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Q&A: Lynyrd Skynyrd

The pioneering Southern rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd continues to flex its staying power muscle behind classic-rock staples like “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and the iconic “Free Bird.”

G.K. Hizer
September 29, 2017

When Lynyrd Skynyrd takes the stage at The Joint Oct. 6, for many in attendance it will be more than just a concert or nostalgia trip. As the archetypical Southern rock band, Skynyrd is a piece of American musical history.

With the founding members originally coming together in 1964 as My Backyard and working through a handful of band names before settling on Lynyrd Skynyrd (pronounced LEH-nerd SKIN-nerd) in 1969, the group continues to tour extensively on a half-century’s history.

Of course, all rock fans know about the fateful plane crash in 1977 that took the lives of iconic lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines as well as background singer Cassie Gaines, while other members of the band suffered serious injuries, putting the band on hiatus following the release of Street Survivors. The group reformed with Johnny Van Zant stepping in for his older brother on vocals in 1987, and has been a staple of Southern rock and the concert trail ever since.

We recently got to chat with guitarist Rickey Medlocke in advance of the Tulsa concert to discuss the band, flying the “Free Bird” flag, and something you may not have known about the band.

Q: Just recently, the court upheld the blocking of an unauthorized bio-pic, partially based on the input from former drummer Artimus Pyle, ruling that it violates an agreement between remaining original members to not exploit the band's name or history. Do you have any comments on the lawsuit or how it has affected the band, it at all?

A: First of all, I really can’t comment on the legal aspect, because it doesn’t really involve me personally, as far as the business side of it goes. As far as my perspective being in Lynyrd Skynyrd as a part of the early days and now, I can understand why the guys don’t want to go there. To be honest, why go out and rehash a story that’s been told time and time again?

I can understand why Gary [Rossington, founding guitarist] doesn’t want the movie to be made; he doesn’t want the story told from only one side. People have been asking about that day for years, and he lives with the memory of that every day. Why drag it up and address it yet again?

As a band, it really doesn’t affect us on the road, one way or another. We just keep doing what we do.

Q: At this point, Johnny Van Zant has been in the band for three decades. He's clearly taken ownership of his role as lead singer and made it his own, but how much does he remind you of his older brother?

A: There are a lot of times that he reminds me of him, but he’s also very much his own person. What a lot of people don’t understand or realize is that it was rumored that Ronnie had wanted to get out of touring so much. He planned to step aside and put Johnny in the band to sing, and he would have stayed involved managing the band and producing. That was a hard decision for him, but he had consulted with family and band members before he made that decision.

Johnny is his own singer, but even now sometimes I see a reflection of his brother in him. Sometimes, onstage, I get a look at the side of his face or there are times on the bus when he laughs and sounds just like Ronnie. He’s done a phenomenal job of paying tribute to his brother, while still playing his own part in the band.

Q: "Free Bird" has become not only an iconic song for the band, but a staple in the rock canon.

A: I’ve been playing “Free Bird” every night for 22 years, night after night, and it really never gets old. Most people probably don’t remember, but they used to have yearly song battles on the radio, with listeners calling in to vote, and every year the final round would almost always be “Free Bird” and “Stairway to Heaven.” That just kind of tells you where the song falls in the grand scheme of things.

Mostly, I’m just proud to be a part of that and hope that I make Allen [Collins, original guitarist] proud. It changes a little bit from night to night, so I get to do my own thing a little bit, but I’m proud of that and proud to be a part of the history that goes with that song.

Q: What does it mean to be a part of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and how important is it to protect the legacy of the band?

A: You know, it’s really all about great songs. Like I said, I’m proud to be a part of that and hope I make Allen proud when I’m playing his parts every night. Even with Gary, this is his baby, but he’s really just wanting to honor the memory of the other guys and what they’ve all done together, so it’s important to all of us to protect the legacy of the guys.

Q: After so many years, what keeps Lynyrd Skynyrd touring at this point?

A: What keeps us going back every year really is, first and foremost, Skynyrd Nation. Our fans are so loyal and they keep coming back for more. It’s very important to us to give 100 percent every night to really do the songs justice and honor the band, but it’s really about the fans.

Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Joint | Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa
777 W. Cherokee St. | Catoosa
Oct. 6: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend