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Skynyrd Still Skyward
by Mark Smith
TRAGEDY and triumph.
Never have two words been more deeply entrenched in the psyche of a music group than with American rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Since its formation as a garage band in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1964, it seems the group has never been able to experience one without the other.
After rising to world-wide fame in the early 1970s with enduring classics Sweet Home Alabama and Freebird, the group was forced to disband after losing three members, including songwriter Ronnie Van Zant, in a plane crash in South Carolina in 1977.
In 1986, before the band’s reunion, surviving guitarist Allen Collins crashed his car while drunk, killing his girlfriend and leaving him paralysed from the chest down.
He died from pneumonia on January 23, 1990.
The band, now led by Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny, continued to record, sparking an exciting new period.
Then in 2001, Leon Wilkeson, the band’s bassist since 1972, was found dead in his hotel room.
In 2006, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Guitarist Hughie Thomasson died shortly after.
So it’s strangely poetic that in 2009, the band’s latest triumph is something that has again risen from the ashes of tragedy.
The band’s new album God and Guns has been heralded as the group’s finest record since its 1970s hey-day, but guitarist Rickey Medlocke says it took the untimely death of two more of its members to get it that way.
The band started recording the album in 2008, but lost keyboardist Billy Powell and bassist Ean Evans during the recording process to a suspected heart attack and cancer respectively.
“One of the key elements in this whole thing that really pushed us to dig deep and come up with the goods was the fact that we had lost Bill Powell and our bass player Ean Evans to cancer, and knowing that we had started this record with them, and all of a sudden we couldn’t finish it with them,” Medlocke said.
“And we knew that if we didn’t get this record out they would have been very disappointed.
“At one point we even talked about calling it a day but then we said, ‘you know what, we can’t do that because Billy and Ean would be very upset’.
“So we picked ourselves up by our bootstraps, dug down deep and really, really committed to making a great CD.”
The album blends a range of musical styles from blues and country to hard rock and includes guest appearances by Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5 and Rob Zombie.
The album debuted at number 18 in the US charts, its highest result since the 1977 album Street Survivors.
Lyrically, it takes aim at what Medlocke describes as a nation of forgotten values.
The album title is a reference to a speech US president Barack Obama gave in San Francisco deriding small town America for clinging to their God and guns.
“Our country (the US) is trying to be so politically correct, and a lot of the family values and personal values have been forgotten,” he says.
“It’s not the way half of our nation wants it to be. And this record kind of speaks out for some people who maybe can’t speak out for themselves.
“We go out and say, ‘hey, when did it get to be that kids can’t pledge an allegiance to the school in the classroom or be in the classroom and say their prayers’?
“Everything has become that if you’re doing something, you’re insulting someone else’s religion, or if you say something you’re insulting someone else’s race.
“We don’t try to use the band as a political stance; we are just musicians who write about real substance. And we’ve been writing about what is on people’s minds for years.”
Medlocke puts the group’s endurance through so many tragedies down to a simple love of the craft.
“When you’ve got great bands that have spent their whole lives playing music, what else are you going to want to do?,” he said.
“We have fans from 15 to 65 years old and it’s pretty amazing for us.
“I think that’s what drives us through the tragedies.”
Medlocke also hinted at the possibility of playing in Australia for the first time.
“There has been a lot of interest in an Australian tour. We have never been out there, but it is something we really want to do,” he said.
God and Guns is out now through Roadrunner Records.
By Julie Rosenbaum-Engelhardt
Evansville Courier & Press
EVANSVILLE -- To lead guitarist Gary Rossington, it wasn't fate that saved his life when he was a passenger on the plane that went down in 1977, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and two other members of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
"I believe that God had plans for me and it wasn't my time to go," said Rossington, the lone original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, who will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at Roberts Stadium. "I believe there was a reason for me being here. It sounds crazy, but that's what I really believe."
Unlike many bands who once enjoyed megastardom, Lynyrd Skynyrd isn't content to just play old hits. They recently released their new CD "God and Guns," from which they performed "Simple Life" on several late-night talk shows.
"This band has a lot of talent and we had a lot to say," Rossington said. "We're very happy with the response 'God and Guns' is getting."
Growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., Rossington stood in front of a mirror with a broomstick, pretending to be Elvis Presley. When he saw the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, he decided he wanted to get a Silvertone guitar.
"I was raised by my momma," Rossington said. "We didn't have much money, so I got a paper route and paid a $1.60 a month until my $8 guitar was paid for."
Playing Little League baseball, Gary met up with Ronnie Van Zant.
"Ronnie couldn't sing, but he acted like he could and we put a little band together and he sang Beach Boys and Stones songs," said Rossington, who barely knew any chords at the time.
Eventually, Lynyrd Skynyrd became one of the most admired bands of the 1970s and "Free Bird," along with Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," and Derek and the Dominos' "Layla," became an anthem for the entire decade.
Dale Rossington, Gary's wife, and a backup singer for Skynyrd, recalls that the Georgia phone book published their phone number and address.
"I can't tell you how many kids called about learning to play 'Free Bird' on their guitar and school projects," said Dale, an Angola, Ind., native who still considers herself a Hoosier. "One even sent up a screenplay. It was wild."
Gary donated his guitar, Berneice, named after his beloved mother, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Skynyrd was inducted into the Hall in 2006.
After the plane crash, the band went on hiatus and Rossington formed the Rossington-Collins Band. Dale Krantz, who had been a backup singer for .38 Special, which was fronted by Donnie Van Zant, joined Rossington-Collins as lead vocalist. She and Gary were later married. "The love story is still going strong," Dale said.
While Rossington was conducting this telephone interview, his two little grandchildren came down to show him their Halloween outfits. One of his grandchildren is named Jackson, after Jackson Hole, Wyo., which Gary says: "I've been to so many places in this world and I've never seen anything as beautiful or as close to heaven as Jackson Hole."
In 1987, Skynyrd did a reunion tour with Johnny Van Zant, the youngest of the three brothers, as lead vocalist and they've been going strong ever since. Johnny has fond memories of Ronnie, who was also Skynyrd's primary songwriter.
"My brother is probably up in heaven, fishing and laughing at us for having to work so hard down here," Johnny said.
Within the last year, tragedy struck Skynyrd once again. Keyboardist Billy Powell died of an apparent heart attack in January and bassist Ean Evans died of cancer in May. But as the song from "God and Guns" says, they're still "Unbroken." When tragedy hits them like the legendary Phoenix, Skynyrd continues to rise above the flames.
By Julie Rosenbaum-Engelhardt
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Lynyrd Skynyrd “God and Guns” By Julie Rosenbaum-Engelhardt
"God and Guns," the new CD by Lynyrd Skynyrd, is a return to
form for the legendary Southern rockers.
After the death of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve
Gaines and vocalist Cassie Gaines in a plane crash in 1977 and
losing two members just this year (Billy Powell and Ean Evans),
the group remained unbroken and put out this new CD.
As the words say, they "may have lost everything, but they're not dead, at least not yet."
"Still Unbroken," which opens the CD, touches the heart. "Simple Life" shows a yearning for the time when you sat down with your family and talked about your day, instead of staring at a computer screen.
The title cut is a political statement about how prayer should not have been taken out of schools and people have a Second Amendment right to have a gun.
If you like hard rock, Southern rock or just good music with a meaning, this CD has it all. It doesn't really matter what your political views are. Singer Johnny Van Zant sounds as good as he did 20 years ago as do the musicians. Through all the tribulations, Skynyrd once again proves
they're here to stay.
Almost always when a band makes a comeback CD, it is a disappointment. We expect them to sound like they did years ago, which is virtually impossible. The new Skynyrd CD, however, is as
good as ever and the band is rocking like they did in the '70s.
Lynyrd Skynyrd proves they're 'Still Unbroken'
The Southern Rock icons played a 9-song set in Manhattan Wednesday night.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
By Tracy Bratten - Clear Channel Radio Digital
Lynyrd Skynyrd pulled out all the stops in New York Wednesday night, rocking out at Manhattan's PC Richard and Son Theater in front of 200 fans, put on by New York's Q104.3. After over three decades that have seen numerous band members come and go, most often due to tragedy, the nine current members of Lynyrd Skynyrd proved that they are the physical embodiment of their latest single, "Still Unbroken."
Read the rest of the article here.
About Sean Hannity's Freedom Concerts
Since 2003, over $10 million has been raised for the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund through the Freedom Concerts and generous donations from the Sean Hannity Show and its listeners. The Scholarship Fund is designated for the education of children of U.S. service members who have been killed or 100% permanently disabled in an operational mission or training accident. All net proceeds from ticket sales (after musical talent, production, promotion and venue expenses) are donated to the Scholarship Fund, aiding greatly in this effort to assist hundreds of families who have lost their loved ones while they were protecting and defending our nation and our freedoms.
Lynyrd Skynyrd will headline 9 shows in August 2010 in support of this great cause. Check the Tour Dates page for show dates. Click on the photo above for details and ticket info.