Southern By The Grace of God
Randall Hall Stays True to His Southern Rock Roots
by Michael Buffalo Smith, July 2001
Lynyrd Skynyrd has showcased some mighty fine musicians over the years, from the original band to the current all-star lineup. One of the finest guitar slingers ever to perform as a member of this legendary band was Randall Hall. Hand picked as his replacement on the famed "Tribute" Tour by the late Allen Collins, Randall brought fire to the stages of the world, and appeared on three Skynyrd albums, including the fiery live set Southern By The Grace of God.
These days, Randall heads up his own all-star band, with an ever changing line up, The Randall Hall Band. He also appears as part of the revolving Artimus Pyle Band lineup. Poised to release a new RHB album later this year, Hall is excited and ready to rock, as evident by his continuous line of tour dates. GRITZ spoke with Hall about his friends Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins; his days with Lynyrd Skynyrd and why he left; touring with folk rocker Melanie; his fascination with Jimi Hendrix; soloing alongside Stevie Ray Vaughan; and growing up in the Sunshine State.
SKYNYRD JAM - Greg Martin (Kentucky Headhunters) joins Randall, Gary Rossington and Leon Wlkeson in a Southern friend jam.
I know you were born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, where all the great guitar players came from! Did you come from a musical family?
I think both sets of Grandparents had some musical ability, both sets on my mother's side and my father's side. My dad just dabbled on the guitar, but my mom used to sing in church quartets and stuff when she was a youngster. My Grandfather on the Hall side, who I never knew, he was gone long before I was born, played fiddle I believe. And my grandmother, who I knew up until I was ten, she played a zither. You know, you sit down and play it with a quill. And my mom's parents, my grandfather played a little guitar and grandmother played the organ. Like I said, I never heard 'em play, except for my grandmother that played the zither. I've still got that thing. I don't know how old it is, man. She died in 1964, and it was a fairly new one then. I don't know much about 'em except they've got those pre-tuned chords.
A zither, is that like an autoharp, like Mother Maybelle Carter played?
Yeah. Sure is. They have a few different styles of playing them.
When did you become interested in playing the guitar, and who were your earliest musical influences?
I can tell you that easy. You ever seen that Tribute Tour video we made?I dabbled a little on that question there. My brother was kind of interested in guitar. He really wanted to be a drummer, but they didn't want to foot the bill for a set of drums.And I don't know if they really wanted to hear them around the house! (Laughing)
Nobody wants their kid to take up drums. When I was a kid, I has a set of drums for a week, and they mysteriously disappeared one day.
(Laughs) He had one of those little Silvertone guitars with the amp built into the case. He was messing around with it, and I picked around with it a little bit. So instead of drums, they bought him a motorcycle. So he got rid of the guitar, and i was just starting to get interested in it. We had one of these little Magnus chord organs around the house. I started dabbling on that, and it seems like everything I could get my hands on I could pick up and start learning something on it you know. That went on for about a year. Then when I was about fourteen years old I went to see the Monkees. Jimi Hendrix opened the show. I was excited about hearing the Monkees play "I'm a Believer," and Hendrix came out. I didn't know who in the hell he was. I went "My God," and my jaw just dropped, seeing this wild man out there. This was two weeks after the Monterey Pop Festival.
That's like taking a kid to a strip show.
(Laughing) That's how a lot of parents were treating there kids, covering their eyes up. Me and one of my buddies went to that, our parents dropped us off. We had good seats. And Jimi, that was it! "Purple Haze" just nailed me. I loved that song, it was so wicked sounding. We had these little AM radios, and they had an underground radio show and they'd play "Purple Haze" every once in a while, and I'd flip. After that, my interest in guitar skyrocketed. Poof! There I went. So within a year or two I was out doing gigs. In fact, my first paying gig I ever had was on the very day Jimi Hendrix died in 1970. I was like sixteen or something. It was over on the west side of Jacksonville. Most all of us came from the west side. It was Woodstock Youth Center.
So actually, you played Woodstock. (Laughing at my own joke)
(Laughs) Yeah! Really!
And you played with Don Barnes' band, Alice Marr?
Yeah, I don't know what the deal was, but Don was out of there. And I went over to rehearse with 'em for like two weeks. They had their songs pretty much together. I don't know if I just didn't learn the songs quick enough or what, but they ended up getting Don back. They didn't last long after that, they just went their separate ways. Then I got hooked up with a couple of guys and got into one of my first good bands, Running Easy. It was Ken Lyons, who was 38's first bass player; a left handed guitar player named Jim Harrison; and Joe Cramp. We formed Running Easy. We got a keyboard player who was in Alice Marr, Kevin Nelson- he produced Journey, and the bane Europe. He's a sound man today. Oh, my God. He mixed for Michael Jackson. He went out with us and Skynyrd. And he was a Skynyrd sound man and roadie back in the seventies.
In Running Easy we were doing all instrumentals, and search song was worth about three songs, they had so many changes in 'em. We ended up opening for Skynyrd. That was on the Tribute Tour video. That was on the first day that I met any of them guys. It was like 1972. Downtown there's a place they call Friendship Fountain on the river, and we opened up for 'em. That's the day I met Allen Collins. He came up to me and said, "Hey you ol' hot dog you, you're damn good!" After that we started getting gigs opening up for Skynyrd before they were even known about. That was when they had two drummers- Rickey Medlocke was drumming and Bob Burns was drumming. And Ronnie helped us get on the "chittlin' circuit" with one of the agencies out of Atlanta, Paragon I think. He just believed in us. He introduced me to Allen and Phil Walden there at Pinochio's in Atlanta. We went up there to audition. We were gonna do our audition after their show. Before we could do it, Ronnie took me upstairs to one of these little balcony booths, and Phil and Allen were sitting there. Ronnie said, "I want y'all to meet Randall Hall. He's 17. Mark my words, you're gonna hear from him some day." We had to start doing cover songs. We had been doing original instrumentals, but we said, well, we'd better start singing something. (Laughs)
One time we went over to Ronnie's apartment he had at the time.
He said, "What do you feel like hearing?"
I said "What about some Allmans, live at the Fillmore East?"
And he said, "You don't want to listen to them guys. Why don't you listen to Merle Haggard?"
I said, "Merle Haggard??" (Laughs) I wasn't into it then. I was just interested in guitar at the time.
But he said "You don't know what you're missing."
I wanted to talk about Ronnie Van Zant. He's become such a legend. What was he really like?
Mine and his was always a great relationship. I never saw the bad, because I never worked with him. He treated me like, with a little brother kind of attitude. He took me under his wing, like I said, hooking us up with agents and trying to get us going. He did anything he could on his end to help us. Sure enough, he got us on some gigs. i remember doing one with Bloodrock up in Atlanta. It was alternating sets all through the night. But as a person, he was always like, Hey, good to see you again, man." The last time I saw him, I was not working a whole lot playing, so I was working at an apartment complex as the in-house landscaping guy. I was digging a hole out in front of an apartment, and he just wheeled up. Him and some of the other guys, coming to get one of the roadies that lived there. And I was digging a hole with filth and dirt all over me, you know. And he said, "Randall, what the hell are you doin'?" I said, "I'm digging a hole." (Laughs) I had to knock the dirt off my hand to shake his hand. He said, "Man, you're too good to be doing this shit. Why are you doin' it?" I said, "I got to make a buck right now, you know?" A few months later his plane crashed. On that night, we were gigging out towards the beach, and at the time there were conflicting reports. Nothing was really accurate. They were saying Leon was dead, but he wasn't. We didn't get the full report on what really happened 'till the next day.
I was at his last show here in Greenville. We were all devastated. We still are.
On your website I read that you played guitar with the '60's folksinger Melanie?
Yeah, back in '79. You know who was responsible for that? Rickey Medlocke. At the time I was living next door to Shorty. We were playing at a pub in Gainesville, a college club. We got a call during one of our sets. He said, "Look. I'm staying in the same hotel with Melanie, and she's firing her band." And he said, "I know some guys that can fill your bill right now. She took three of us out of the band. She already had her bass player that she wanted to keep. We hated not taking the one we had because he was a helluva singer. We ended up playing with her for just a few months. Like the Copa Cabanna, and we went over to Switzerland and played. It was a folk festival. Ry Cooder was on the bill. It lasted about like four days.
So you got to play "Brand New Key."
Yeah man. I didn't know much about Melanie at the time. We had to cram on all these songs, get every album she had and learn a pile of songs. We met up with her and she was real, nice. She told me about flying with Jimi Hendrix. You know, when I got with Skynyrd, I ran into so many people who had worked with Jimi or something. And I had to ask every one of them about him. She flew from London to New York sitting right beside him. She said "Randall, he was just a perfect gentleman." She sid he was just like the song "If 6 was 9." "Mr. Business Man, you can't dress like me." The suits would just look at him like, "Who is the weirdo?" He was just great.
Tell me about coming to join The Allen Collins Band.
That was just a few years later. They had The Rossington-Collins Band in about 1980. I was a candidate for that too. Gary and Allen used to tell me. " We're putting this thing together, and we're gonna do some of Skynyrd's songs and some of ours. It was between me and Barry Harwood. It was me one week and Barry the next. Finally they just decided on Barry. Then that ran its course. They did a couple of years of that and two albums. Then Gary and Allen parted ways. I guess Gary started hooking up with Dale or something, I don't know. So Allen came out to see me playing locally, him and Barry Lee Harwood. And it happened that Jimmy Doretty was playing drums with me in this band The Moody Brothers. An old time lounge act that had been around for years. I learned so much from those guys. They said man you gotta come join this band. So that's where that came about. We rehearsed out at Allen's house. His six-car garage, one of them was made into a studio, you know. We did that album, and we were starting to work on a second one, but Allen was just losing it. He had been through so much tragedy in his life. The worst was losing his wife. After that it was just like he didn't care anymore. He began to party to the extreme.
What happened to his wife?
She died in '80 or '81 of complications due to pregnancy. It really devastated him. After that it was like he had a death wish. He didn't care. He'd drive like a maniac, drinking and everything. He just didn't care. That was just the demise of the band there. If he wasn't too drunk, he was too messed up. I hate to say that. We did a few gigs and just canned it. He just lost interest in keeping it going. We all loved him to the end. He was one of the most brutally honest people I have ever known.
I wanted to ask about Allen. He's one of my favorite guitar players.
He was a guy that had perfect pitch. He was real, hyper as a kid. They used to give him Ritalin to combat the hypertension. He had such a tolerance level. He could do more of everything than anybody. I remember having a contest between him and one of the road guys to see who could string a guitar the quickest. He beat the roadie! And he had it in tune without even putting it on a tuner. I was going, "My God."
And it was Allen that got you on the Skynyrd Tribute Tour, right?
Yes. My wife and I were at the place where we used to live in Jacksonville. We'd heard some talk about it, the possibilities of something happening. Then out of the clear blue he calls me up one day, all hyped up.
He said, "Hey buddy, are you gonna be there for me?"
I said, "Yeah, sure. What is it?"
He said, "You gonna be there for me?"
I said, "Sure, what is it Allen?"
He said, "Oh, it's this Skynyrd tribute thing they're putting together. I just don't feel like going out there in a wheel chair. I don't feel like playing as much. I know you got it. I want to know if you'll be there for me."
I said, "Well of course."
He said,"I told them guys if they don't use you I'd shut the whole m.f. down." He said, "I told 'em I want you and nobody else. I've got people calling me from all over that want to do it. I want you and you only to do it."
I said, "Alright man, I'll do it." So that's how that happened.
I remember seeing y'all on TV on Charlie's (Daniels) Volunteer Jam
Oh, that was great. That was the day I met Charlie, the day I met Bill Graham. I played onstage with Stevie Ray Vaughan. When Charlie finished his set, he pulled all of the guitar players out onstage for a jam. There must have been seven or eight of us. We did something straight forward, like "Johnny B. Goode," I don't remember, or "Kansas City." He'd introduce the guitar players one by one and we'd take a solo. Stevie Ray was right next to me and he took a solo. Then I had to come out right behind him. I said, I'm not going to let this boy intimidate me, I'm gonna go for it. So I did. I gritted my teeth and took off. Turns out, me and Stevie Ray were the same age. I thought he was older than me.
I know Toy Caldwell played that show too.
Oh yeah! He did a lot of shows with us. He was on the live Skynyrd album. He did a lot more than just what was on the album. Like playing on "Call Me The Breeze" and "Sweet Home," stuff like that. He just traveled with us.
How many albums did you do with Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Three. "Southern By The Grace of God," "1991," and "The Last Rebel."
Why did you leave Lynyrd Skynyrd? What happened?
Well, I can talk about it now. We had a lawsuit that ended a year ago. It took six and a half years to resolve. But it's public knowledge now. At the time I couldn't say nothing. They were contriving other reasons, saying it was something it wasn't, but in essence, they wanted to cut my money in half. After being with them almost seven years at the time, they just wanted to take half of my percentage of the gross, and I said "No way." None of them came to see me. They had their manager call my attorney about it. I said, "Call me and talk to me about this!"
My attorney said "No. I don't see any reason for you guys to do that. Randall is there. He does his job. I don't see any legitimate reason for you to do that. And it wasn't everybody in the band's decision either. Months later Johnny called me and said, "I want you to know I fought for you tooth and nail." He said, "If my name wasn't Van Zant, I'd probably be gone too." (Laughs) It was about them making more, and me making less. I was an equal shareholder at the time. They tried to say it was because I was late for rehearsal. Bull. I was the one that had to pick up Billy all the time, because, no driving for Billy. And Billy would want to stop on the way and pick up something. And we'd be late. And they tried to use that as an excuse. It was more than that. I think it was greed, man. It all happened conveniently after Allen was gone. Because if Allen had been around he would have fought that tooth and nail. I think it was more Ed and Gary, I'm not sure.
Tell us a little about The Randall Hall Band.
For the past two years we have been calling it The Randall Hall Band. It consists of Barry Rapp on keys; Sammy Buonocore on drums; Tim Lindsey on bass. We had the old singer from Allen Collins Band, and we recorded three songs with him. But Jimmy is not with us anymore. We have some more songs we want to record. And we have been going out a lot with Artimus Pyle, calling it The Artimus Pyle Band, or Randall Hall Band with Artimus Pyle. Who cares what it's called? We're out there making people happy. We do everything from blues to Skynyrd, you name it. We hope to finish the album this year, and we've got a lot of dates coming up here. In the mean time we're keeping our meat and potatoes gig when we're in town. We're doing well. We'll be at Planet Hollywood in Nashville for a couple of nights at the end of July, and they want us back in September. When we were there in May, we did two nights and packed the place out both nights. It's in the works, man. Dead in the middle of the works. But on the band, the lineup varies like it does with Southern Rock Allstars. Mike Estes does some, and Rapp will be on some and not on others. But the basic core is always there, and it seems like we can't go wrong. We play some Skynyrd songs, and they're cheering us on before we play the first song. And we have the waiting list for our cd on the website, and people all over the world are on the list. The reason I named the band The Randall Hall Band never was anything to do with me being a tight-fisted leader. It was just my name, and if some people recognize it, then that helps pull people in. Artimus said it was the same way when he did APB.