By Jeb Wright
Rickey Medlocke is best known these days as a member of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, but he was also the founding member of another Southern Rock great called Blackfoot. For the last two decades, despite owning the name of the band, Rickey has chosen to stay with Skynyrd. He leased back the name to former members of Blackfoot so that they could tour and keep the legacy alive while making a few bucks.
When the lease was not renewed, it seemed that Blackfoot would drift off into the rock ‘n’ roll abyss. But then... something crazy happened. Someone suggested to Medlocke that he could recruit new Blackfoot members and keep the band alive. Rickey realized he could write, or co-write, and produce the material to ensure authenticity. After giving it plenty of thought… Rickey said ‘yes’.
The new Blackfoot has been born! The album is out, and Rickey Medlocke is smiling ear-to-ear at the fact that Blackfoot is creating music for a new generation of fans—as well keeping it real for the original Blackfoot faithful.
Read on to learn the who, what, where, when and why of a true rock and roll tale of revival!
Jeb: This album is pure Southern fried rock, man.
Rickey: Well, you know the single drops August 5th.
Jeb: I did not!
Rickey: Oh yeah. The single is out tomorrow, as a matter of fact here’s what’s really weird… first of all a friend of mine, well the manager of the band, Eric called me and a friend of his is driving over on interstate 95 across the state and he said that he heard the single, ‘Southern Native’ on the radio station over in south Florida.
Rickey: So, and I got to tell you man, listen to this, I talked to no less than 2 dozen press people from Europe on Monday, and today every single one of them -all of them- every one of them was raving about this record. This one guy from Germany who writes for one of the major rock magazines there and does a freelancing thing for France told me, “Rickey, there isn’t a rock record over here right now being put out that even resembles this. I could just sit on the phone and talk to you for 2 hours about this record.” I am like, “So far so good.” I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but everything is looking really good right now.
Jeb: It is a great album. Let’s talk “Whisky Train.”
Rickey: Oh yeah.
Jeb: That’s pure Southern Rock.
Rickey: Oh yeah, oh without a doubt… I mean, you know and for Europe that’s an old Procol Harum song. Everybody over in Europe that was talking to me recognized that right away.
Jeb: It doesn’t sound like Procol anymore!
Rickey: No, when I did it, when I was doing… actually, the guy took that arrangement directly from the way that I was doing it in the early ‘90s. So they just kind of did it their way. That’s me and Tim in the middle playing lead. Tim plays first then I play the next half of the lead in the middle solo section. Tim is playing the final lead in the ending of it, but yeah, that’s me and Tim together playing the leads on that.
Jeb: How did you put the new band together?
Rickey: We started with the two guys that are on there now, Tim Rossi and Brian Carpenter. They were two guys that were getting really well-known around this area because of their musicianship and they were playing little club gigs around town. They were doing 3 and 4 sets a night. They had kind of blues rock thing going on and we saw them, and Eric kind of knew the guys a little bit. Al and Eric went to see them live and Al called me and he says “Rickey, I have found two guys for this project."
Tim is originally from Boston. When I saw this guy play, I mean I saw some videos of him, he had instructional videos teaching guitar and when I went on line and saw these instructional videos of him teaching guitar, I flipped. I was like, “Where has this guy been hiding all the time?” Well, Tim had had a band before and went out to L.A. and had got a record deal out there, but it had fell apart and subsequently made his way down to Florida, down to Fort Myers. He met Brian, and he and Brian had been playing together for quite some time. So here’s two guys that are basically virtuoso’s on their instruments, kind of like… I compare it with, like a Steve Vai / Bill Sheehan combination.
Rickey: Once we had them locked-in, we found Matt Anastosi, the drummer. Matt came along so quick in his playing, he’s a natural… he slams and he’s got a great groove bone to himself. Then came the task of finding the real key part to it which was a guitar player/singer.
We went through a couple of guys; I’m not going to get into the names, because it’s not that important, but one guy that came in was a traditional blues player and it just didn’t happen. The next guy that came in really had a rock sounding, blues kind of club voice and we were going to go with that. I had already recorded vocals with him and so forth but, it just all of a sudden something happened and I’m not really going to get into it, but something happened that we came to a crossroads and it fell apart. Well, the other guys, the three guys in the band, were getting kind of really discouraged because here we are cutting tracks and the next thing you know we lose the singer/guitarist. Al calls me up and says to me “Rickey, what if we take Tim in the studio and you direct him and guide him and let him have a shot a singing the lead vocals to the record.”
Jeb: You would mentor Tim.
Rickey: And I said, “Well, Tim is a good singer and, oddly enough, I was thinking about that.” I told Al I believed that I could take Tim in and I could coach him and produce him and produce great vocals from him. When we approached him, Tim was like, “What?” I said, “Tim… trust me, you’ve trusted me during the recordings and stuff, I’ve had your trust and you’ve had mine. Trust me on this; we’ll take it one song at a time. Let me show you melodies; let me show you phrasing.”
I said that I’ve got 45+ years in the recording studio and in developing and recording and doing the whole bit, and if you listen to me I promise you, you’re going to be surprised at yourself. From the very first song that I took him in the studio, which is on the record, the song that you’re hearing “The Call of the Hero’’, it all fell together from then on out.
Here’s the funny part about this, after we had already been recording and doing everything the last key to it was having another guitar player that could sing and do backing vocals. Blackfoot played a gig here in Florida with another band that had this singer/guitar player. The guys were just knocked out with him. He is a young guy, and that is the guy you see on the CD, Rick Krasowski. Rick came in at the very end and was able to lend his vocals. He’s got a very high range. He was able to lend his vocals to a lot of the background.
We had already had all the guitars recorded and stuff and there was no way I was going to go back and do more guitar work and stuff, I had to get on with the record so I could get on with the mixes because we had labels that were interested, but I couldn’t get nothing to them until I had finished off the record.
Rickey: So what happened was we finished doing all the guitars, the whole record got finished… I had Peter Keys who was our keyboard player in Skynyrd, he did some keyboard on there. My wife Stacy Michelle, who sings with Kid Rock, she did several songs backing vocals and me with her. That’s her on “Southern Native” and at the very end of it… you hear that girl wailing, that’s her.
Jeb: Nice voice.
Rickey: Oh, man… she comes out and she sings “Picture” with Kid Rock every night. Anyway, we finished off everything and then what I did Jeb, I had recorded this record in my opinion, so beautifully because everything that you’re hearing on there -the rhythm tracks, and some of the lead work on there- is all live.
My soul purpose of doing this record was to give it a raw, heavy blues rock sound and feel. We’ve got a live drum room, which is what you’re hearing and I’ve set the drums up and experimented in miking techniques and Matt played a lot trying to figure out where to go. We experimented a lot with Tim’s guitar sounds. Tim ended up using a couple of my really old Marshalls and the Lizard amps that I use on stage. He ended up using several of my old Les Paul’s. He’s endorsed by ESP and we used his guitars, too. As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you, one of the songs he cut lead on was with a guitar given to me by Brian May of Queen.
Jeb: That’s damned cool.
Rickey: One of Brian May’s guitars, Brian May gave me. The deal is that I was very meticulous; you’ve got to realize this record was recorded over probably about a year, to a year and half, period. We would cut two or three songs, keep the other two, cut another two or three, throw two of them out, keep one… I mean, I went through meticulously a lot of songs until I felt like we had one I felt was really the right combination.
Jeb: How did you balance letting them be a band with the Blackfoot legacy at this same time?
Rickey: Very simple… very, very simple. When they decided to do this I remember going into like some of their first rehearsals. I said to the guys, “Remember this: Take the classic songs and make them your own. I did them the way I did them, now you do them the way you do them.” That’s what they did. The songs are theirs now.
They just opened a show for us this past weekend in Kansas City and they went down monster. It was unbelievable. I stood there watching them and the audience saw me standing there and the audience was like, “Right on Rickey!” They wanted me to go out on stage, which I couldn’t because I’m in Lynyrd Skynyrd. Everybody was on their feet at the very end of the guys set and the guys were just knocked out. I’m very proud to say that I spent a lot of time on this. It was a labor of love and the guys are already talking about the next record.
Jeb: What is the big plan?
Rickey: You put out the first record, and the first record is kind of like a road map. It paves the way for everything. They’ve got a lot of touring to do on this record. They’ve got to go to Europe, hopefully they’ll get to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and maybe even South America and America. They have to keep in the back of their minds that they can’t slow down. They’ve got to keep writing new material and every time I’m home writing. We will get in the studio and cut new tracks, even if it’s just the rhythm tracks with the scratch vocals on them. We’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to keep developing the band, not only on the road but especially in the studio.
Jeb: Now, this is a weird question Ricky… obviously, anyone that’s seen Skynyrd… I mean, how long have you been in Skynyrd now?
Rickey: Almost 20 years.
Jeb: I was thinking it’s been two decades… I almost said it, but shit that doesn’t seem possible. I mean everybody knows you’re dedicated to that band and what you’re doing. I think you kick-ass in that band, but you do have a legacy that is Blackfoot. You wrote the songs, you sang the songs, you were the man. As you see this legacy come alive, does it sort of tug at your heart strings a little bit? Not that you’d want to join it… I mean, that it’s ‘living on’...
Rickey: Well yeah, am I proud of it. Well, of course. I mean I had some great years and created this. When bands reunite, it can either work or it will flop in the toilet. Here’s the deal: when you’re young and you have a band and it succeeds then you’re creating magic and you don’t even realize it. Contrary to what maybe people think about me, or believe about me, or believe about what happened in Blackfoot, it’s been so long brother, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I was able to share the stage with three incredibly talented musicians. Jak and I had a magic together in writing the songs. When bands reunite, the real question is: are you going to be able to recapture that magic one more time? And nine times out of ten, I haven’t seen too many people do it. Because you had a different spirit about yourself, during those days… you know what I mean?
Rickey: When I see these guys playing the songs, I’m very proud of them because Jak and I wrote them. We created them there on vinyl, or tape, or CD, or whatever and they are there for eternity now. I’ve kind of taken these guys and created a new generation of it.
I had a journalist ask me, “When you retire….” I said, “There’s no such thing as Ricky Medlocke retiring.” He said, “Well, when there comes a day when you’re not doing what you do or whatever, what’s going to happen with the name?” I said, “Those guys can continue with it now for another 15 or 20 years.” As long as I’m alive, I will be the producer of the band.
Jeb: Hypothetically… well I think I know you well enough that was not the inspiration for what you did with Blackfoot, so, know that before I ask this question… but, hypothetically if this works, do you realize the precedence you’re setting for some bands, man?
Rickey: Ha ha ha! Well I got to tell you, here’s a good one… Last year you know Stacy, she’s on the road with Bob, Kid Rock. He had a ten show stretch in Detroit and she came back to me and she said, “We have Foreigner opening up for us this year.” I said, “Wow, that’s great.” I asked if Mick Jones was there. She said, “I don’t know. Who’s Mick Jones?” I said, “Well he was the…” She says, “Oh yeah, he was the guitar player that wrote the song with Lou Gramm.” I said, “Yeah, that’s right.” She goes, “Well, I’ll find out.”
As it happens, he was coming out on the road and doing a few songs with the guys, appearing with them, so I went to the final show for Kid Rock in Detroit and Mick was there. Now, back in the day, I did a lot of touring with Foreigner with the old Blackfoot. I saw Mick and he saw me and consequently what’s really funny is that his manager -his name is Phil Carson- Phil Carson was the president of the record label in Europe at Atlantic when Blackfoot had its success in Europe. I got to see Phil and I got to see Mick. I said, “Mick I’ve got to tell you, I love what you’re doing with this band now. I’ve got to tell you something really interesting.” He said, ‘What’s that Rickey?’ I said, “I’ve got four young guys that I am boldly doing a brand new Blackfoot album with. We’re right into recording and I’m producing the record.” He goes, “That’s great Rickey. I’ve done it and it’s working.” I said, “Yeah, why not? It takes the legacy forward and the music forward to new generations.” If this works and it really happens, I wonder to myself how many more bands are going to do this?
Jeb: Last one: Will Skynyrd follow Blackfoot’s lead?
Rickey: I believe that’s the exception because of the bands history and what all the band has been through, and Gary [Rossington] being the only founding member that’s left; I personally can’t imagine that, sadly enough. But you know with Kiss, I could see Kiss doing it big time.
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