Rossington-Collins, The Rossington Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd
by Michael Buffalo Smith
She may be in the background as a backup singer for Skynyrd now, but there was a time when Dale Krantz was the full-throttle lead vocalist leading the Skynyrd survivors first major outing following the plane crash of ‘77 as The Rossington Collins Band.
Dale spoke with us about her band, her memories, her family and the man she loves.
It sounds good to hear your voice, I’m telling you.
Thanks, I’ve really been looking forward to it. The first thing I wanted to ask is, when did you first become interested in making music?
My goodness. My Daddy was the church choir director, and all my sisters and brother were very musical. So it started in the church. As early as we could talk we were in the church singing the hymns. I grew up a couple of hours outside of Detroit, so when I was old enough to flip on the radio I began listening to old Motown and rhythm and blues out of Detroit. I think the very first time I looked into the mirror and pretended to sing it was probably to a Johnny Mathis record. I realize I’m dating myself here. But my mother always loved those Perry Como and Bing Crosby records. Both my Mom and Dad had beautiful voices.
What was your first professional gig?
I was a senior in college. I got a bachelor of music education, actually. My parents felt that I needed something to fall back on. I actually hadn’t thought of professional music until I was a college senior. I started playing in a duet with a fine musician who was a music major. He played piano, and we called ourselves Sweet Seasons, after the Carole King song. We did a lot of clubs in the neighborhood, and I never looked back. I think I took a final on Friday, and left before they even handed out diplomas, with a traveling club band. I was hooked, but then again that was my last year. I had never really intended to teach music, but I thought it was a good education, you know.
Tell me how you first met Gary. Was it during the Rossington Collins Band or before that?
Actually, I had sung with 38 Special for a while. I had sung with Leon Russell in the fall and winter of ‘76, and the 38 boys had heard about that and decided they wanted some background vocalists at the time. We opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd in the spring of ‘77, which was an eye opener for me. I had worked with 38 Special for several months before opening for Skynyrd, and I remember standing in the shadows watching Skynyrd and I was just overwhelmed by the sights and sounds- I was blown away. Then several months later after the plane crash, I was still affiliated with the 38 bunch, until they were ready to look for a new singer. And of course that caused some feathers to be ruffled, I must say. When I quit 38 to go and sing with Gary and Allen I mean. Of course that was just the beginning of a lot of feathers being ruffled.
When The Rossington Collins Band was first hitting big, were you as confident as you appeared onstage?
I was totally confident in my belief that Gary and Allen especially, but all of them, deserved their rightful place on the stage. I was only there ... I totally understood all the grief they were going through, that they were consumed with over the loss of Ronnie and Steve and the rest of them. I couldn’t understand why every one was so tough on Gary and Allen and the survivors. So a little bit of the cheerleader in me came out, and the Baptist preacher. The press had a lot of funny adjectives for the way I came off, but I was not educated enough in the Skynyrd history to know what I was up against. So part of it was ignorance (Laughs)- and part of it was an idealistic, almost worship of Gary and Allen and all they had gone through. I was gonna go out there and kick anybody’s ass, if you’ll pardon the expression, that didn’t feel they deserved to be up there. You can hear that in the lyrics. “They’re alive and well and ready- are you ready for the big boys?” That’s a pretty simple statement. And “Opportunity”- another of my favorite songs, was for those who doubted the reasons they had for going back to work. Everyone wasn’t ready for them to do music again, except of course for them. They needed it. So it was easy to be tough. You had to be tough standing between Gary and Allen, can you imagine? (Laughs) Have mercy.
You’d have to be sure your feet were firmly planted in place to keep from getting blown away.
And your buns blown away too, buddy. (Laughing) They would take nothing less that 110 percent, and I would have never thought that I would have gotten by any other way. But fear can take you a long way too. (Laughs)
I was telling Gary earlier, you were one of the first voted into the Gritz Hall of Fame for Female Vocalists.
Great. Thank you. Awesome. You know, they used to call Gary “The Prez,” and I’ll never forget the most lovely compliment someone gave me was when they called me “The First Lady of Southern Rock.” I felt a little guilty with my yankee Indiana roots, but my affiliation with Gary and Allen really did put me in a special spot. I am so honored to be a part of this. I have seen your magazine and I love it. I saw it when we were trying to do this the first time, and you know the whole story there-bless his stubborn little heart. Clogged and unclogged, he’s still the toughest guy I know.
I told Gary everyone had been praying for him, and I’m just so glad he’s better.
Oh, thank you. I can’t tell you how much that has meant to all of us. It was just one of the most frightening things I have ever been through, having to see my man there. Going through all that. And the support of everyone is what brought us through- his daughters and myself. So please, please tell your readers I thank them from the bottom of my heart for that.
Definitely. Dale, who would you say have been your major musical influences and favorite female singers?
Well, you’re gonna hear the classics from me. I love Ray Charles, like no other. I love Aretha Franklin, like no other. I used to do the most wonderful Gladys Knight tunes, and I’m very, very much soul influenced. Oh, and Bonnie Bramlett. She rocks. She was at one of the Farm Aid shows one year and came out to sing on “Sweet Home Alabama.” It was a dream come true. Bonnie Bramlett and Kris Kristofferson singing with us. And I love James Taylor. The more recent female vocalists, I adore Alanis Morsette. Oh golly, I don’t brave too many concerts unless I’m working them, but I’d go to see her. She’s a tough little broad. And I love that big, big sound she puts out.
What’s it like to be a mother out touring in a band?
I have experienced it since they were tiny babies, and now my eldest daughter, at the big ripe age of 20 is going to give us a grand daughter this year. It is just as hard to leave them now as it was when they were babies. I remember thinking it would get easier as they got older, but it didn’t because they’re so magical and so wonderful, and you don’t want to miss any of your time with them. That was one of the hardest things I had to do, but we had support from family and all of the different gals we left them with over the years, the nannys so to speak, were all just wonderful people. And each time that we left, we felt that we left them with the very best that we could at the time. And the kids have grown up to be little rock and roll girls. They totally understand their father , and our love for each other and what we are doing. Now that they are almost adults themselves- well, they are adults. (Laughs) Gee, even that was hard for me to say. I still miss them like they are my little ones, but I know we have their full support. I miss them though. It hurts. We’re trying to figure out who is gonna fill in for me so I can go home and be a grandmother for a few days this summer. And my daughter already understands that I’ll probably fly in, be the cheerleader, and then fly back out to meet Gary on the road. This has always been our dream and they know it.
Tell us a little about your Skynyrd co-vocalist, Carol Chase.
She is tried and true and she loves the Southern thing. For a girl from North Dakota! She’s another one that has embraced her “Southern-ness,”if you will. She’s a darling girl, very light hearted and fun to be around. She’s out of Nashville now, and has been there many years. She does songwriting. She has been a wonderful influence on us as far as health issues. She loves to read about nutrition and vitamins. She’s one of those “up” girls. She’s so happy to be with the Skynyrd bunch. We’ve seen a lot of people come and go over the years, and some of them of their own choosing, decided to go ahead and go. But this child is so happy, and she knows how important Skynyrd is to the world. We just have a ball together. We just finished beating the street of Glasgow, Scotland. She’s got enough energy for six women. She’s a good, good friend.
One of the guys I have become good friends with is Jay Johnson of The Southern Rock Allstars.
Ooooh, my baby.
Do you have any fond memories of The Rossington Band?
You’d better know it! Those were sweet times for us. There wasn’t so much of the pressure. I mean, Rossington Collins was tough to have to leave. It was a difficult situation at the time. Allen had lost Cathy. We had been mourning her for over a year, and the music was getting further away, and unfortunately, drugs were the predominant factor in that after we lost her. It was tough to leave that band, but once we did that we still missed the music. This was a wonderful way to get our chops up and wail, and God, Jay was a great rhythm guitar player, as well as a lead. He had a solid rhythm that could always take it right on up a few steps. We had a wonderful time back then. We believed in the songs we were writing and we enjoyed working with the younger guys. It’s a judgmental business we’re in, but some of the old stuff finally got to take a back seat for a little while. We needed that. I have to tell you honestly that in ‘87 when they started talking about a tribute to Skynyrd, I was very afraid of it, because I didn’t want to see Gary going back to so much weight on his shoulders. But, oh well...Thank God they didn’t listen to me, huh? (Laughs) I have learned over the years that Skynyrd is bigger than all of us. It is way bigger than any one of us. It has a life of its own. It started out as six shows. It was going to be one show as a tribute, then it was six. Then everyone was saying, “Hey, there’s fans in Texas. There’s fans in Nebraska.” Then a hundred shows later we decided we couldn’t let each other go. It was too good. The rest is new Skynyrd history.
We have a really nice picture of you and Gary for the cover. He’s smiling.
That’s an unusual picture. (Laughs)
I wanted to ask you your heartfelt thoughts on Gary.
He swept me off my feet, it’ll be 21 years in July we’ve been married, and 22 years together. But after what we’ve been through these last few months, I can’t tell you how much the love has grown. Deeper and stronger than ever. For a few days I felt what it was really gonna be like if I lost him, and it was a very empty, lonely place. (Tearfully) I knew I’d always loved him, and I’ve always respected him, and I feel that is a big part of any working marriage. You maintain a respect for the other person. And then to have almost lost him like that. There isn’t a well deep enough, or a sky high enough to fill it up. He’s my soul mate and always will be. And it’s real too kid, it takes my breath away. We’re both healing from this. And every night, if he drops one note, or he looks a little bit different, I get this sick feeling of “what is wrong?” I forget that he’s fixed, and he really is getting better each and every day. I am really in awe of what these doctors can do and what they did for him. He’s my miracle man.
One thing we feature in our magazine is cooking. I was wondering, do you ever do any cooking.
(Laughing hysterically) Lord have mercy. This is the best question of all. Let me explain by saying that my daughter has gone into culinary school as her chosen profession. And it was certainly not because her mother was a fine cook and she wanted to follow in my foot steps. Oh dear God, in that aspect, I am ashamed dear to say that I am very much a rock and roll cook. Stouffer’s does it so well for me. All those companies work so hard to put out those fine meals, why should I go through the strain? (Laughing) But Mary Elizabeth can cook. She’s amazing. Pecan crusted chicken. She used to grab different colors of peppers like other kids would go for candy. She’s an awesome chef. I cook if I have too. I defer to my daughter the chef. I mean, I can cook, nobody has starved in our house, but I don’t have much love for it.
Any messages for the Lynyrd Skynyrd fans?
Again, this has been the year for gratitude, and humility. The fans are our salvation and our strength, and I thank them so much for that and for their love for Gary. To the women fans, I would say “it’s all gritz girls.” It’s all about gritz and guts and singing from the floor up. I used to say I am from the Ethyl Merman school of music, that the show must go on. And I firmly believe that if you are called to the music and it’s your life, you’ve got to work it and not be ashamed of it . To my fellow musicians, I say work it and you go girl!
Thank you Dale, and my thanks to Gary as well.
Thank you Buffalo, and you take care, and we’ll see you soon in “God Bless” America!
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