al Kooper. You could do that and you'd be getting enough to last you for years. But you wouldn’t have got it all. Tracks like the Ry Cooder-ish Things Goin’ On – replete with brother Billy Powell’s honky-tonk piano, wolf-whistle lead guitars from Gary Rossington and swinging bar-room-doors percussion from mad bad Bob


Also released in 1973

Burns – deserved a second glance, Mister Ronnie Van Zant telling it how it is about ghetto life, with ‘too much money spent on the moon’ instead of addressing the poverty line where too many folks in America lived. Then, of course, there was the cathedral-like Free Bird, Skynyrd’s tribute to Duane Allman that would later serve as a tribute to the two men who wrote it (Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins), and

a track so well-known now that it seems absurd to try and say something new about it here… Except to point out that while it comes across like the ultimate set-me-free anthem for the babyboomer generation, who really did believe their destiny lay outside the conventions of ‘straight’ society, it’s actually a simple correlate to the album’s other long ‘journey’ song, Tuesday’s Gone – a song that’s not about the man needing to be

free of the woman, but the woman leaving the man in the dirt in her search for something more meaningful to life than making beds and keeping the kitchen. The overriding message you were left with, after fully absorbing Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd, was that this band was certainly not a bunch of rednecks. They were, as Eddie Cochran once sang, somethin’ else...


The Dark Side Of The Moon Pink Floyd Billion Dollar Babies Alice Cooper Tubular Bells Mike Oldfield Quadrophenia The Who Sabbath Bloody Sabbath Black Sabbath ★★★ “Songs that often debunk good-old-boy shibboleths, like Gimme Three Steps, where, instead of outwitting the dumb redneck, Ronnie just hightails it out of there.”

– Village Voice review, August 1973 107

Classic Rock Presents: Lynyrd Skynyrd