by Amy Harris
Classic Southern Rockers perform at Cincinnati's Riverbend Music Center tonight
Where do you begin with a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Everyone has been out at a bar or a concert and heard some crazy and/or drunk lunatic
shouting to the band on stage, “FREE BIRD!!!” They are the epitome of
and gold standard for Southern Rock music. Even now, through the tragedy
of the plane crash in 1977 to the re-formed band, Skynyrd still
provides electric performances every night. They still happily rock the
hits of the early days. like “Simple Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama,”
while mixing in the music they are still releasing, most recently Last of a Dying Breed, which came out late last year.
CityBeat had time to catch up with lead vocalist
Johnny Van Zant, the younger brother of the band’s original front man
Ronnie Van Zant. The two discussed how Skynyrd fits into Rock music
today, as well as the wonderful feelings the band still gets performing
every night on stage.
Skynyrd performs at Riverbend Music Center tonight with
Bad Company, providing the same energy as the cast from the ’70s and
showing audiences what real Southern Rock sounds like.
CityBeat: Do you have any crazy Cincinnati memories from the past?
JVZ: We have had so many good shows there. Years
back, when a flood hit, there was water in the first four or five rows.
People were kind of standing in the water. I was like, “Wow these are
really diehards.” I don’t even know how many times we have played at
that particular amphitheater (Riverbend), but it has always been a good, hot,
sweaty, summer Rock & Roll show, which is how it is supposed to be.
CB: The band has had multiple lineup
changes over the years since you joined the band. How do you integrate
someone new into the band?
JVZ: For us, they have to be a friend, someone we
have known, someone we admire as a musician, someone we think would fit
into our family. When we are out on the road, running up and down the
road playing shows, you have to be not only a member of a band but,
especially with Lynyrd Skynyrd, you have to be a part of the Skynyrd
nation. You have to be a part of the family. Our newest member is Johnny
Colt, who was bass player with The Black Crowes. Colt fits right in with
us. He’s loony as heck and so are we. We have a great time and love
doing what we do. I hope Johnny is with us for a long, long time. He is
quite the guy. It has been awesome.
CB: I know you guys have worked many
times with one of my favorite guitarists, John 5. What was that
experience like for you and have you done any collaborations recently?
JVZ: Well, yeah, he was on our last record, Last of a Dying Breed.
John is a good friend of us. We knew we were going to be good friends
with John because we were in Nashville writing and our manager mentioned
John and said, “You know, he is a little different than you guys.” And
we said, “ That’s OK, that’s no problem.” John walked in, he was just
coming from a photo shoot. He had on the fingernails with his hair all
up. When he walked in and I went, “Damn, you are different. Damn, are you
a freak or something?” And he said, “I was thinking the same crap about
you guys.” We just hit it off. He is a wonderful guitar player. Not
only can he play Heavy Metal and Rock & Roll, but he can play the hell
out of some Country music, which we love. I just admire his work and he
is one of the most phenomenal guitar players I have had the pleasure to
CB: A lot of people are saying Rock is dead and Country music is the new Rock. Do you believe that Rock is dead?
JVZ: No. I think Country music is Lynyrd Skynyrd. I
think a lot of the Country music is what we do, but I don’t think Rock &
Roll is dead at all. People have been saying that shit for years and
years and years: "Rock & Roll is dead." Then it comes back. It’s like
anything else. For us we just played Houston, Texas, in front of 10,000
people. We played Bristol, Va., I think there were 14,000 people on
a Sunday night. The night before last we were in Camden, N.J.,
14,000 people on a Wednesday night. I’m sure Cincinnati is doing quite
well. We are in Pittsburgh tonight. It is going to be phenomenal here. If Rock & Roll is dead and gone, man, I am missing out on it.
CB: Tell me a little bit about Last of a Dying Breed and which songs we are going to hear from that album when you come to Cincinnati?
JVZ: Well, it is debatable. What we do, each night
we try to think about what new song we want to put in. Right now we are
really concentrating on 40 years. It’s been 40 years since (Pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd) came out. It’s been our major focus to play as many songs off that record and celebrate that era.
CB: Where do you see yourself in 15 more years?
JVZ: Hopefully alive. Hopefully playing some shows
and still doing this. Doing a lot of fishing and drinking a good
Budweiser and something like that, I don’t know. If you want to make God
laugh, tell him your plans. I never really plan too much. I just like to
go along with the flow and the good Lord throws me in the direction he
wants me to go.
CB: Do you ever get tired of playing “Free Bird”?
JVZ: Not at all. I am quick to say, "Not at all." How
many bands would love to have songs like that? Most bands say we would
give anything to have one of those. “Free Bird” and ("Sweet Home Alabama"), that’s
the cool thing about Skynyrd. We have three generations of fans who love
those songs. It is amazing to me. We are out with Bad Company right now
and we are real big Bad Company fans. We are at the top of the game
with these guys. From my era and a lot of other people’s era, Bad
Company was the rule of the roost when it came to Rock & Roll. Paul
Rogers is one of the best singers. Simon Kirke and Mick Ralphs have been
around for years. It is just great to be out on the road and playing
shows with good friends too. We are having a blast. We hope to do it
again sometime after this tour and look forward to coming your way.
CB: Are you flattered when someone like Kid Rock uses "Sweet Home Alabama" in his songs? Excited? Upset? How do
you feel when someone integrates that song?
JVZ: We were actually doing a tour with Bobby when
he had “All Summer Long” (the song that incorporates "Sweet Home") out. For us, hell, it keeps us in the spotlight.
He did a good job on it. It was a hit song for him and everybody got
paid. So surely, we are like, “Can someone else use it again and again?” It is kind of funny when you think of stuff like that. Who would have
thought when that song was written a long, long time ago, people would
still be loving it and a band from Jacksonville, Fla., and what
success my brother and Alan and Gary, my hat is off to them. I love
keeping the music alive. It is a great thing. It’s a great thing because
the song has been used in Forrest Gump and various movies. Any time anything like that pops up as long, as it is not in bad taste, is great. It has been a good ride.
by Mike Breen
Musicians who died too soon and happy birthday to Terry Hall of The Specials
This date in music history is a sad one, marking the "gone too soon" deaths of several young musicians with a lot ahead of them. • Guitarist Paul Kossoff was the cofounder of British Rock band Free with singer Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser. The band's 1970 Fire and Water album spawned the band's best-known song, "All Right Now," but the band split by the end of that year. They reformed in 1972 and put out two more albums before calling it quits for good. Kossoff did solo work, played with many other artists and formed a band called Back Street Crawler. The guitarist was in poor health in the years after Free, reportedly due to drug problems and frustration over the demise of his most successful musical project. Kossoff died on a flight from L.A. to New York in 1976 from heart problems. His father spent the rest of his life campaigning against the perils of drug abuse, even doing a touring one-man show about his son. Kossoff's headstone contains the epitaph, "All Right Now."Kossoff was 25. • Thirty years ago today, guitar great Randy Rhoads, who played with Quiet Riot but became legendary for his work with Ozzy Osbourne, died. The day after a concert with Ozzy in Knoxville, the Classical-influenced six-stringer and the rest of the band stopped at an airstrip for some "joyriding." Rhoads was afraid of flying, but hopped on a small plane because he was told they'd do nothing risky (stylist Rachel Youngblood had a heart condition, so the pilot promised to take it easy) and Rhoads wanted to take some photos from the air. The plane buzzed the band tour bus twice, but on its third attempt, one of the wings was clipped by the the bus and the pilot lost control. The plane went through a tree, crashed into a garage and burst into flames. The pilot, Youngblood and Rhoads all died, their bodies burned beyond recognition. Rhoads was 25. Here's Ozzy, years later, listening to Rhoads' alleged last recorded guitar solo for the first time in pure awe. • When the "Proto Grunge" band Green River broke up in 1988, the band split into two new groups. Mark Arm and Steve Turner formed the influential Mudhoney, while Bruce Fairweather, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard formed the glammy Rock band Mother Love Bone with young, enigmatic singer Andrew Wood. MLB signed with PolyGram and released an EP. Then, just days before its debut album was to be released, Wood was found passed out by his girlfriend. He had overdosed on heroin. Placed on life support, Wood died three days after being admitted to the hospital, on this date in 1990. (Ament and Gossard would solider on, finding a new singer — Eddie Vedder — and forming Pearl Jam.)Wood was 24. • Drummer Jeff Ward was a successful drummer from the Ministry camp, meaning he worked with bands like Revolting Cocks, Lard and, of course, Ministry. Ward also spent time playing drums with Nine Inch Nails. The drummer (who also worked with a band called Low Pop Suicide) committed suicide on this date in 1993 by locking himself in his garage with the car running. Ward was 30. Here's a track from another Ministry side project, 1000 Homo DJs, featuring Ward on "cop vocals."Click on for Born This Day featuring Bun B, Billy Sheehan, Ricky Wilson and Terry Hall: