Classic Rock Review

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Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird: The Movie DVD (1999)


Review This movie is fantastic for true Skynyrd fans. I grew up very near to some of the guys in Jacksonville FL and have been a true Skynyrd fan for years. I even have a photo in my early 70’s Ed White High School yearbook showing them playing at a school dance. Some of the footage showing their neighbourhoods on the West side of town brought back so many memories for me of a place I haven’t seen now for many years. And, to think that these young guys could be such powerful forces in the music world is amazing.

Of course the highlight of the film is the concert footage featuring a lot of the band’s greatest songs. The movie also shows early raw footage and precious (although too short) interviews with Ronnie Van Zant.

I wish the music quality was a little better but, it’s still very, very good. Some of the scenes showing the band on stage and the reaction of the fans to Freebird brings a tear to the eye. The ending is unbelievable as they show actual home movies of someone in the band holding a video camera and walking right onto the plane, into the cockpit and film it taking off and you can see the pilots briefly.

For me it was the 2 second clip showing Ronnie Van Zant playing poker on the plane that stuck in my mind the most. He was staring out the window, turned to place his bet and then turned back to the window. I could really imagine how he was probably thinking up more great lyrics for some song which would tell a story or maybe he was dreaming of bass fishing back in Florida. You could always see that these people were not phony baloney rock stars but, real people that loved their craft and loved presenting it to the world.

The closing credits are one of the best parts with a high fidelity version of "Simple Man" playing in the background while home movie footage along with candid photos are intersperse with the credits.

After the tragic crash we had so little to remember except of course the music. This movie brings the people themselves right into your house.

The second movie on the DVD is also good. It shows the reorganized band but, still covers the past too. One interesting note you learn from the second movie is the tragic car accident which left Allen Collins paralized. As a follow-up, (according to the Skynyrd website) he died several years later of pneumonia. I was really bummed to read that.

In short, if you're a Skynyrd fan, then this is THE DVD you have to own.

Review The first thing that struck me about this footage was how clear it was ( as well as the stereo sound ). The Knebworth performances were all complete, sans annoying interruptions of stars reminiscing about bygone days ( more than a couple of DVD releases of other groups are plagued with incomplete songs, cutting to an interview snippet or, worse, sound suddenly muted with yet another voiceover ).

I get the feeling that the only reason this footage was shot is that Skynyrd happened to be opening for the Rolling Stones, apparently the headlining act of this festival. Location videotaping during the seventies was very expensive and cumbersome ( check out the size of those cameras during the wide shots ). It certainly wasn’t done as routinely as it is now. If the camera set-up was primarily for the Stones, then the director–who actually calls the shots on what camera fades to what–probably wasn’t at all familiar with Skynyrd’s material, evidenced by a tight shot of one guitarist playing rhythm while another was actually playing lead!

I would’ve liked more close ups on Artimus Pyle, as well as Billy Powell…again, there weren’t as many cameras to cover the angles we’re used to today. Consider this for the period in which it was shot: most seventies footage of rock groups consists of grainy film stock, sound typically out of sync with the picture ( or worse, from a different performance altogether ), poor lighting, mediocre MONAURAL audio, etc. Again, I was very pleasantly surprised with the overall quality of the Knebworth footage. It’s a shame they didn’t use the Knebworth version of “Free Bird” ( Must have been quite a bad mistake during the performance; probably the same reason a portion of the Oakland version appears to have been edited! ).

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s performance was virtually flawless…if people are going to nit-pick over production imperfections, hey, I’d love to see some of their home movie footage…

lynyrd-skynyrd-knebworthReview When ‘Workin for MCA’, the first song on the concert began playing, I wasn’t sure if the audio was dubbed in from the live version on the album ‘One for, from the road’. Dare I say, I was dead wrong. What you see is

Lynyrd Skynyrd at it’s peak, ‘hittin the note’ as the late Allman Brothers bass player Berry Oakley used to say after playing the Fillmore

Ronnie Van Zandt, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Steve Gaines, Billy Powell,

Leon Wilkeson, Artimus Pyle and the Honkettes riff and rock out their impressive collection of gems. I was struck by how casual lead singer and lyricist Ronnie Van Zandt was on stage–he looked like he was leading the band at a keg party rather than playing before over 200,000 fans in Knebworth, England–his voice was clear powerful and how refreshing is it to actually hear the words. He does not dance, prance or waste time trying to win the audience–Lynyrd Skynyrd does not need help.

In the DVD, Pyle claims ‘we blew away the Stones at that show’–you don’t see Jagger and Richards playing, but you know that Skynyrd could not possibly be beat….Rossington, Collins and Gaines are all expert guitar players who share incredible solos, each distinct in style and subtlety…check out ‘Call me the Breeze’ and Jimmy Rodgers ‘T for Texas’…astonishing performances by every member of the group…remember that Steve Gaines had recently joined Skynyrd, the young ‘Okie’ picker injecting new adrenaline into the band–a Roy Clark playing a Stratocaster…mix that magic with the legendary twin chemistry of Rossington and Collins and it’s like Stockton and Malone getting LeBron James to run with.

The only disappointment I had with the ‘Free Bird’ DVD is the shortage of interviews about the band. Although Rossington, Powell, Wilkeson and Judy Van Zandt share memories, the sound bites are sparse and edited down…your left wanting more memories and perspective.

Finally, anyone who was 17 like I was in 1976 will have happy flashbacks when seeing the grand finale of the DVD; the ‘Free Bird’ performance in San Francisco…the crowd is overrun by high school and college girls going crazy over a song that was anthem by the millions of us in ‘Dazed and Confused’ generation (And YES! American chicks bury the boring British gals in the film) . Although the song has been played out for decades, my eyes watered up seeing ‘Free Bird’ played to perfection; an absolute masterpiece time capsule. We were all blessed by this band.

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird The Movie DVD | , | Leave a comment

Memories Of Lynyrd Skynyrd And Peter Rudge

794683-peter-rudgeBy Chris Charlesworth

Lynyrd Skynyrd was managed by my friend Peter Rudge from late 1973. Rudge’s main pre-occupation at this time was The Who, for whom he’d worked in a quasi-managerial capacity since 1969.

As Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp shirked their responsibilities and fell out of favour, Rudge became The Who’s day-to-day manager in 1971, then set up in business in New York to look after their US affairs. His company was called Sir Productions and their offices were located on 57th Street, not far from Carnegie Hall. In October, 1973 Lynyrd Skynyrd supported The Who on their US Quadrophenia tour and Rudge took over their management around this time. In due course he would also manage .38 Special, whose singer Donnie Van Zant was the younger brother of Ronnie, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s charismatic singer and principal songwriter, and two other bands – The Dingoes, from Australia, and LeBlanc & Carr, from Muscle Shoals.

Peter Rudge was a smart, fast-talking, street-wise Cambridge University graduate who loved sport and could handle himself well if things became physical. At Cambridge he’d booked bands for college events and on one occasion in 1966 booked The Who for a college ball. According to his account, he’d received a telegram from The Who’s management 24 hours before the gig cancelling but instead of accepting the situation he’d got on a train to London and marched uninvited into Kit Lambert’s offices at Track Records in Old Compton Street demanding the group perform and threatening to sue them if they didn’t. Lambert was impressed by this show of bravado and offered him a job on the spot. In the event he graduated first, then turned up at Track where he was given the onerous task of ‘looking after’ The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. It was only a matter of time before his business acumen led to him ‘looking after’ Track’s main attraction, The Who. His speciality was organising US tours and he became so good at it that Pete Townshend recommended him to Mick Jagger when The Rolling Stones were looking for someone to run their international tours after the death of Brian Jones. Rudge’s ultimate ambition was to build up a stable of successful acts and Sir Productions was the umbrella under which this goal was to be achieved. It had eight employees, including a girl on the west coast, an accountant and a travel agent.

I worked for Sir from March 1977 until the end of that year, at which point Rudge drastically reduced the size of the company, a decision brought about as a direct result of the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash. The reason I worked there in the first place was because of my long-standing friendship with Peter which came about through my fondness for The Who. During my years on Melody Maker Rudge had told me that if I ever felt like leaving MM, he’d give me a job, and he was as good as his word. At Sir I worked on promoting his bands and getting them publicity, but I also went out on the road with both The Dingoes and LeBlanc & Carr as their tour manager, dealing with day to day events on the road, collecting and disbursing cash, making sure the rest of the crew did what they were supposed to do and everyone got from place to place and to the gigs on time. By the time I got to Sir, Rudge’s relationship with The Who was fast deteriorating, largely because he’d been devoting a disproportionate amount of time to The Rolling Stones, and The Who felt he’d somehow betrayed them by shifting his loyalty. Also Bill Curbishley, strongly supported by Roger Daltrey, had emerged as a formidable rival for The Who’s management.

During 1977 I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd perform about half a dozen times, arranged various press and radio interviews for them and helped produce the press kit that accompanied the ill-fated Street Survivors album. By this time Skynyrd were at a peak of popularity, their previous (double live) album One More From The Road having sold over a million copies. Much of their popularity could be put down to Rudge’s hard work ethic – they played something like 200 gigs a year under his management, and just got better and better at it. Now the top prize of a headlining show at Madison Square Garden was within their grasp.

The seven individual members of Lynyrd Skynyrd all drank like fishes, took all known illegal drugs, fucked anything female on two legs and liked nothing better than to fight with their fists, either against others or amongst themselves. Singer Ronnie Van Zant, who sang barefoot because, he said, he liked to feel the stage burn beneath his feet, was the toughest of the lot and he could more or less silence any of the others with the threat of a beating. Before their shows Skynyrd liked to psyche themselves up in their dressing room, winding themselves up by breathing deeply together like US football players, passing the Jack Daniels around in a ritual drink, willing each other on to perform as if their lives depended on it. Rudge, a sports fanatic, encouraged this. It worked, too.

Group meetings in Rudge’s big office were all day and night affairs at which bottle after bottle of Jack Daniels was consumed, piles of coke snorted, and carton after carton of cigarettes smoked. Voices were often raised and the language was as bad as you could hear anywhere. Anyone who’d crossed them was dead meat. MCA Records threw a party for them that summer at a bar near Nathan’s Restaurant which almost got out of hand when someone made a loose remark to one of Skynyrd’s women. Keith Moon, then living in LA, turned up in a loud pinstripe suit, drunk as a kite, and Rudge told me to keep Moon away from him as he’d probably beg for money. It was my first intimation that Moon, of all people, was broke – and sick with booze too. He was very podgy, glassy eyed and mournful.

I took particular pleasure that same summer when Skynyrd appeared as the penultimate act on an all day show at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium and half the audience of 100,000+ walked out during Peter Frampton’s very limp closing set. They’d played an hour’s set – short for them – and restricted themselves to their best known songs, performed back-to-back with a minimum of fuss and maximum of swagger. The closing ‘Freebird’, their best known song, brought that huge crowd to their feet and as I watched from the side of the stage, just behind their amplifiers, it seemed to me that all 100,000 of them were stomping and cheering as the band played faster and faster, running away down the tracks to the song’s stupendous finale. Perfect. Philly conquered. Rudge and the band were laughing all the way to the bank, or so we all thought.

Unfortunately all the graft – and, believe me, Skynyrd grafted – came to nought as a result of the events of October 20. I was actually due to fly to Baton Rouge in Louisiana the following morning, pick up the Street Survivors tour which was three days old and co-ordinate various interviews I’d set up for them along the way, mostly at Texas radio stations, and I was looking forward to it as I’d never been to Texas before and a visit to the Lone Star State alongside Lynyrd Skynrd was likely to be an interesting experience. I would, of course, have travelled on the same private plane as the group and had the crash occurred 24 hours later I might not have been here to tell this tale.

d0f5e82b85949956bbb7bcc7f494c168My first intimation that anything was amiss came when a girlfriend of mine in St Louis called Debbie Moore rang me at home in New York. She told me she’d just heard on the local news that a private plane had come down in Mississippi and that it was ‘believed’ that the rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd was aboard. Did I know? Of course I didn’t. I then called UPI who confirmed that a small plane had indeed come down near a place called McComb. I then tried to call Rudge at home. His wife Frankie answered. Peter had just heard too. He was on his way to the office. I grabbed a cab and went straight there. I was the first to arrive and the phones – all five or six lines – were all ringing at once. It was pointless to try and answer them. I called UPI back and explained who I was and how I would be prepared to help them with regard to accurate information on Lynyrd Skynyrd if they could keep me up to date with developments from McComb. We agreed to help each other and stayed in touch all night.

Then Rudge arrived. He’d been to pick up a carton of cigarettes because he knew it would be a long night. I told him everything I knew and what I’d done. He looked distraught and opened a bottle of red wine but he somehow maintained his composure until, eventually, around 1 am, we heard that Ronnie was dead. Then he went alone into the office kitchen and wept. In the meantime all the office staff had arrived. The girls who worked at Sir manned the phones all night, crying as they did.

The various wives and girlfriends of the guys in the band and the road crew, almost all of whom lived in and around Jacksonville, were on the lines permanently, wanting to know the latest news from McComb. Eventually they all gathered at the home of Ronnie’s wife Judy and what dreadful scenes of hysteria and grief that house must have witnessed that night I can barely imagine. We relayed the news, almost all of it bad, as best we could to the girls in that house, every one of them unsure whether their men were dead or alive. The job of telling Judy that Ronnie was dead fell to Rudge. Radio stations were calling, wanting statements from me; reporters were calling. I believe my choked-up voice was heard on over 30 stations across the USA that night. Friends of Rudge and the band called offering help; private planes were put at our disposal. It went on all night and I got home dazed at around 9 or 10 am the next day. A night like that is not something you forget easily.

Six people died – Ronnie, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister Cassie (who sang back up), their tour manager Dean Kilpatrick, and both pilots. All the band sustained bad injuries, as did some of the roadies and lighting crew. Those at the front of the plane came off worst, those at the back were less badly injured. Inevitably the group and those closest to them were at the front, with the part-timers at the back. The word was that Ronnnie was flat out drunk, lying in the aisle, when the plane went down. No one could move him to a seat, let alone strap him in. He and the rest of the band had been drinking hard all day in a hotel in Greenville, South Carolina, waiting while the plane was got ready. Someone said something about the pilots having been drinking too.

All sorts of stories came out at the inquest: how the band, and Ronnie in particular, had complained to Rudge that the plane was dodgy and he’d complained to Ron Eckermann, their tour manager and told him to get it fixed. Someone said they saw flames coming from the engine on their flight from Miami to South Carolina the previous day. Eckerman was due to get the plane serviced in Baton Rouge. In the event, it seemed that the plane had ran out of fuel – there being no fire when it crashed – but it was obviously burning up fuel faster than it should have done.

Nothing was ever the same again at Sir Productions. The whole company seemed to go into a kind of stupor. All the plans we’d had for Skynyrd and the other bands were dashed. In two weeks time they would have headlined Madison Square Garden for the first time. It really did look like the were about to be elevated to the top bracket of touring rock bands, though how they would have dealt with it God only knows as they were such a wild bunch, eternally drunk, drugged up and fighting amongst themselves. Skynyrd were bringing in plenty of money and without them the funds dried up, so it was obvious Sir wouldn’t last. Rudge told me I’d have to go just before Christmas, 1977, and gave me a cheque for $2,000 which he didn’t have to do.

Later, after the funeral, the grief turned to anger, and there were terrible recriminations: lawsuits, bad vibes, fights with Rudge, deep shit. At least one surviving roadie committed suicide and another went mad and was institutionalised. Guitarist Allen Collins never really recovered and died from pneumonia several years later. In the meantime he’d crashed a car in which his girlfriend was killed. Rudge himself went into a terrible tailspin, almost killing himself with booze and coke. It cost him his marriage. When I walked out of Sir Productions I didn’t see him again for 22 years, but now he’s remarried, dry and clean after a cancer scare (he’s even given up cigarettes and he was once a 60-a-day man) and evidently happy. His son Joe, whom I remember as a baby, now works for MTV. At one time Peter was on the brink of controlling the fortunes of two of the three biggest British rock acts in the world. Ironically, the remains of the third – Led Zeppelin – is now controlled by Bill Curbishley, who took over The Who from Peter.

Lynyrd Skynyrd ultimately reformed as a kind of tribute act to themselves with Ronnie’s youngest brother Johnnie on vocals. ‘Freebird’, forever associated with Van Zant, was played as a closing instrumental while a single spotlight picked out Ronnie’s old black cowboy hat sitting atop a central mike stand. ‘If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?’ went the words. I do, anyway.

April 7, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Memories Of Lynyrd Skynyrd And Peter Rudge | | Leave a comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Second Helping (1974)


The phrase “sophomore slump” is tossed around here at “The Daily Vault” more often than a football at training camp. Usually, whenever an artist or band experiences any kind of success with their debut album, they always feel some kind of pressure to outdo that success – and in turn, release an album that disappoints critically and/or commercially.

In the case of Lynyrd Skynyrd, their dictionary must have left that phrase out, because Second Helping, their 1974 release, could well be one of their best albums, sitting on the shelf next to Street Survivors for that honor. Bringing back bassist Leon Wilkeson into the fold after Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd was recorded, the group was firing on all cylinders and had learned many lessons, both from that first album and the accalim that followed. (Note: I’m reviewing my ancient vinyl copy; the album has since been re-issued on CD with three bonus tracks.)bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250

You can sum up Second Helping in three words: “Sweet Home Alabama”. Quite possibly the most recognized song in Skynyrd’s catalog (next to “Free Bird”), this song captures the band’s Southern roots while holding onto their rock sensibility the best. It’s been 27 years since this song was recorded, and with the exception of the Watergate references, this track doesn’t seem to have aged at all. It still crackles with energy, and the wrong-key solo from guitarist Ed King (he admitted later down the road he played it in “G”, when the song was in the key of “D”) is still an amazing slice of six-string work.

But Second Helping is so much more. Continuing on the “mind altering substances are bad” theme started by “Poison Whiskey,” “The Needle And The Spoon” delivers a powerful anti-drug message that is still meaningful today. “Workin’ For MCA” could be seen as a bitch-slap against their label at the time or as a partial praise for someone taking a chance on them; either way, it’s a fun song to listen to, even today when the band is long removed from those days.

Lynyrd Skynyrd even dares to use a song written outside of the band – thus giving J.J. Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze” new life, and calling attention to a songwriter you might not have otherwise heard about, Eric Clapton’s covers notwithstanding. Billy Powell’s piano work helps to seal the deal, both on this song and “Sweet Home Alabama”‘s outro.

The lessons concerning the blues from Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd are well learned on Second Helping, from their cover of “Call Me The Breeze” to the funky down-home style of “Swamp Music”. Two words: well done! “I Need You” isn’t strictly a blues song, but it definitely has soulful moments which suck the listener in. It might not be the band’s best-known song, but it’s still a powerful piece of work.

Yes, I could still talk about the two songs we haven’t mentioned, “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” (dealing with fame when the boys came home) and “The Ballad Of Curtis Loew” (detailing how the love of music was instilled in our heroes), but I think you get the point. Second Helping is a solid album from note one to the last drum fill that closes the disc.

If I could only have one Lynyrd Skynyrd album in my collection, I’d have a very hard time choosing between Street Survivors and Second Helping. In fact, I don’t want to choose. I want them both. Bury me with them. Is this album that good? Oh, yeah.

April 7, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Second Helping | | Leave a comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd (1973)


Al Kooper’s greatest contribution to rock was not magically delivering the keyboard intro to “Like a Rolling Stone,” spearheading the influential first Blood, Sweat & Tears and Super Session albums, or rescuing The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle from the scrap heap, among his numerous accomplishments.

Rather, it was discovering and then nurturing the talents of Lynyrd Skynyrd (he produced their first three albums), one of the greatest American rock bands of the seventies and probably the second greatest “Southern rock” band ever (after the Allman Brothers Band, of course).

Named after a gym teacher they loathed (named Leonard Skinner), these redneck ruffians came through with a hard-nosed classic right from the gate, not the least because of the 9-minute “Freebird,” one of rock’s signature songs (fittingly written in tribute to the late great Duane Allman) and the ultimate extended guitar epic.

Starting off touchingly lyrical – love the Hammond organ, weepy guitars, and group leader Ronnie Van Zant’s soulful lead vocals – but then turning fast and furious, the song showcases Skynyrd’s stun gun drumming (Bob Burns) and especially their signature multi-guitar attack (Allen Collins and Gary Rossington plus Ed King on bass), who duel unmercifully until the listener can’t help but be exhausted yet thrilled at the same time.

Sure, the song is seriously over-played, and yeah it can be annoying hearing some drunk numbskull shout out “Freebird” at damn near every concert, but if you don’t think that this song is one of rock’s all-time anthems, well you’re just flat-out wrong! Nah, you’re entitled to your opinion, but that’s certainly my opinion, and though that song alone ensures this album of classic status, there are two other A+ caliber tracks that I consider all-time classics of their type.

The soulful, mournful, bluesy ballad “Tuesday’s Gone” is another great epic-scale track (7:30) that shows the band (with help from Kooper) to be far more sophisticated (both musically and lyrically) than generally given credit for, while the excellent power ballad “Simple Man” honestly and heartwarmingly states a mother’s simple wish for the son that she loves.

Man, if everybody would just heed his mom’s words of wisdom the world would be a much better place, and both of these tracks move me immensely, it’s as simple as that.

The rest of the album can’t keep pace with those terrific tunes, but not for a lack of trying, as album opener “I Ain’t The One” and later “Poison Whiskey” present a pair of agreeably tough, hard-hitting rockers.

The catchy n’ clever “Gimme Three Steps” is also extremely catchy even if it’s also overplayed like several tracks here (courtesy of classic rock radio) and a bit too redneck-y. Still, contrary to widespread belief, Lynyrd Skynyrd often presented a thinking man’s brand of hard rock by virtue of singer Ronnie Van Zant’s hard won lyrics.

True, they do at times succumb to bouts of machismo (“Mississippi Kid” and the aforementioned “Poison Whiskey,” for example), but the tuneful barrelhouse piano (Billy Powel) on “Things Goin’ On” and the mandolin on “Mississippi Kid” (probably the two weakest tracks but both are still pretty good) attest to a rarely acknowledged versatility, as all of the band’s considerable strengths were already readily apparent on this classic debut album.

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd | | Leave a comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Gimme Back My Bullets (1976)

FrontalFrom Melody Maker

For such a great continent, America has given the outside world very few real rock and roll bands.

Many have watered down the true essence of rock to the point where it lacks attack. Lynyrd Skynyrd are one of the few exceptions.

Not many bands around play with such an earthy passion. The music is from the roots and gives the band a distinctive deep South sound, a sound that has, for the first time been captured effectively on record on this, their fourth album.

None of the three previous albums have come anywhere near capturing the potential of this wild bunch. Al Kooper, who produced them, didn’t show too much sympathy. Tom Dowd, who produced this LP, has managed commendably to discipline them and harnes the talent. Dowd has cleaned the sound considerably, but not too much. The grittiness that sets Skynyrd apart is still very evident. He’s put instruments in the proper perspective – lead guitars are heard only when necessary, the rhythm section is given a body that it previously lacked. It’s the first album Skynyrd have done without third guitarist Ed King, who quit during last year, and they’ve tailored their work so well that he is not missed. Gary Rossington and Allen Collins deal effectively with guitars, creating a beautiful marriage.

The band sound as a whole is more distinct than on any other album, due to the excellent vocals of Ronnie Van Zant. His unique offhand style must earn him a place with other great rock vocalists of today. Those vocals, combined with guitars that play mostly lead, set Skynyrd up as an outstanding rock band. The album’s failings are on side one. I’m left on occasions with the impression that Skynyrd are strangely trying to manufacture an anthem, bidding to record another ‘Freebird’ or ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. ‘Every Mother’s Son’ and ‘Trust’ are the tracks which offend. But the last track on that side ‘(I Got The) Same Old Blues’ by J. J. Cale could reach such status. The number is given a tremendous treatment – slide guitar on top of an infectious riff, a sluggish drum beat, a stop, and then Van Zant enters on vocals. The best track on the album.

The second side is virtually without fault. Skynyrd play at their best on songs which suit their style perfectly. It opens with the raunchy ‘Double Trouble’, with a female chorus adding the guts. The number was featured on the band’s last British tour. A screeching guitar solo opens ‘Searching’, another magnificent track. Drums are brought up in the mix to match the guitar work and thump the message home. The redoubtable Artimus Pyle, drummer, is at his crispest. ‘Cry For The Bad Man’ vies with ‘Same Old Blues’ for the honours. Again, it builds slowly to a crescendo, with the bass work of Leon Wilkeson well to the forefront. The highlight of the track comes with a joint lead from Rossington and Collins, notes come screaming out of the speakers. Gimme Back My Bullets will win Skynyrd many new fans in Britain. Southern Fried Boogie rules, okay.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Gimme Back My Bullets | | Leave a comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Nuthin’ Fancy (1975)

nuthin' fancy - coverFrom

Ask any critic and he’ll go on raving all about how Second Helping was great and this album was really stagnated and dull and ‘never quite managed to take off’ and all that crap. Critics are stupid. Just because this album has no all-time hit like ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ or ‘Free Bird’ doesn’t mean that it never ‘takes off’ or ‘achieves ignition’ (two of the most popular Rolling Stone critiques; you’d think these guys were originally in spacecraft constructing business).

Sure, it’s hard to pick off a favourite of this album. But it also shows significant artistic growth: the diversity of styles they tackle on here is impressive, considering that it’s kinda hard to stay in the ‘roots-rock’ basin and manage to flow in several different directions at the same time. And these songs are rarely generic. Now Skynyrd were never great composers, true, but at least what I see here is several persons painfully trying to step away from the boogie-woogie and soulful balladeering cliches of Helping and doing something, well, if not original, at least something in a style and with hooks of their own, not just nipped from some ancient bluesman.

Not that it grows on you; none of these songs are able to creep under your skin as well as the ones on the debut album do. But on the other hand, this is an album that I found out I wanted to give another listen, while everything was absolutely obvious with the redneck paradise of Second Helping. There are just so many little things and tricks here to fire your imagination – a pity the critics didn’t take the time to take a second listen, now.

On the count of ‘one two three four’ (a trick used on every successive Skynyrd album, by the way), the album opens with ‘Saturday Night Special’, a rip-roaring condemnation of handguns embellished by fiery guitar solos and moody synthesizer effects. This is sometimes called Skynyrd’s most hard-rocking number ever; dunno about that, not having heard everything, but it sure rocks pretty hard for a Southern band. ‘Cheatin’ Women’ is everything ‘I Need You’ tried to be but failed: same slow, lethargic mood, but the ballsy lyrical matters (Eric Clapton gets sued for such things these days) and the pretty organ passages more than makes up for it. Not to mention that Ronnie’s vocals are at least a trillion times more expressive here than on that crappy seven minute ‘epic’. Then, after the calm, three uptempo numbers, none of them hits, none of them great, but all quite solid.

‘Railroad Song’ has a cool groove to it – I particularly love it when they slow down the rhythm to get the impression of a train slowing down. ‘I’m A Country Boy’ is my second favourite song on the album: there’s something stately in the way Ronnie pronounces his death sentence to city civilization. ‘I don’t even want a piece of concrete in my town’, he says, ‘I’m a country boy, I’m as happy as can be’. Pedestrian? Banal? Dismissable? Perhaps, but such things often depend on how well you put yourself to it. And this performance is awesome: moody, precise guitar lines interweaving with Van Zant’s relaxed, ironic, slightly swagger-swaggering vocals, and all this makes the song a definite ‘country life’ anthem. Finally, there’s the funky, weird, sickeningly macho ‘On The Hunt’: this one does not particularly impress me at all, but at least it’s loud and proud.

Out of the next three songs, I’d like to pick out ‘Made In The Shade’, a terrific country-blues workout: ’tis one more humble tribute to Ol’ Black Blues Man (Ronnie even begins it with saying ‘when I was a young-un they used to teach me to play music like this here…’), and the boys once again show that nobody can beat their acoustic/slide guitar attack. By the way, they did this kind of style much, much better than the Allman Brothers, and that’s saying something. ‘Am I Losin’ is just a pretty, simplistic ballad with some deeply hidden charms, and the closing number, ‘Whiskey Rock-A-Roller’, is just your average by-the-book blues rocker with not a lot to say. Which actually means that it gets worse as it progresses.

Even so, the album is more consistent than Helping; and I insist on that. There were three great songs there (‘Sweet Home Alabama’, ‘Working For MCA’, ‘Curtis Loew’) which cannot be matched by anything on Fancy. But Fancy hasn’t got any ridiculous embarrasments like ‘Needle And The Spoon’ or ‘I Need You’, either, and, like I said, I definitely see signs of trying here. So what if the songs are mostly slow? Skynyrd aren’t that fast a band – they’re not your Ramones, and, well, they’re not even Deep Purple.

There are elements of taste on here, while there are definitely elements of lapse of taste on Helping. Sorry for all these shitty ramblings, folks, especially if you haven’t heard either and are wondering why the hell you have to read this: I just want to point out that the critics made a mighty mistake by drawing a deep, definite line in between these two albums and putting the first one above it and the second one under it. It’s just the opposite, and if you’re going to argue with me, I’ll see to it personally that you burn in the hottest furnace in Hell for three hundred thousand years.

March 27, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Nuthin' Fancy | | 1 Comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Skynyrd’s First…And Last (1978)


Although it was recorded primarily between 1970 and 1972, this isn’t just a relic for Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. One of the best albums the band ever made, Skynyrd’s First and…Last ranks either a notch above (better material) or below (slightly poorer playing) its first two records, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd and Second Helping. A triumphant but ironic final chapter, it measures the extent of the tragedy of the group’s demise.

Historically speaking, the LP is hardly revelatory. If the band’s English roots are showing — “Wino” is a cop from Jack Bruce’s studio songs for Cream — it’s mostly because Ronnie Van Zant hadn’t yet mastered the Southern idiom that was to become the focus of many of the group’s most familiar songs. But the density of the guitars/drums/vocals interplay, and the raw edge of intensity that dominates everything here, are simply Van Zant and Company at their peak — which is about as good as American rock has gotten in this decade.

As guitarist Gary Rossington has claimed, Skynyrd’s First and…Last contains some of the band’s finest material, much of it revealing. If Van Zant seems less determinedly Southern than he later would, he appears even more quintessentially American. While the naiveté of some of the album’s political songs (“Lend a Helpin’ Hand,” “Things Goin’ On”) would normally date them, they serve here as examples of the forthright exposition of American working-class attitudes.

The very plain-spokenness that was Skynyrd’s glory, however, was also what kept them from critical acclaim: they always seemed too vulgar. Mostly, the group’s music is about simple pleasures and grim problems, but if the songs are realistic, a romantic’s vision has shaped that reality. In the main, Skynyrd’s First and…Last has more in common with the films of Clint Eastwood — it’s easy to picture Ronnie Van Zant as the vengeful apparition of High Plains Drifter — than with any rock & roll of its era.

In fact, the record’s best song, “Was I Right or Wrong,” is a similar kind of fantasy. Had it been released earlier, it might have become their anthem. The story is classic. Against his parents’ wishes, a young rocker sets out to seek his fortune. His dreams come true, but when he returns home to see his folks (the people he most wanted to convince of his abilities), he learns they’re dead. There’s an archetypal starkness to this tale — comparable only to Bruce Springsteen’s “Adam Raised a Cain” — that makes it hard to believe the song is only a fantasy. But Van Zant didn’t even have a record contract when he wrote it.

Much more than “That Smell” or even “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Was I Right or Wrong” offers the perfect epitaph for Ronnie Van Zant and his band:

When I went home
To show they was wrong
All that I found was two tombstones
Somebody tell me please
Was I right or wrong…
Well, first I got lost
Then I got found
But the ones that I loved were in the ground
Papa, how I only wish that you could see me now.

This is great music, not only for those who loved this group, but for everyone who’s ever endured a painful, inarticulate relationship with his or her parents. It’s exactly the sort of thing Lynyrd Skynyrd deserves to be remembered for.

March 27, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Skynyrd's First...And Last | | Leave a comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird: The Movie (1996)


As the title suggests, this is, historically, a soundtrack – to a supposedly fabulous rockumentary featuring the band on their very last tour with Steve Gaines and Ronnie Van Zant. As all the performances are live, captured at one or several shows in July 1977, the album functions perfectly well as just a live record, with no necessary movie connections; good thing, too, as the movie is supposed to be considerably harder to find (though probably well worthwhile).

The big problem with the record is that the shows that provided the material were taped just a year after the release of One More From The Road, and both records are basically superfluous, featuring the same lineup and more or less the same track listing; the minor differences are that One More is longer, thus including more material (the current edition occupies 2 CDs, while Freebird is captured on only one), and Freebird includes some of the first and rawest performances from Street Survivors, the album that they were intending to promote at the time, namely, ‘What’s Your Name’ and ‘That Smell’. These differences aren’t, however, essential enough to make both records worth buying for somebody who isn’t a diehard; therefore, Freebird is rather a collector’s item than a serious ‘independent statement’.

Nevertheless, the material itself is pretty awesome for Skynyrd. It’s especially painful to realise that such a terrific ass-kicking band was plainly stopped in mid-air while it was cruising at lightning speed. The performances are energetic, gritty and completely ‘authentic’. With Steve Gaines and Ronnie fully in control, Skynyrd obviously were intent on re-capturing their earliest image: that of reckless, boozy barroom rockers ready to burn the house down at any given moment. Never mind that the actual performances take place in a stadium: this ain’t real arena-rock, as the boys’ souls are clearly in the instruments and the playing rather than in the image and audience entertaining. And the setlist rules as usual: mostly highlights, hardly any duffer at all.

‘Freebird’ is still the main attraction of the concert, of course. By 1977, Skynyrd were definitely taking the number a bit too seriously: the song is played at least twice as slow as the regular studio version, so as to let the people ‘smack’ and soak in every single guitar note and every single change of intonation in Ronnie’s voice, not to mention funny bird-imitating noises from the guitars and the obligatory extra-Billy Powell keyboard solo. But when the fast’n’furious solo section comes in, all the pomp is lost and the boys just rock out like nobody else ever did (or could) – and kudos to Mr Gaines for learning his part so well and so quickly.

But even without ‘Freebird’, the level of energy rarely falls below ‘pump-pump’; the boys don’t tease us with too many ballads (there’s none), and normally the songs are sped up rather than slowed down. Thus, ‘Call Me The Breeze’ is fully redeemed for the forgettable studio version, as Gaines and company tighten the structure and engage in rapid, lightning-speed sequences of licks that’ll send you gasping. ‘Workin’ For MCA’ and Jimmy Rodgers’ ‘T For Texas’ are also highlights, but you probably already know all about them if you’ve heard One More…

The two new songs (first tried out live, as Street Survivors wasn’t even in the process of being recorded at the time of the concert) are also done very well; I’ve never been a big fan of ‘What’s Your Name’ since it’s a bit too derivative for me, but ‘That Smell’ is great, with perfectly placed female backup voices (The Honkettes) and a terrific soulful vibe throughout. The song is indeed one of Skynyrd’s most ‘epic’ compositions, but, as is common with many ‘epic’ compositions, it only truly comes to life on stage. As for Ronnie’s roarings and all the magnificent solos, they do a fine job of saving the song from sounding hollow and generic.

Any complaints? Well, some. Apart from the obvious complaint voiced above (that the album mostly reduplicates One More), I’m not exactly happy with the sound quality – the audience noises almost overshadow the music at times, and this at a concert recorded in 1977. Go figure. Either the recording was so poor, or the engineers just wanted to share ‘the atmosphere’ with us, but I’m not too happy either way. The keyboards are mixed way too low down – as if poor Billy Powell belonged to the rhythm section. And, of course, there’s no way you can actually tell the three guitars apart when you really want to. This is particularly nasty in tunes whose crunch and potential is hidden one hundred percent in the guitarwork, like ‘Gimme Three Steps’ or ‘I Ain’t The One’. On the other hand, after a bit of casual listening one might get used to them; pray to the Lord it ain’t a bootleg, at least.

Another complaint, of course, is that this is nowhere near as diverse as an actual Skynyrd record, but what the heck, it’s a live experience. It’s supposed to be rough and tough and punchy. Who needs a live rendition of ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, for Chrissake? Let’s kick some ass now! Look at us – we kick it better than AC/DC!

And there’s a one-minute acoustic snippet of ‘Dixie’ at the end! Raise the flag, boys! Trot out the Lowenbrau!

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird The Movie | | Leave a comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors (1977)


Obviously, everyone has heard of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Whether it be a die-hard fan, or a cynic determined to criticize the band for being drawling southernor’s that produced songs like “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama”. Those two songs, actually, will probably haunt Lynyrd Skynyrd’s career for the rest of time. I mean, if it’s in a KFC commercial, it’s not going to die. Despite those songs though, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s album tracks, and albums as a whole, have been rather good.

Street Survivors was Lynyrd Skynyd’s last album, before regrouping in 1987. It was released just three days before the infamous and tragic plane crash in Mississippi, in 1977, that claimed Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and manager Dean Kilpatrick’s lives. Too many, and especially myself, it is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s best, and most diverse album.

“What’s Your Name” is an extremely catchy tune about a bar fight involving one of their roadies. The production is rather clean, and horn parts add an extra punch that makes the song even better. The song is almost instantly recognizable if you have heard it, and if you haven’t, you may think that you have heard it before, but you could never quite put your finger on it. “That Smell” is fairly reminiscent of Gimme Back My Bullets in the sense that the production makes the song sound very dark, which matches with the lyrical content.

The lyrics of the song are based on an incident where Gary Rossington was driving under the influence, and passed out. He hit into a tree and did thousands of dollars of damage., and had almost died. Next, after the rather depressing “That Smell”, is “One More Time”. The song is actually one of the oldest Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, and predates most of their other songs. The song is fairly slow, with a strecthed out, almost crooning chorus, and adds diversity to the first side of the album. “I Know a Little” is a great, fast paced song. The opening almost sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd had suddenly become interested in big band music, but the song goes into the normal Lynyrd Skynyrd fare.

The second half of the album is, surprisingly, just as good as the opening half. “You Got That Right” is another upbeat Lynyrd Skynyrd rocker, similar to “What’s Your Name” and “I Know a Little”. Although it isn’t the best track on the album, it keeps the flow perfectly and adds to the happy mindset that they were in at the time. “I Never Dreamed” is an introspective ballad that deals with the priorities Ronnie now faced after the birth of his daughter, Melody. To end the album, we have two more, good songs. The cover of a Merle Haggard song in “Honky Tonk Night Time Man”. Although it is a good song, I don’t think it belongs on the album, and does not fit well with the rest of the songs. “Ain’t No Good Life” ends the album on a more upbeat note, as is most of the album, and is a great way to end the album, and seems like a great farewell, even if it wasn’t purposefully like that.

In conclusion, I think that this is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s best album. With the addition of Steve Gaines, the band had gained confidence and were happy about their place in the world, and it shows in the songs. It’s sad that they have never really been able to produce something as good as this since then. Sure, the album isn’t always recognized or mentioned among casual Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. Sure, they weren’t the raw, boozed up band. But this is definately their best album.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors | | Leave a comment

Lynyrd Skynyrd The Complete Muscle Shoals Album (1998)


This posthumous album was originally released as Skynyrd’s First and…Last in 1978 and was bulked up considerably and released as Skynyrd’s First: The Complete Muscle Shoals Album in 1998. The original album was comprised of recordings that pre-dated their debut and featured future Blackfoot members Greg T. Walker and Rickey Medlocke among their ranks.

Most of these songs are of a surprisingly high quality, if not up to the standards of their more famous later albums. “Down South Jukin'” may be their most prototypical song title along with “Whiskey Rock-A Roller,” but though it came first to me it sounds like a prelude to “What’s Your Name?” That’s the problem with a lot of the later additions, as songs such as “Free Bird,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and “Simple Man” are good but sound like inferior test runs for the more famous versions that came later.

I do prefer some of these versions, however, such as “Trust” which I already mentioned, while I’m pretty sure that “One More Time” is pretty much the same version as the one on Street Survivors. Back to the original album, “Preacher’s Daughter” is a fast groover with harmonized guitars, “White Dove” is a lovely and atypical soft rocker sung by Medlocke, and the intense “Was I Right Or Wrong” I also mentioned previously as it surfaced as a bonus track on Second Helping.

Still, it’s nice to have worthy tracks such as “Lend a Helpin’ Hand,” “Wino” (maybe this is their quintessential song title!), and “Things Goin’ On” all in one place. My favorite tracks are probably “The Seasons,” a melodic, soulful, groovy ballad, the melancholic part ballad/part rocker “Comin’ Home,” which is not only the best song here but is among the ten best Skynyrd songs ever, and (on the reissue) “You Run Around,” an explosive hard rocker that’s more like Blackfoot than Skynyrd (no surprise as it’s one of four songs sung by Medlocke, who also at least co-writes five tracks total, which needless to say gives the Complete Muscle Shoals Album a different feel than your typical Skynyrd album).

Anyway, the band certainly went on to bigger and better things, but their beginnings were plenty good too, so fans of the band are advised to pick up this one, albeit only after checking out their classic later albums. Note: Skynyrd have TONS of “best of” compilations, many of which are very worthwhile, so if you want to begin investigating the band, or if you’re a casual fan who wants some Skynyrd but you don’t want to splurge for the original albums, you might want to start with one of those, especially since I’ve always considered them to be more of a song band than an album band.

Their first compilation, 1979’s 2-cd set Gold & Platinum, is probably still the best, and for hardcore fans I’d highly recommend the 3-cd box set Lynyrd Skynyrd, a model set that has all their big hits in addition to many choice rarities. As for the post-1987 “comeback” version of the band with Ronnie’s younger brother Johnny on vocals (and later Medlocke and The Outlaws’ Hughie Thomasson on guitars), I don’t really know enough about them to comment, though someone I greatly respect dismisses them as being “a retread cover band.”

Regardless, it is the Ronnie-led version of the band who are deservedly legendary – forget the silly Confederate flag waving and their redneck image, Lynyrd Skynyrd was a great band – though drugs and overwork took their toll somewhat during their middle period – who could’ve become even greater had one of rock music’s greatest tragedies not befallen them right after recording one of their best albums.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd The Complete Muscle Shoals Album | | Leave a comment