COUSIN TO COUSIN
Jimmie Van Zant Carries On Ronnie's Tradition
with Love and Respect
by Scott Greene, June, 2000
When you think of the name Van Zant, the three brothers from the West Side of Jacksonville, Florida come to mind. Two remaining brothers carry on the family traditio started by theeir older brother Rovvie Van Zant. Donnie, with his band .38 Special and Johnny, in a spot that has to be one of the hardest in the world, as lead singer in his brother Ronnie's band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. The continuing emergence of cousin Jimmie, who bears a striking resemblance in both looks and sound to the more-famous brothers, leads us into the interview GRITZ was fortunate to get with him. From his Las Vegas home, Jimmie Van Zant answers what are, at times, hard questions and shares his love for his cousin and for this music.
Tell me about how you got started in the music business.
I was with Jet Set Enterprises and West Side management. I went from my garage (band) with six songs to opening up for Foghat in the Savannah Coliseum, doing the limo rock star thing and thought I was the next rock star and when it all went away, I realized that my feet needed to be firmly planted on the ground
Explain to me why you play the music you play.
I live and breathe this music and I play the back streets and places far away from the big towns where the big bands play. I take the music to the people who, if not for me, would not get the chance to hear it live. I do what I do as a tribute to Ronnie and I sing it with my heart and soul for the people
That's a great attitude.
It's the only way to be - it's not about the money, it's about the music and the people. My feet are planted in my family and the fans that love the music and keep the memories alive.
Tell me about the negative things written about you.
Well, folks say that I am living off Ronnie's name and making money off his memory. I am blessed to be able to play Ronnie's songs for the fans and let them hear the music live. Folks say what they want about my family but I promised my daddy (E.C. Van Zant) that I would stick with this and that's what I am doing.
Tell how you came to leave Jacksonville and get your band together.
Well, my parents died and I had a couple of sisters out here in Las Vegas so I figured I would move out and be close to them. The clubs were closing up in Jacksonville and the music business was drying up there so I figured the move might help my career.
I put together a band and we played small clubs around and there was another band out there named South Wind. They had some great players in that band and we kind of merged to make one band. Several guys that were in my band and several guys from South Wind formed the Jimmie Van Zant Band. We went on the road and spent time building our name and planting seeds
We played together about three years and the life on the road seems easy when you are home working a nine to five job but it's different when you are out there and the blood and sweat don't make enough money to makeends meet. Those guys who recorded the CD with me are fine players and great friends and I would play with them anytime and anywhere but the road was long and hard and they kind of had to choose and they chose to go back home and have that stable life.
I have some great guys playing with me now and they are the same caliber of the band on the CD and we are writing music and working on songs to record next year.
Tell me about why the record company decided to re-release the first album.
Well, it was done first on a small label and we never got a lot of backing and with the band changes, we wanted to get the name out there and let folks know were still alive and kicking. We are working on new stuff for a release some time in the future.
A fan wanted to know why, at your shows this year, we only heard Skynyrd songs and nothing off the CD.
Well, this is a new group of players and I want them to get tight with the Skynyrd stuff first. When we go back out, we will be doing some of the songs off this CD.
Tell me about some of the new stuff that you want to do and some of your plans for the future.
Well, I have an idea to do an album of covers done with a harder southern edge. Like an Elvis, Bad Company or like a Kenny Loggins "Danger Zone" and add a Molly Hatchet-Skynyrd drive to it. I am also doing the Beatles song, "Revolution" with different words and calling it "Rebelution" and have it be a song about the Confederate flag and all the uproar that has happened in this country over a piece of history
I plan to keep playing this music and working this road and holding to the things that mean the most to me. I hope to see many of you at shows this coming year.
How many shows do you do a year?
We did over 180 last year and plan to do even more in the coming year. We will be working in some songs off the CD and some new stuff.
Tell us how it was growing up with such a famous cousin. What memories stand out in your mind?
Well, when we were young it was just like any other relationship with family. Ronnie was older and, of course, he picked on Johnny and myself, which all older brothers and cousins do. But he taught us both so many lessons that I take with me to this day.
When the band (Lynyrd Skynyrd) was just getting started, they would practice anywhere they could and they would use our living room because we lived on this dead end street and the chance of someone calling the police because of the noise was slim. I remember getting up for school and having to walk around the drum kit to get out the door. They would come in after school and practice. When they would go to the store to get a drink, Johnny and I would sit down at their instruments and try to play and when they would return there would be drum sticks through drum heads and guitars out of tune because we had tried to use them. Man, would they get mad at us for that! I had a BB gun and my dad had taught me that it was dangerous and I respected it and treated it like it was a high-powered rifle. (One day) it was sitting in the living room on the mantle. Our neighbor came down and was fussing about our little dog, saying it had run his son up a tree and he was going to kill the dog. Well, this guy was fussing at my mom and Ronnie went over and picked up my BB gun and opened up the door and told the guy, "Get off my aunt's land!" and shot him in the butt with that BB gun. Here I was, a kid of eight or nine and I thought Ronnie had just killed this guy! I will never forget that look on that guy's face as he jumped in his truck and drove off.
Any final comments?
I want to thank the fans for their support and the love we feel in each and every town we play. It's truly for you we keep going and as long as you come we will be there.