Southern rock kings Lynyrd Skynyrd are on the road in advance of new album 'God and Guns'
July 2, 2009 4:00 AM
Lynyrd Skynyrd, with its only original member Gary Rossington, third from left, will perform Tuesday at the Post-Gazette Pavilion
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Lynyrd Skynyrd in its prime, the band that got on that plane in 1977, was Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Steve Gaines, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Artimus Pyle.
Thirty-two years later, Skynyrd survives, now down to just Rossington as the only one of that crew, after the death earlier this year of keyboardist Powell. That wasn't the only loss this year. The Southern Rock pioneers also mourned bassist Ean Evans, who died of cancer in May. (For the record: Van Zant and Gaines died in the crash; Collins died in 1990 and Wilkeson in 2001; Pyle left the band and plays solo and with other bands.)
Some things keep on rolling, though, and Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of them. They found two new members and are out on a summer tour with old pal Kid Rock, who's professed his Skynyrd love in many ways, most recently with the hit single "All Summer Long."
The tour advances "God and Guns," the band's first studio album since 2003, due out in September. Leading Skynyrd now through these various trials is Johnny Van Zant, the 50-year-old younger brother of Ronnie, who took over frontman duties in 1987, keeping alive such classics as "Sweet Home Alabama," "Gimme Three Steps" and the quintessential encore song, "Free Bird."
With: Kid Rock.
Where: Post-Gazette Pavilion.
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Tickets: $26-$76; 1-877-598-8703.
Last week, Van Zant talked about the 2009 version of Skynyrd.
So, it must be a blast to tour with Kid Rock. Do you guys play something together?
It just depends, depends on what night it is. Basically we go out and do our Skynyrd show. He comes out and does his, then like Gary will go out and play on "All Summer Long." I'm sure this summer we'll hook up for quite a few shows, but we don't really plan it out.
What did you think of "All Summer Long"?
I thought it was a great thing. What else could a band ask for than someone to sing that as a kid they were singing "Sweet Home Alabama" all summer long? What a great honor. It doesn't hurt. Skynyrd's had songs in movies and a lot of the country acts have mentioned growing up with Skynyrd and being fans of Skynyrd. It's great that we've lived long enough to see it.
Tell me about "God and Guns." First of all, why did you call it that?
Well, there's a song called "God and Guns." For us, Skynyrd, all the stuff we've been through, man, in our lives, you gotta have faith in the good Lord above, so we believe in that heavily. And then again we believe in protecting ourselves and being able to hunt, and all that good stuff, so we believe in the right to bear arms. It's right up our alley -- hahaha!
Do you have some concern right now about the Second Amendment?
Seems like forever that, you know, they take the praying out of schools and "you shouldn't do this" and "you gotta watch that." And "Hey, you shouldn't own a gun." It's something that's been going on for a long time. Seems like two subjects that get picked on a lot, so we're going to try to stand up to a little bit. No better way than naming your album like that.
And yet your brother wrote an anti-gun song with "Saturday Night Special."
Well, no, I do agree with that. Personally, we would have called it "God and Rifles," but that doesn't quite sound that good. Myself personally I don't own a handgun. Ronnie wrote 'Handguns are made for killing/ain't no good for nothing else,' and I kind of agree with that. I've never seen anyone ... well, there's probably some folks out there who have tried to shoot deer with handguns. I own shotguns and stuff like that, and that's what I like. I'm not saying any criminal should have a gun. People who want to bear arms for the right reason, that should be their choice.
Yeah, you probably heard about that terrible shooting in Pittsburgh where the three cops were killed.
Yeah, yeah. That's unfortunate. For me, I live down in the Florida swamps. If there's a water moccasin, and I've got a choice between that water moccasin and my kid, I'm shooting that water moccasin. Or a rattlesnake or anything else. I couldn't imagine living down here without some kind of weapon to take care of things like that. But they shouldn't be in anyone's hands, and I agree with that. There should be a lot of background checks.
What are the musical highlights of the record?
The whole record ... well, you know we lost two members, Billy Powell and Ean Evans, this past year. Both of them passed away. And we were right in the midst of doing this record. We're a big family. I've been in this group for 22 years this year and over 22 years, we've lost four people. I think if you look at any family's background, in 22 years, they probably lost four people in their family. It's just ours is in the public eye, of course. It made us more determined to finish this record than anything. Those guys wanted this record and we wanted to finish it for them -- and the fans, of course. It's been a while since we had a studio record, and unfortunately God called them boys home in the midst of it. But we used Bob Marlette, great friend and great writer, [as producer]. We wrote with John 5, who is really different than us. He played with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, so it's a different mix and match. It's a great record -- a little something for everyone.
Is there anything that will surprise people, any different directions?
Well, the old saying "If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it." But there's some surprises in there. Some of our fans will be like "Wow. No kidding?" We're coming out with a first single, "Still Unbroken," that's going to go to rock radio. And then we're actually going to go to country radio with a country song. Skynyrd has always had country and rock in it. Fortunately, for us, man, I just saw Sugarland with the B-52's the other night on the CMT awards. It kind of opens a door for us.
So you had to find two different band members this year. I hate to use the world replace when we talk about people ...
Yeah, you can't replace people. You know what, it's like me and my brother. Who can replace Ronnie Van Zant? Nobody could. So you go on. Billy Powell was the Mickey Mantle/Babe Ruth of piano playing, so you can't really replace him, but you find someone equal to his talent and go on. And I don't think any of us have ever tried to replace anyone. You just try to carry on. It's a good thing. We just got back from Europe, one of the most successful tours we've ever done.
Lynyrd Skynyrd in Europe ... That sounds really strange to me.
Nah, you wouldn't believe it, dude. We went all up in Finland, Norway, Italy, Germany, Scotland. They love us over there. We played in Milan, Italy, and over my 22 years, it was probably the youngest Lynyrd Skynyrd crowd, and they knew every word. It was pretty wild.
The last time we talked the discussion was about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Looks like that panned out ...
Yeah, yeah. It was a very proud day, especially for Gary and Billy. For me, too, personally. It wasn't for me to be inducted. It was for my brother, so I was proud to be standing there. And I know he was there, too. I think it was great that Skynyrd got some just due -- from the community, the music community, I should say.
Yeah, you get it from the fans already.
Yeah, that's what I used to say: "It ain't going to help pay the light bill, man, but it will be an honor." Hahaha! It is the God's truth. Who pays the bills? The fans. That's who pays our bills -- by loving the music and coming out and seeing us, man. That's what this band's about is going out and playing live, so we're looking forward to this summer.