ARTIMUS SPITS HIS VENOM AND RECOILS
AN INTERVIEW WITH SKYNYRD ICON ARTIMUS PYLE
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Legendary Southern rock drummer and recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Artimus Pyle has a lot to be proud of. He has completed his “dream project,” a new solo album that features songs taken straight from his life and dealings with his former band Lynyrd Skynyrd, along with some amazing instrumentation from a guest artists that include Ed King, JoJo Billingsley, Leslie Hawkins, Jack Pearson, Lee Bogan, Robert Nix, Tim Lindsey, Barry Rapp and many, many more. He is performing with his band APB, putting together another band called Artimus Venomus to tour, and performing alongside Robert Nix, Jimmy Hall and an all star cast in the band Deep South. We caught up with Artimus in between gigs. (He had just driven several hundred miles behind the wheel of his tour bus.) Artimus talks about The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his bands and of course, his new album.
Congratulations on being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How does it feel to be in?
My take on that was when Kerri came and told me, the first thing out of my mouth was “thank-you Ronnie” and I feel like I don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because I can think of about 1,000 people off the top of my head that do deserve it. I was Ronnie’s drummer and he was my singer and I will gladly ride in on the coat tails of Ronnie Van Zant.
I was there, I showed up and wore a tuxedo. I played Free Bird in a tuxedo and I went up there and we did a show on the Intrepid the day before the Hall of Fame. This was on the U.S.S. Intrepid, for first responders families and 9/11 fire police and military families. We just basically wanted to do something that was more accessible. The tickets for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were very expensive and people could not afford to do that. So we did that show the day before on Sunday. I put a band together with some gigantic musicians and it was just for fun and for all the right reasons.
I was really proud to be inducted into into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Miles Davis, who is one of my heroes. And I got to meet another one of my heroes, Herbie Hancock and he actually commented on my playing. He said I was a powerful player. It was a dream come true. I had all my family up there. I had a couple of buses and took my youngest son up there, River and my wife Kerri. It was all good. We were able to enjoy New York. It was great.
It was great to see the band finally get what they deserved. How did if feel to play with all those guys? Ed King and all of them...
It totally felt right. Everybody knew why we were weren’t inducted, everybody got it. Everyone knew. I knew and you probably felt it too, that Lynyrd Skynyrd would be inducted at some time. It’s a no brainer, but the reason it took so long was because of the current group of lawsuits. That’s the second thing that happened to me was that I got tears in my eyes when I thought about the fans, they had been wanting it to happen for so long and not really understanding why it had not. That is why I did the free concert on the Intrepid. The power of the people got it done and I could just see big smiles on Ronnie, Allen, and Leon’s faces. It’s too bad that Leon was not taken care of very well and allowed to die and he could not see that day, but you know if everyone believes that there is heaven and he is looking down, then everybody is happy.
I know that you have worked very hard on this new album, Artimus Venomus. Give us your take on that album, a little bit about it.
Well, you know the timing is great because of the little bit of attention that I received at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You asked how did it feel to play with them again, well, if felt great and it felt right. Gary’s quote to Rolling Stone was “I would take a bullet for Artimus Pyle and we will stay in the same room tonight.” That is exactly what he told Rolling Stone. He was celebrating and probably was drinking some champagne, and making some wild statements. I thought that was hilarious. I am sure he doesn’t remember saying it but it was definitely said. Rolling Stone definitely got it.
Larry Goad did the album with me. Larry was a friend of Ronnie Van Zant's and was a drummer for a band called Smokehouse. You can see Ronnie wearing a Smokehouse t-shirt in several movies.That was Larry’s band and that was 30 years ago. Larry has become a very proficient songwriter, engineer, producer and guitar player, and he is a monster drummer. So when I went into his studio, I immediately felt at home.
I saw him one night in Nashville and had not seen him in years. I told him I wanted to do this album, he just opened his doors 24/7 to me for a period of three years. Michael, I never dreamed that my album would get heard by that many people. I wanted it to of course, like any other artist, and I have recently been working with Malcolm of Spin Magazine, of which he is the publisher. He is giving me a quarter or full page ad in Spin Magazine, something for October. Just giving it to me, which is really nice. We have already sent him something, it’s Southern rock with a Zappa attitude. I am so appreciative. After all, what artist like me has 16-grand laying around for advertising? I did this show for Spin Magazine in New York a couple of months ago. It had a Dukes of Hazzard theme and the General Lee and bails of hay and what it looked like as a Southern back yard. We were the band playing at the Dukes of Hazzard Holler. They had a fashion show and drinks and it was a real hoot and holler.It was a throw down. My band up in that area is called Street Survivors. They are a bunch of guys that love Skynyrd and play from the heart. We have a great time. We are not trying to be better than the original band, you are never going to do that. Some of these copy bands think that someday they are going to be better than the original but it’s just not going to happen. You are never going to do that. I have seen this delusion in several bands. (Laughs) We have fun and do it for the right reasons. In doing that little show I got this full page ad and Malcolm listened to the CD and loved it. He said that it is quirky, and he loved it. About 60 great musicians and friends and family have helped me make my dream a reality. If people don’t like it then it’s my fault because it all came out of my brain. I finally got with people that would listen to my idea and then try it. They would say hey, that works. Then I put my vocals on it and there are no effects. No machines making my voice in tune and I realized that my vocals are an acquired taste. (Laughs)
I am going to put a copy of my album out for acute sensibilities, sans vocals, except for Jo Jo Billingsley, and what Leslie Hawkins did on “Antivenom” when she sings her vocals. Jo Jo sings on “Brother” and “Jerusalem” and I would leave their chanting on that and take off all of my vocals and my album would stand up instrumentally because of all the great people that played on it. If it is great, it’s because so many great people played on it. If I had done an album that was strictly me, it would sound like Weather Report, but I am known as a Southern rock drummer and I wanted to build a Skynyrd sound that would appeal to the fans and be familiar to them and said things that I could not ask anyone else to sing. Because I wrote them and lived them and needed to do this with fervor. I am proud of every note and word on it and I did it on a shoestring budget and because I had to do it. I am 58 years old and it makes me feel like I am 20. I was listening to my album coming back from Florida yesterday and I was coming down the Interstate. I like to drive at night.I have a 45 foot tour bus and another 20 feel with a double axle trailer and it has a picture on it of me and “Lynyrd Skynyrd Rock and Roll Inductee” and an American flag with “Artimus Pyle drummer for Skynryd.”
I put this album on as I drove along, and there were places where I got very excited and then cried. I can listen to is as an observer as if I didn’t do it. I brought in special drummers, such as Robert Nix from Atlanta Rhythm Section, Larry Goad, my son, other drummers. I brought in pedal steel player Kevin Post. And players like Jack Pearson, who played with the Allman Brothers, and they say he sounded like Duane so much it was indiscernible. Lee Bogan and Stevie Ray Anderson whose have been out with Dr. Hook and he wrote some hits with Joe Diffie.
I actually met Lee at your Celebration of Life show in St. Augustine a few years back. After that we became pals and he has a great album called Finger Feud.
He is a monster and played on “Million Dollar Farm” on my album. I wrote that song about seven years ago sitting on my deck in Florida. I wrote the whole song and everything in 15 minutes. I did what Ronnie Van Zant would do, I gave him a co-write. He put a few words in there that made me laugh and I gave him credit on trust. Ronnie gave me and Steve Gaines, and Cassie and all the girls and everybody a chance. What other artist besides Ronnie Van Zant would walk off the stage and let someone new sing a song with his band unless he had complete confidence in himself and in Steve. That is what I tried to bring through. It’s like I brought in this guy from Nashville who sang “Trust.” I sang back-up vocals with him and put a couple of vocal stabs and it was stuff like “you can’t even trust your best friend.” I said why don’t you sing this one Thane?” But I did the album on a shoestring and I could only cut about 50 per batch. Then I would remember someone I would want to thank and have spellings corrected. By the time my album is ready to go to full glass master print I will have everything the way I want it.
I have to live with it for the rest of my life. The albums that will stand up strong are of course are Ronnie’s albums with the band including the two albums of course before I came into the picture.”Nothin’ Fancy” and all the albums thereafter, and I think out of all the albums by everybody, Gary’s, Johnny’s, everything, I think my album will stand tall and make a statement. Johnny and them get a half million dollar budget and go into the studio and go in and record ten songs. Name me one song out of the dozen albums which they have pumped out over the past 12 years. Except for “Red, White, and Blue,” which was a rip off song and it is designed directly to try to sell albums. “Please buy my product because we are all Americans.” Yeah, right. Of course we are. Then Johnny and Donnie are on Fox News saying they need to support the troops. Neither one of them can complete a correct sentence, and they are in there talking about world news and politics. They have no idea what they are talking about. They sing these songs that other people write to make Vector Management a bunch of money. It’s pathetic.
One of the coolest thing about this album it is kind of like a therapy session, it starts out and you are getting a lot of your anger out and then Larry says, “Artimus, chill a little.” That’s funny stuff. (Laughs)
Yeah, (Laughs) Larry said, “Artimus, can you lighten up man?” It’s all spit and vinegar. This was by design and the last song is “Spit” and that was pretty harsh. Right after the song fades out, Larry makes that statement and then I go into the Barefoot Jerry song you know which is a really nice lighten up. Again, it is how Ronnie would design albums and he would put a J.J. Cale or a Merle Haggard song in and that was by design as well. That Barefoot Jerry song was Larry’s idea and he pulled that out. We actually had Wayne Moss who was in Barefoot Jerry and wrote that song, he came over and used the original guitar from “Pretty Woman” to track, “Can’t Get Off With Your Shoes On.” I didn’t want to embarrass any of those guys from Barefoot Jerry that are still with us. It’s a great song and it is all by design and then it lightens up. Then there are a couple of more stabs and then the “Million Dollar Farm” about the phony national thing and it gets back in a second and we talk about what is really important, you know, the world wars, kids, food, and peace. I just wanted to end it that way because John Boerstler comes in and plays some incredible blues.
Is that John from the old APB band we used to see in Spartanburg in the early '80s?
That’s Johnny B. I called him and asked him to come in for the weekend and I recorded at this fabulous studio at Larry’s in Madison. It’s a thousand square feet separate from the house on a big piece of property, great facility. The whole album was done at Larry’s studio except for one track that was done at 274 W and it’s fabulous and amazing.
The record features what seems like a cast of thousands and it’s all so incredible. I guess for what it’s worth in my opinion I like the whole thing, but “Jerusalem” rocks me. I feel it. The last song “Antivenom” should be a radio song, even at eight minutes long. That doesn’t stop anybody from playing it on the radio anymore. Look at Warren’s stuff, they are all about 10 minutes long.
Yeah, and that “Antivenom” can be cut into at the blues part. I wanted a chant at the end of the album like something the Beatles’ did, “Give Peace A Chance.” In “Jerusalem” my vocals are very background so you have to strain to listen. What I did feature in that was Jo Jo’s vocals kind of like “Dark Side of The Moon” when that girl starts wailing. And Ed King plays on that part as well. He also played on “You Can’t Get Off With Your Shoes On.” After the vocals go out he makes his first run, then we stack Ed’s parts on the second run. There is just a couple of moments there where it sounds like Skynyrd. There is this one little section that sounds so much like Skynyrd, I thought that was fun.
It’s like some kind of Zappa thing combined with Skynyrd.
Frank was a friend of mine and I think a good friend. We played some shows together when we opened for the Doobie Brothers and if he would had lived there is no doubt in my mind that we would have done some stuff together. That’s all my influence from Frank. It’s like Frank and Ronnie meet - and they did meet one time at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Canada and that is my tip of the hat for them.
Aren’t you playing with Robert Nix in one of those all star bands, Deep South?
Yeah, that is correct. We have been working on this for about four years. We had a couple of false starts. You have to have a great vocal guy, and we have one in Jimmy Hall. He is a father, excellent musician, plays harp and sings, goes to Japan and sings with Jeff Beck and sings with him in California. He has The Prisoners of Love in Nashville at B.B. Kings all the time where has a regular slot and then he has Wet Willie, and this is something he wants to do. The only reason I am in it is because of Jimmy. Robert Nix has tried hard to put this together. We had Dean Daugherty, Robert Nix, Ed King, Jeff Carlisi from 38 Special and George McCorkle from Marshall Tucker, me and of course Jimmy and a couple of other players, a guitar player from Memphis named Hal McCormick and a bass player. That’s how it originally started out and it was strong. ALong the way we have lost players due to wives, money issues, bad management, and stuff like that that gave us a false start. At one point we had Bob Doyle who was Garth Brooks manager involved, but he backed down to Ken Leviton from Vector Management. Now I think we have it all together after four years. The line up is me on drums, Robert Nix on drums, Dean Daugherty, who has been ill but the doctors think he is getting his life force back and then we have Chris Hicks from Marshall Tucker, another great guy and Jimmy Hall. We are putting it back together and we have put a LLC together and we have been signed by Buddy Lee Attractions. We have some dates set up in Denver and one at Clear Lake Iowa and one in Long Island for Carol Baldwin, mother of Alec, and this is for Breast Cancer, that is a big production. We are playing that. Doing stuff to raise money for kids and Deep South is going to take off. Deep South “Royal Blue” is the working title of the new album we want to do with all our songwriters. Our album will prove that everything that is coming out of Nashville now got it’s start from the roots of Deep South. This is a fact. Everybody from Travis Tritt and the latest will tell you that they looked to the great Southern rock bands for inspiration.
Photos borrowed from artimuspyle.com. All rights revert back to the photographers/owners.