In my review of the wonderful book Sleeping with Patty Hearst by Mary Lambeth Moore, I made the following contribution to the travel literature of the former Confederate States of America:
Churches, churches everywhere. Bugs, bugs, everywhere. I’ve been to Memphis and the Mississippi Delta, Atlanta and environs, and on one particularly painful vacation in my teens, my dad, in his ongoing effort to imbue his daughter with social consciousness, took me on the route taken by the Freedom Riders, from D. C. to New Orleans. I appreciated the wonders excessive humidity did for my skin, but sweating like a pig for two weeks wasn’t my idea of a good time. I didn’t feel safe until we got to the French Quarter, a place I will always cherish as an oasis of sanity in the Bible Belt, the city where I later celebrated my twenty-first birthday by proudly displaying my tits from the balconies of Bourbon Street.
Given my distaste for southern culture, cuisine, politics, religion, history, nostalgia, hypocrisy, weather and obsessions with football and auto racing, you may wonder why on earth I love a band that not only celebrated the virtues of such a culture but frequently performed with a Confederate flag as a backdrop. I’ve always considered the attachment to the flag of a deservedly short-lived nation created to promulgate the ludicrous idea of racial superiority a debilitating condition, somewhere between a lingering sickness and a terminal illness. By all logic, celebrating the Stars and Bars should exclude Lynyrd Skynyrd from a spot in my musical library.
Possible theories for my fascination with this band include a secret desire to be Scarlett O’Hara, a repressed desire to ruin my figure on Po’ Boys and buttered grits, and the old stand-by, “opposites attract.” None of them really work. Scarlett was never a role model for me because she preferred Ashley the wimp to Rhett Butler, a man who would have been much more challenging and fun to bring under heel. The fat theory doesn’t work because gooey, greasy and gritty may work for sex but not when I sit down to dinner. The theory of opposites doesn’t fly because I’m just as attracted to blondes as I am to brunettes, my own gender as well as the inferior one, and all ethnic varieties, including my own. We French-Irish women are seriously fucking hot!
No, it all has to do with that promise I made to myself to return to The Big Easy as soon as I could barhop without a fake ID. Shortly after I passed that milestone, I kept my eye on the music listings in New Orleans and finally found a musical bookend to structure the trip: Frank Black and the Catholics and Queens of the Stone Age, appearing on back-to-back Fridays at The House of Blues. Knowing the city’s reputation for high crime and out-of-control drunks, and having only started my martial arts training the summer before, I felt I needed a big strong male bodyguard in case some drunken bubba wanted to give me more than beads for displaying my delectable nipples. To my great good fortune, I knew a slightly more attractive version of The Incredible Hulk who always wanted to fuck me, so I invited him along with the understanding that: a.) we’d go Dutch all the way, b.) we’d stay in separate rooms, c.) I might fuck him if he was a good boy, but it was my call and d.) I didn’t want to hear any fucking whining on the flight home if he failed to hit the jackpot. He readily agreed to my terms and in a few weeks I was jiggling my tits and pinching my exposed nipples from the balconies of The French Quarter while The Hulk collected the beads for me.
We were club-hopping on Bourbon Street one warm spring night the week after Mardi Gras, and I was feeling somewhat antsy. Hulk had failed to meet my already low expectations when I found out he was not only a lousy fuck but also a lousy dancer, a serious problem in a city where you simply have to get down and boogie. All the clubs seemed to be playing mushy jazz and half-hearted blues and I really wanted to get my hips moving to some baseline rock ‘n’ roll. Plus, I was wearing my come-fuck-me outfit, consisting of a low-cut teal satin blouse over a black leather skirt with garters and no undies, finished off by a pair of stilettos that were easy to kick off when it was time to hit the floor. It looked like all I’d get for my efforts was the sound of The Hulk’s drool hitting the Bourbon Street pavement.
We’d come to the cross-street leading back to the hotel and I was just about to say fuck it when the sound of “Brown Sugar” burst out from the bar on the corner. I peeked in and saw a cover band and a pretty active dance floor, so I waved The Hulk over, slipped my lithe arm in his overdeveloped one and led him straight to the dance floor. The band had a great rhythm section, so I left The Hulk standing there holding my high-heels (it was pretty much all he could do anyway), sashayed between the other bodies, grabbed a couple of Jello shooters from a passing tray, drank them down in two quick gulps and shimmied back to hand the empty glasses to The Hulk. The song ended, everyone roared their approval and the band launched into the next song: “Sweet Home Alabama.”
The crowd went fucking nuts and filled every inch of the dance floor in seconds, wiggling their generally ample bottoms, clapping their hands and shouting out the chorus in rebel-yell style. I joined in with the natives, thrusting my ass to the beat, until my green eyes connected with the ebony eyes of a hot little short-haired brunette dressed in a man’s white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the buttons opened to the top of her diaphragm. Beneath the bead strings dancing on her shirt I could make out a beautiful set of D’s, and I noticed that she too wore a leather skirt and was accompanied by a Neanderthal escort with a less appealing midsection than the six-pack The Hulk loved to display. We moved together to the music, and even though we were occasionally separated by layers of moving bodies, our eyes always managed to reconnect in the gaps. The song ended to more hoots and hollers, and when it died down a little, I screamed, “Gimme Three Steps!” The band immediately obliged and I walked straight up to the brunette and pulled her out to the dance floor while the band covered one of my favorite rock ‘n’ roll songs ever. She and I engaged in what can only be described as long distance pseudo-fucking and cleared the floor in twenty seconds. The hoots and hollers for the two chicks with the racks almost drowned out the band. About halfway through the song, she sidled up to me and shouted in my ear, “You’re hot, honey, but we’d better pay attention to the boys or they’re likely to get a little cranky.” I nodded, reminded myself I wasn’t in San Francisco anymore and that while lesbian fantasy was hot to guys looking at porn on the Internet, real lesbians were an entirely different matter to them Southern boys. She slithered over to her partner, threw her arms around his neck and bent him over to give him a big kiss. I strode over to The Hulk and grabbed his very obvious hard-on. “You go, girl!” the men shouted with approval.
We hung out at the bar for a few more songs, a couple of drinks and more than a few surreptitious glances in the brunette’s direction. As I guided The Hulk towards the door and another chance at my pussy, the brunette dashed up, darted her tongue in my ear and said, “Meet me in front of The Blue Nile tomorrow ’bout nine?” I smiled, gave her a nod, went back to my hotel and gave The Hulk the time of his life, which consisted of yet another premature ejaculation. The next night, I met my mutual crush at the appointed place, bought her a drink in a quiet back street bar, then took her back to my place for some real, no holds-barred cat-scratching poontang!
So, whenever I hear Lynyrd Skynyrd, I see a hot brunette on top of me with one of my hands pinching her rock-hard nipples and the other delving into her sweet wet pussy while she’s pushing her fingers deep inside me screaming, “Bring it, baby, bring it!” How could I not love a band that brings back one of the most intensely erotic highlights of my life?
Okay, I’ll admit it’s more than the mammaries . . . er, memories. In its original form Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands in history. Those guys knew how to kick ass like few others, had one of the best lead singers ever, a triple guitar attack that sent sparks flying and a horribly underrated rhythm section that always kept the groove going. The musical discipline of the band was absolutely remarkable, and though they partied hard in their spare hours, they were intensely professional when it came time to play. The Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd deserves the descriptor, as it consists of two CD’s worth of the best shit they ever put on record. While the horn-rimmed researcher within me bemoans the fact that the songs aren’t arranged in chronological order, I get over it once I start listening to one of the most completely satisfying rock ‘n’ roll experiences imaginable. Let’s rock!
“Sweet Home Alabama”: I guess they had to open the record with this one, the famous answer song to Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” I like both songs, and I think it’s silly to take sides because both points of view are grounded in truth. Neil Young expresses genuine and valid outrage through stark imagery to describe the pervasive racism in the American South of the time. Fair enough, but it’s bad change management strategy to show disrespect to the people you want to change—all it does is piss them off and force them to defend themselves. Neil himself admitted as much, saying “I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lyrics are open to interpretation as well, but it’s easier to understand where they’re coming from. When they sing “In Birmingham, they love the governor” and follow it with “Boo, boo, boo,” they’re certainly not saying that they love Governor Wallace; they’re distancing themselves from Birmingham and Wallace because both are symbols of a racist history. Later when they sing “Watergate does not bother me,” they’re not saying that Nixon was a good guy, but “Don’t you Northerners have plenty of your own problems to deal with instead of picking on us?” Merry Clayton, who sang on both records, has a very interesting take on her experience. Putting all the hoo-hah aside, this is one great record, with the crisply picked guitar work, Billy Powell’s sweet piano fills and solo, and Ronnie Van Zant’s confident, clear and often playful vocal riding high over the female background singers. As Neil Young said in an oral history on Lynyrd Skynyrd, “They play like they mean it . . . I’m proud to have my name in a song like theirs.” Neil got the words right that time—Lynyrd Skynyrd always played rock ‘n’ roll like they meant it.
“I Ain’t the One”: The opener to their first album, (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd), begins with processed cymbals and drums fading into the kind of strong guitar riff that marked much of the band’s music. Allen Collins takes the lead guitar solo here and just fucking rips it, and Ronnie bounces from growls to falsetto in a tour-de-force performance that says, “We have arrived, people!” This song is so sleazy-sexy that it regularly appears on my fuck playlists, designed to appear when the foreplay is over and it’s time to get serious!
“Was I Right or Wrong”: A fascinating song originally recorded in the Muscle Shoals sessions that took place before they hooked up with Al Kooper to record their maiden album, it was not included on any of the five original studio albums and had to wait until the Muscle Shoals sessions were released on the first posthumous album, Skynrd’s First and Last. It shouldn’t have had to wait so long. The story of a guy who leaves his home to become a successful rock star and prove his daddy wrong, the narrative takes a tragic turn that drives home the messages that nothing matters as much as family and that rebellion can be both a liberating and bittersweet experience:
Then one sunny day, the man, he looked my way
And everything that I dreamed of, it was real.
Money, girls, and cars; big long cigars.
And I caught the first plane home so Papa would see.
When I went home to show ’em they was wrong
All that I found was two tombstones.
Somebody tell me, please, was I right or wrong?
Lord, it’s such a sad song.
First I got lost, then I got found
But the ones that I loved were in the ground.
Part of the reason the song may have been left off the early albums is that it uses a guitar riff from one of the great songs from the début album, which is . . .
“Gimme Three Steps”: One of my top two or three favorite rock songs of all time, “Gimme Three Steps” has it all: a killer opening riff, fast-moving bass runs, exciting syncopation, an outstanding lead vocal and great good fun. Based on a true story, this tale of Ronnie Van Zant getting a .44 pulled on him in a biker bar in Jacksonville is the definition par excellence of a hoot! I love the way he pokes fun at himself through physical description (“Hey, fat fellow with your hair colored yellow”) and his anti-macho admission of sheer terror (“I was scared and fearin’ for my life/Shakin’ like a leaf on a tree’/Cause he was lean and mean/And big and bad, Lord/Pointin’ that gun at me.”) He even admits to pissing himself in front of the crowd! The dual guitars are as tight as it gets, and the fills between the verses are perfectly designed to get those in the audience or on the dance floor to shake and scream in holy ecstasy. Fuck yeah!
“Workin’ for MCA”: One of the more honest songs about success in the music business, “Working for MCA” starts by recounting the “Lodi”-like seven years of playing in shit joints for little pay, then relates the story of how Yankee slicker Al Kooper signed them for $9000 (divided by six or seven, that ain’t a whole lot of dough). Always rebels and never ones to take the stardom thing too seriously, Lynyrd Skynyrd played the song for an audience of record executives at Kooper’s “Sounds of the South” press party. The song kicks ass, with the triple guitars working to perfection and Bob Burns having a field day on the skins.
“Simple Man”: As rough and raucous as they can be, Lynyrd Skynyrd was exceptionally strong on the slower stuff, imbuing those songs with the same power they brought to the high-speed rockers. If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s a heartfelt song about the family, for although my family is rather unique, I cherish our closeness. What I love about these lyrics is that though mama gives Ronnie the usual stuff about the man above, she also expresses unconditional love, a feeling deeper than even the strong religious norms that characterize the South:
Boy, don’t you worry you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied
“Simple Man” is exceptionally well-arranged, with masterful use of dynamics. The verses tend to be quiet and sparse while the fills between and the choruses are pure power. The link is Bob Burns’ drumming, which hints at the coming explosions with tiny syncopated skips and perfect lead-ins. The fact that this song, “Gimme Three Steps” and “Free Bird” were on their first album is simply amazing. These guys worked their asses off in the shit joints mentioned above, just like The Beatles did in Hamburg, and that kind of hard-won experience really paid off when it came time to hit the studio.
“Swamp Music”: A lighter, bouncier song that’s a definite toe-tapper, “Swamp Music” reminds us that these guys knew their blues, a quality that I consider a prerequisite to producing great rock-and-r0ll. All I’ll say about this song is I’d rather listen to Ronnie Van Zant than Son House, because when Son House comes up on my annual blues jag I always feel like he’s yelling at me.
“The Ballad of Curtis Loew”: Ronnie Van Zant’s respect for blues and blues players ran deep, as demonstrated in this amazing song about defying social norms and racial taboos to hear a black man play the blues. The character has been described as an amalgam of several experiences from Ronnie’s youth, and while the guitar picking here is wonderful, what makes the song is the sincere and genuine appreciation Ronnie expresses in his vocal, especially when he dials it down on the last line of the chorus:
Play me a song Curtis Loew, Curtis Loew
Well I got your drinking money, tune up your Dobro
People said he was useless, them people are the fools
‘Cause Curtis Loew was the finest picker to ever play the blues
“Saturday Night Special”: One feature of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music that seems to escape notice is that they wrote and played some of the most compelling opening passages in rock. Several accounts describe Ronnie Van Zant as a perfectionist demanding exact reproductions of studio work on stage because that’s the music the fans knew. I found this interesting because I’ve always looked at Lynyrd Skynyrd as taking a classical approach to rock, limiting their improvisations to the extended guitar passages in their live performances, and focusing their energies on building songs with exceptional staying power. They built their songs around core rock patterns and possibilities, and though their music may never be described as “innovative” in the sense that progressive rock is innovative, they made a complete commitment to play their music at the highest level of excellence they could achieve and were one of the most disciplined bands I’ve ever heard. In that sense, they’re much closer to Beethoven than to Miles Davis. The triple-guitar attack of Rossington, King and Collins had to be precisely arranged to not only cover the harmonies and rhythms but to take advantage of each guitarist’s personal style within the overall structure. That takes hard work and commitment, people!
Where they were innovative is in their intuitive, gut feel approach to rhythms and syncopation. “Saturday Night Special” defiantly opens on the second beat of the second bar with a mini-overture that borrows the background theme from the bridge, adding guitar layers and melodic variation. After a hot drum fill from new drummer Artimus Pyle supported by a high note from Ronnie Van Zant, the song glides perfectly into the opening riff. You can’t help but give them your full attention because the passage is so well-executed. A tidbit on Songfacts describes how Al Kooper tried to convince the band to come in on the conventional first beat or they’d be “a beat short.” Fortunately, the band won out.
And what’s this? Southern boys talking about gun control? Mercy me! Dumping all those cheap handguns in the ocean, my stars! Only in the USA would such an idea be controversial; other countries would look at the idea as quite rational. All it takes is too much liquor, a split-second of fright or untreated mental illness and you have a tragedy that could have been avoided had a gun not been available to the perpetrator. Rather than going legal or psychological on the subject, Lynyrd Skynyrd uses familiar language that reeks of common sense:
Hand guns are made for killin’
They ain’t no good for nothin’ else
And if you like to drink your whiskey
You might even shoot yourself
So why don’t we dump ’em people
To the bottom of the sea
Before some ol’ fool come around here
Wanna shoot either you or me
“Mr Banker”: The B-side to “Gimme Three Steps” is an old-style blues tune about a guy pleading with a banker to loan him the money he needs to bury his daddy. “How much does money mean?” is a question that has a haunting meaning in a society that values profit more than humanity. The song never tells us whether or not the banker does the right thing, but I doubt that the banker had either the heart or any idea just how much a 1950 Les Paul was worth. The arrangement is appropriately spare and true to form, and Ronnie definitely qualified as a guy who knew how to sing the blues.
“Comin’ Home (original version)”: Another gem from the Muscle Shoals sessions, the song features some lovely piano runs from Billy Powell and verses where Ronnie Van Zant’s voice is unusually beautiful and sweet. The band does ramp up the power for the choruses and fills, but in this song, it’s the quiet parts that are the most moving. The lyrics are superb, especially because after Ronnie tells his story “Of broken dreams and dirty deals” and sleeping at the streets, he feels the need to defend his urge to come home: “And please, don’t blame me ’cause I’ve tried.” It’s tragic that coming home should ever be seen as a failure, but it’s a common experience in our success-oriented societies—those who stay put are labeled as people who have died before their time. That’s nonsense, people! Not everyone has to climb the success ladder, and all of us need the sanctuary of home now and again, especially to lick our wounds from the cold, cruel world.
“Call Me the Breeze”: Lynyrd Skynyrd did surprisingly few cover songs, but two of them were by J. J. Cale, which makes perfect sense. This is a straight rockabilly number following the standard three-chord blues structure, a song with only one purpose in mind: to get your ass a-shakin’! I could have done without the horns here, but that’s only because I could listen to those guitars forever.
“Free Bird” and “Free Bird” (live): The studio version closes out the first disc; the live version ends the second. Both are structurally similar in form and substance, and both are great listening experiences. I personally prefer the live version because the bass presence is noticeably stronger. Needless to say, the guitars on the live version are simply amazing and the lead solo is a musical achievement for the ages. From the slow tempo verses to the acceleration into the guitar passages, “Free Bird” is a remarkable song, balancing simplicity in message with complexity of passion, combining accessibility with a rich listening experience. While some might dismiss the message “and this bird you cannot change” as another example of perpetually stubborn Southern resistance to progress, Ronnie Van Zant’s lyrics are really talking about the essence of our personalities, the core that makes us unique, the compass that guides us to be true to ourselves. The narrator whose life goal was to mirror the freedom of a bird in flight could be Duane Allman . . . but it could be James Dean, or Richard Thompson’s James in “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” or Ronnie Van Zant himself (it is said he predicted he wouldn’t make it to thirty). The hero in this story is the one who has to live life at full throttle, the one who takes carpe diem to the maximum.
The song also has significant meaning for those of us who don’t fit society’s expectations or norms . . . those of us who are odd ducks. This is the reason I find myself comforted by “Free Bird,” for though it feels oppressive to have to hide my bisexuality in many contexts, and my passion for BDSM would make me unemployable unless I entered the porn industry, those are two parts of this bird that you will never change.
“What’s Your Name”: This should be a much better track than it turned out to be. There’s nothing wrong with the music or storyline; the problem is in the mix, which minimized bass and drums. Whenever this song comes up on rotation, I turn on the bass booster to give it some more oomph, but I can’t help the drums. Damn.
“Whiskey Rock-and-Roller” (live): This live version of the song that closed Nuthin’ Fancy features hot guitar parts that occasionally get surprisingly melodic and a no-nonsense vocal from Ronnie Van Zant. I would definitely put a life of “women, whiskey and miles of travelin'” at the top of my alternative lifestyle options if the travel was on the road and the hotel room beds didn’t squeak.
“Tuesday’s Gone”: This song calls up one of my great regrets of the New Orleans trip and that magical night on the dance floor. A song or two after the brunette suggested we cool it for the safety of all concerned, the band launched into this perfect slow dance number during which I gazed at the brunette longingly in between pulls on my rum-on-the-rocks and long drags on my cigarette. Even worse, I hadn’t brought the CD with me so I had no opportunity to slow dance with her to this song during our fuck the following night (we fucked to a combination of Candy Dulfer, Sade and the Brazilian singer Simone instead). Sigh. Hormones aside, I think “Tuesday’s Gone” is the most melodically beautiful song in Lynyrd Skynrd’s catalog. The music sometimes sounds more Byrds than Lynyrd Skynyrd with the unusually bright lead guitar from Gary Rossington, but The Byrds never came close to delivering a song with such a strong, soulful foundation (and I’ll take Ronnie Van Zant over McGuinn any day). The rare harmonies are simple and beautiful and Al Kooper’s mellotron strings are brilliantly understated so that they don’t turn the song into a mushy mess like “A Long and Winding Road.” The realization that boring old Tuesday is (pun intended, I believe) “gone with the wind” shows fascinating insight into how people often have second thoughts about realizing a dream because realizing that dream will destroy the life they knew.
“Double Trouble”: Not one of my favorites from my least favorite Skynyrd album, Gimme Back My Bullets. That album was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Beatles for Sale: they sounded a bit worn out from the constant touring.
“I Know a Little”: The intro on the high hats tells you that the high heels are going to start clicking’ and the bodies are going to start oscillating wherever you can find the room to dance. “I Know a Little” was one of the songs designed to show off new guitarist Steve Gaines on the album Street Survivors, tragically released only a few days before the crash that would claim the lives of Gaines, his sister and Ronnie Van Zant. This song shows that Gaines was a great addition to the band, giving it new energy and perspective at what should have been the early midpoint of a long career. His guitar runs are to die for and Ronnie Van Zant must have loved singing that line, “I know a little about love/And baby I can guess the rest.”
“Four Walls of Raiford”: From the Legend album, a wonderful collection of outtakes for the serious collector, this sad tale of a Vietnam vet locked in a modern version of Les Miserables is a bitter indictment of America’s hypocritical attitude towards veterans. Heroes if they die but often ignored and mistreated if they return, Ronnie Van Zant’s no bullshit lyrics make the sense of betrayal crystal clear:
Well, when Vietnam was over, there was no work here for me
I had a pretty wife awaitin’ and two kids I had to feed
Well, I’m one of America’s heroes when they shoot me down
Won’t fly old glory proudly, put my medals in the ground
The pattern of the song is nearly identical to Johnny Cash’s “Long Black Veil,” but the acoustic blues picking and Ronnie Van Zant’s world-weary vocal make for a compelling listening experience.
“I Never Dreamed”: This is as close to a pop song as these guys ever came, a lovely number about finding and losing “the one.” Performed with relative restraint, there is a certain tenderness about the song that is very compelling. Leon Wilkerson, one of the great, underrated bassists, has another superb turn here, and the guitar solos make this one rise far above the traditional pop number. I’m surprised there haven’t been more covers of this tune.
“Gimme Back My Bullets”: Not one of their stronger efforts from their weakest album. The “bullets” are Billboard bullets; the lyrics seem to be asking for a return to the Top 40 despite the fact that they were partying way too much at the time (“I drank enough whiskey to float a battleship around”). They’ll deal with this topic more honestly in “That Smell.”
“You Got That Right”: Somewhere between blues and music hall, this tune was another opportunity for Steve Gaines to strut his stuff on Street Survivors. Nicely played, but it lacks the power and originality of some of their better works.
“All I Can Do Is Write About It” (acoustic version): Yawn. This one reads more like a travel brochure for the South, and neglects to mention the humidity, the bugs, the shitty food in Waffle Houses and ubiquitous bible-thumping. The lyrics are somewhere between corny or sappy, and the environmental concerns related to rampant urbanization seem superfluous.
“That Smell”: This is a dark and ominous warning to fellow band members (and self) of the need to tone down the use of drugs and booze, that too-common outcome of rock ‘n’ roll stardom. Performed with great power, the background vocals of The Honkettes really shine here. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for a listener to disassociate the line “the smell of death surrounds you” from the tragedy that would occur only a few days after Street Survivors’ release.
I have always considered the loss of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines a tragedy equal to the loss of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper in that Iowa cornfield. The group was getting tired on Gimme Back My Bullets, but the combination of Ronnie’s wake-up call when it came to drug and alcohol abuse and the addition of the enormously talented Mr. Gaines re-energized the music and presaged an exciting future. Lynyrd Skynyrd played rock ‘n’ roll like there was no tomorrow; I only wish they could have extended that tomorrow for as long as they continued to feel the groove. I’ve heard good things about the re-formed band, but I have to admit I haven’t listened to them. The originals left such an indelible impression that I’m worried I might be too critical and unfair to the new guys. Ronnie Van Zant is one tough act to follow, even for a relative.
Like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, I’ve never been back to New Orleans, but I did reconnect with the hot brunette a few months later when she came to visit me in San Francisco after I graduated from college. Although the San Francisco BDSM scene was a bit too much for that Southern belle, we did have one great last roll in the hay before she moseyed on back to her down home life in old Dixie, got hitched and had a slew of kids.
Even though the romance didn’t turn out to be as long-lasting as I would have liked, she was one of the greatest pieces of ass I ever had, so don’t tell me I don’t love the South! With a passion!
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Steve Gaines was enormously talented, all right. His playing was so smooth and effortless. If you check out some of his former band Crawdad on youtube, you’ll hear how unbelievably funky he was, too. One of the saddest facts of the plane crash to me – beyond the terrible human toll, and the fact that it was entirely preventable – was that Skynyrd was at their absolute best right at that very moment in time. Steve, through his playing and his personality, fuelled them to greater musical heights than they had ever reached before. Ronnie, meanwhile, was turning his life around due to the birth of his daughter, Melody. There’s a full Skynyrd concert from July of 1977 on film out there, and when you watch it, you’ll see that they were absolutely cookin’! The three guitarists are absolutely shredding, and all three never sounded better. Leon and Artimus are the tightest they’d ever been. Billy’s almost supernatural talent on piano really shines on T For Texas (as does Gaines’ incredible slide guitar). The new material from Street Survivors was much stronger live. During “That Smell”, Ronnie is looking at Gary almost the whole time he’s singing it. A cautionary tale to “Prince Charming” after he wrapped his new Torino around a tree on Labor Day weekend in ’76, it’s eerie that it turned out to be Ronnie who tomorrow wasn’t there for. There’s a lot of lines on Street Survivors that strike me as somewhat foreboding. Such a terrible shame.
Skynyrd was an incredible band back in the day. Especially live. I am a musician, and I’d like to think I’m a good one, but I wouldn’t want to have had to follow those guys onstage! I think of them almost as an American variant of the Yardbirds, in that all of their guitarists were absolutely outstanding players. Ed, Gary, Allen, Steve – all of them were fantastic players. I imagine Gary probably still is, but I haven’t heard him since I last saw “Skynyrd” in 1996.
I really miss Lynyrd Skynyrd and I know they had a lot left in the tank when the tragedy occurred. The level of collaboration between the guitarists always amazes me—particularly because I know it took a lot of energy, patience and creativity to pull it off. The Yardbirds are a good comparison, but they never held a lineup together long enough to achieve what Lynyrd Skynyrd achieved. Easily my favorite American rock band.
Maybe not the high water mark for southern culture but it sure was for rednecks. Folks that think they’re too good for this don’t know what they are missing.
Good point—there is Yankee snobbery about Southern culture that leads people to dismiss anything Southern. I know, because I had to get over it, too. But yeah—these guys were the best American rock band of the era and don’t get the credit they deserve.
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