By Jeb Wright
Photo by Clay Patrick McBride
Lynyrd Skynyrd will release their latest album, Last of a Dyin’ Breed , on August 21, 2012. The band will likely have chart success, as their diehard fans will continue to support them by purchasing the album, concert tickets, t-shirts and anything else they can think of.
Skynyrd has defied the odds. The band and the music have survived death, drugs and plane crashes. They have continued on as each member of the original band, other than Gary Rossington, has passed away (Rickey Medlocke is a gray area as he was an original member but left before the first official album was released). Yet, Rossington has been able to keep the spirit of the original band alive.
The new album is a true throwback to the band’s glory days, as the songs recall the time when the band pushed the boundaries between Southern Rock and Hard Rock.
In the interview that follows, Rossington discusses the new album, as well as how the band has survived and what the music means to him. We talk about surviving when his friends died and how he handles people who say this band should not carrier the Skynyrd moniker.
Read on to get some great insight into the new music, the original band and the Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy. When you’re done reading it, go over to Amazon.com and purchase the new album, as the new music truly pays homage to the original spirit of the band.
Jeb: The new album is here and it is a good one.
Gary: August 21st is the official release date, so we are doing some press, and we are talking about everything and we are getting it going.
Jeb: I think this album has the classic Skynyrd hard rock sound. I am talking about songs like “Last of a Dyin’ Breed,” “Mississippi Blood” and “Honey Hole.” There is some harder edge stuff with some kick ass guitars going on.
Gary: That is what we wanted to do on this album. We wanted to go back to the old roots of the original band and do more rocking, as opposed to being more Country flavored; that is our favorite stuff anyway. We like songs that tell a story that have a good beat and some dual guitars in there. We tried to do it right, like the old band always did.
Jeb: You are the last of the founding members of the band. With all of the different lineups how are you still able to get the true spirit of Lynyrd Skynyrd in your new music?
Gary: We just do it the way that we’ve always done it. Once we get the material written, then we just go in the studio and get at it. For our diehard fans, who will like it, and buy it anyway, we want to make it the best we can for the name of Skynyrd and for our brothers that are no longer with us. We keep their memory alive and I really believe their spirit is in these songs.
You mentioned “Mississippi Blood” and I will tell you that if Ronnie and Allen, and the other guys were here, they would say, “You are doing it right.”
Jeb: The legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd has to be very important to who you are as a person.
Gary: It is.
Jeb: Do you have to stand up to the other band members and say, “Guys, this is a great song but it is not a Skynyrd song.”
Gary: We all do that, at times. If I hear something that I don’t think Skynyrd should be involved with, then I will say something and we will get out of that. I think we are doing pretty good, as far as the new ones go. We have a lot more songs that we have written but we decided they were not up to par. I would never want to hurt the name of the band.
Jeb: Some people say that this band should not be called Lynyrd Skynyrd. How do you handle that?
Gary: It is not the original band, we know that and everybody knows that. The newer generation of fans hear the story of what happened and they learn about everything.
We started with the Tribute Tour, back in 1987. We did that for the fans, the promoters and the people who were behind us. The thing is that it never stopped, and we never stopped. It has just been ongoing and we have reinvented ourselves, so to speak.
It is not the original band, but we just carry the name, the spirit and the music onward. It is all about the music that we wrote so long ago; we want to keep it alive.
Jeb: Do you ever pinch yourself and say, “How in the hell is Lynyrd Skynyrd still going in 2012?”
Gary: Everyday I wonder that. I thank God that we are so blessed and able to do this. We are still talking about the songs and we are still playing them for our fans. It really is a dream come true.
Back when we started the band, with Ronnie, Allen and I, our dream was to make it big in a band like the Rolling Stones. We wanted to write our own songs and be huge, and we did it. It got taken away so fast, and tragically, but the music lives on through all of it. We just love playing the music and being a part of it.
Jeb: The song “Last of a Dyin’ Breed” has some of the best Skynyrd slide guitar I have ever heard.
Gary: Thank you. That song is really about Southern bands, as we really are the last of a dying breed. Music, nowadays, is all about solo singers, or Hip Hop, or having dancers on the stage. Pop music, like Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga is what is mainstream.
Old bands like us, and other bands from the ‘70’s, are a dying breed, and we are fading away. All that is left are the Allmans, us, and a few different bands, here and there. It is just what it is.
When we were writing that song, we had about 100 different names for it. I just thought of that line, as a last resort, and it ended up really fitting the band and what we’re doing now.
Jeb: Go more in depth on the song “Mississippi Blood.”
Gary: That song has a lot of guitars that interlock with each other and play different parts; that’s what we used to do. Allen would have a part, I would have a part and Ed King, or Steve Gaines, would have a part, and when we put them all together they would just have that sound. Ronnie would put lyrics to it and his voice would make the song. We started doing that again with this album. We decided to do that once again, instead of all of us just playing the same thing, over and over.
Jeb: Talk about the lyrics to the album.
Gary: Rickey, Johnny and myself write they lyrics. We come up with different lines, titles and storylines and we just help each other. We get a story going and we all sit down together and add to it.
Jeb: I really love the lyrics to “One Day at a Time.”
Gary: We wrote that one with our friend, Marlon Young, he plays with Kid Rock and he’s a great songwriter. He had this idea and he sent it to us and we loved it.
We co-wrote some of the lyrics, and they were a little different of what he had in mind, but he liked it. It really reminded us of an old type Skynyrd song, or an old Rossington Collins Band song. It was just kind of us, so we jumped on it.
Jeb: “Homegrown” is one of my favorites on the album.
Gary: I love that song and it is really fun to play. It is about a crazy girl, but it also has that double meaning of weed.
Jeb: This is a solid album, but I wonder how many tunes you are able to fit in the set. “Last of Dyin’ Breed” has to be in the set.
Gary: We open with that one, actually. We start with that and then go into a bunch of the old stuff. We also are playing “One Day at a Time” and we play “Good Teacher.” The crowd seems to be liking them, as they all have good beats.
Jeb: Slip “Honey Hole” in there.
Gary: We might now that the record is coming out. We have been waiting for people to hear the songs a few times. We might do that one. We will switch them around, night to night, and we are really looking forward to playing these new songs live.
Jeb: People ask me all the time if musicians get tired of playing the same songs every night, like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.” Do you?
Gary: We don’t have to rehearse a lot anymore because we know the songs so well, so that helps, but there is a lot more to it than that.
We just love to look at the audience when we play those songs. It all comes back to us through them and their feelings and emotions. Song like “Simple Man” and “Free Bird” are great to play live and we see girls, and even guys, crying sometimes.
It reminds them of old times, when they were younger. We really are a soundtrack of their lives. A lot of emotion comes out and we have people write to us all the time and they tell us how much our music means to them.
In this lifetime, it has been really great to be able to touch people’s emotions. When you see that onstage, it is such a big kick. We also do it for the guys who are not here anymore. Everything matters and we take playing live seriously.
Jeb: Do you get emotional yourself? Do you really feel the spirit of the guys when you play?
Gary: It has always been that way for me. I am sure Johnny feels it because he was related to Ronnie. Some of the newer guys were not around then and they don’t know how it was. I feel it really deeply. I know they would have wanted us to go on and do what we are doing. Our thing was all about playing the music and letting people know about this band that we started. We made it and I want everyone to still know about it, as it is really a great thing.
Jeb: You get asked about the band members that have passed away. How do you handle those inquires?
Gary: It used to be hard on me and it was very emotional. Back in the day, when I was doing drugs and drinking, I would get all emotional about things. I would overdo my emotions. Now, I feel that it was great to have known them and to play music with them.
They were my best friends. It is hard to get on, but it has been so many years…it has been 35 years since the plane crash. It was unfortunate, but it was something that happened. You just have to go on and make yourself learn how to live with what’s happened and deal with it. The other choice is to not go on and everything is over.
I just feel lucky to be alive and to be able to have had these guys as my friends. I feel lucky just to have been able to write the music with them and to play it with them back in the day. I just want to keep it going as long as I can.
Jeb: Did you have to come to terms with the fact that you lived and the others died? You came very close to death but you survived.
Gary: Long ago, I used to wonder about it. There is a very legitimate thing called Survivors Regret where you feel guilty because you didn’t die and others did. I did that for a while, but I finally realized that there is nothing I could do about it.
I believe in fate. If things didn’t happen in certain ways, then things would not have worked out. If I hadn’t met Allen, or Ronnie, and we hadn’t started this band, then who knows what would have happened. I believe, in some ways, our paths are laid out and we just have to follow the path.
Jeb: Last one: You don’t toot your own horn much. I think Gary Rossington is a true rock and roll icon. Are you comfortable hearing that?
Gary: Not really. I am just me; I’m just old. I just got in a good band with some good guys and I got lucky. I am really blessed and just happy to be here. Every day I thank God. I think there are reasons for everything that has happened.
The band still loves to play and the people still like to hear the music. The people that are not with us anymore still get some money through our business and our catalog sales and everybody wins. We are still keeping the spirit of the music alive for the guys that are dead and I think they would like that, I know I would.
Life is short. You only have a little time here, so you may as well do what you like.
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