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From The GRITZ Vaults: Remembering The Early Years of Lynyrd Skynyrd

Posted: Feb 05, 2009

I'm not sure that everyone realizes just how deep the reading can go here at Swampland. It amazes me sometimes, and I did most of the writing! With all of the talk about the passing of brother Billy Powell the future of Lynyrd Skynyrd, I began to reflect on their past, and started pulling up a few of the old interviews to read once again. Here are a few quotes that caught my eye. Of course you can click on the artist's name to get the entire interview.

Gary Rossington spoke with me about the beginnings of the band and his friendship with the late Ronnie Van Zant.

"First of all, he was like my best friend. We went bass fishing all the time together, and camping and doing things outside. We were teenagers doing things like that. I don’t remember any of the bad things or any of the bullshit things or the business stuff. And I remember playing live onstage with him. It was always great. He was a great guy and great fun to be with, and I miss him a lot."

 
Frank White Photo

Honkette JoJo Billingsley recalled just how close she came to being on the fatal airplane crash of 1977.

"They had played those four shows without me. They let all of us girls go in Las Vegas. That was my last time to sing with them. That was August of ‘77. I had a stomach virus, so I went home to my mom’s in Mississippi. I was under a doctor’s care, and just wanted to rest because we had 286 days that year that we were booked. We had about 55 days off, and about 30 of them were traveling. Leslie went first and asked for her job back so Ronnie hired her back. Then Cassie asked for hers back. Then they did those four shows without me, and then Ronnie called me. It was the night before Greenville. My brother and I had made plans to go over and meet them in Little Rock a couple of nights later to party with them. He called and told me he wanted me to join them in Greenville and come back into the band. I thought, well, that’s music to my ears. I said “yes, of course.” While I was talking to him I felt this strange feeling and I heard this word, “Wait.” My spirit was talking to me. I said, “Well, we were planning to come to Little Rock anyway. Why don’t I just meet you there?” And he said “Good, bring all your stuff.” I went back to sleep there at my mom’s, and that night I had the most vivid dream. I saw the plane smack the ground. I saw them screaming and crying, and I saw fire. I woke up screaming, and my mom came running in going “Honey what is it?” I said “Mama I dreamed the plane crashed!” And she said, “No honey, it’s just a dream. “ And I said “No mom, it’s too real!”  

They had already sent me the itinerary, so the next day I called Greenville, S.C. I called everybody on the list. Finally, late that afternoon Allen called me back. He said “Jo what in the world is it? I’ve got messages all over Greenville from you.” I said “Allen, it’s that airplane.” and I told him about my dream. He and I always sat in two seats up front, facing each other. We always sat there. I said “Allen, please don’t get on that plane.” He said, “Jo, it’s funny you’d mention that, because I was looking out the window yesterday and I saw fire come out of the wing.”

Famed producer Al Kooper spoke with me about how he first discoverd the band down in Atlanta.

"This place is called Finokeose on Peachtree Street. It was a rough place and there were lots of fights going on and stuff. We had a private balcony and we would tell the waitress to go tell that girl in the orange sweater that we were inviting her up here. We loved going there. The first week we were there they had a band called Boot playing. I went and sat in with them. In those days you played for a week at a time. It was not a one night thing like it is now. You would be there for one week. Boot played there for one week and the next week I saw it was Lynyrd Skynryd. I said, "what the hell is this?" Then they played and I thought, boy this is a weird band. They were doing originals. I always liked that. A couple of them really started getting to me and I thought, this is really good. The singer is barefoot and walking around and throwing the mike stand around."

Guitarist Rickey Medlocke told me about what it was like playing drums for Skynyrd in the early days.

"When you are young and full of piss and vinegar and trying to do something, to be honest with you, I don’t really think that anyone knew at that time what the band was really capable of. It was very raw back then. We had an incredible writer that we were playing with named Ronnie Van Zant. When I first started working with him, he had the most unusual way of writing songs. What we would do is go out to Hell House and we would play those songs over and over again without him even singing. He would just kind of sit in the corner in a chair and keep thinking about writing the lyrics in his head. He never even wrote anything down on paper; it was all in his head. He would just step up to the microphone and start singing. It was incredible."

Drummer Artimus Pyle shared his thoughts on being inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and perorming again with Gary, Ed and the gang.

"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."

Of course, these interviews are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Lynyrd Skynyrd stories in the Swampland Artchives. For more, simply enter the band's name in the Seardh Box. But be ready to read for a while about one iof the greatest rock and roll bands ever to rise from the South.

Keep it Real. Keep it Southern.

Buffalo

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copperhead says...

He Buff I want that book. How do I find it???? Great stories

SouthernRockLover says...

I've been a Lynyrd Skynrd pronounced fan for over 30 years. They were always and still are my favorite Southern Rock & Roll Band of all time. I now have a son - 2nd generation who also says Lynyrd Skynyrd is his favorite band. I had the great honor to take him to his first Lynyrd Skynyrd Concert. How cool is that!! I'm a personal friends of Ean Evans from the Old Outlaw Band days. I knew him as a blue collar worker and worked wtth him on many jobs..I'll pray and wish him the best. Lynyrd Skynyrd - keep on ROCKING!!! We LOVE you all!! Wes Bond/ Sandy Bond/ Joey Bond

rebyll says...

Will always miss Billy, God Speed.... Got most of these interviews in Buff's book "Outlaws,Renegades,& Rebels" I got my autographed copy.... and NO Buff, it ain't on e-Bay ..... yet!!!!!!! 8-)

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