Taylor Hill, FilmMagic Lynyrd Skynyrd fans will have to wait to see the iconic…
- Posted on Aug 21st 2012 3:00PM by Dave Steinfeld
Clay Patrick McBride
These days, Lynyrd Skynyrd is led by singer Johnny Van Zant (younger brother of the their original singer, the late Ronnie Van Zant) and guitarist Gary Rossington, the only original member of the band who is still with them. Rounding things out are guitarists Rickey Medlock and Mark "Sparky" Matejka, keyboardist Peter Keys, drummer Michael Cartellone and brand new bassist Johnny Colt, formerly of the Black Crowes. Spinner had a chance to talk with Van Zant and Rossington on the eve of their new album's release.
Last of a Dyin' Breed is your follow-up to God & Guns, which was your highest charting album in over 30 years. How was making this album similar to God & Guns and how was it different?
Johnny: The difference with this album is [that] with God & Guns we did it in pieces. And we lost [bassist] Ean [Evans] and Billy Powell; both of them passed during that record. For this particular album, we said, "Look. Let's don't do it in pieces. Let's go in [and] cut in old school." We started in February and pretty much stayed there and did this record, boom! And tried to laugh and have as much fun as possible because the last record was so difficult to get through.
Some of the songs have the same attitude as the last record. And we used [producer] Bob Marlette on this record. Bob worked with us on God & Guns and he was a great inspiration to get us through that record.
Gary: I think it's a little different even though we have the same producer. We wanted to make this a little more rock 'n' roll. God and Guns had more of a country feel. We like country but this one we rocked up a little more, like the old days. We went into the studio and cut it all sorta live. That's the way we used to do it in the '70s.
Johnny: We think the record's great but we gotta see. The proof's in the pudding, you know? It's up to the fans. Artists don't make hit records; fans do.
You've got a new bass player, Johnny Colt, who's played with a bunch of bands including the Black Crowes. What did Johnny bring to the proceedings?
Johnny: Johnny actually didn't play on the record. We used Mike Brignardello, a good friend of ours who played with a group called Giant. We were workin' on and Mike had left to go do something. We have a little place upstairs where we go work out arrangements and stuff. So myself, Gary, Sparky [Metejka], Rickey [Medlock] and Bob Marlette were upstairs. And Johnny comes up there, grabs a bass and just starts playin' along. We all went, "This is our kinda guy."
He's a good guy. He's a good bass player, man, he plays a lot like Leon. He's a little crazy, like we are. Anybody who carries a knife onstage you gotta love! [Laughs]
I'm curious about the title track. It seems like it could be about a couple of things.
Johnny: The title alone says it for us. There are very few bands that started back in the '70s with the Southern Rock movement that are still out doin' dates, and one of 'em's Lynyrd Skynyrd. And then the Allmans. My brother's [Donnie Van Zant] band, 38 Special's out and still rocking.
Gary: All the Southern bands that were popular in the '70s are all either gone and died, God bless them, or else they're not playing anymore and the music or their names kind of faded away, so we're one of the last of a dying breed.
When people talk about the great Southern rock acts of the '70s, they talk about you guys, they talk about the Allmans, ZZ Top. Is there one band from that era that you think should have got more credit than they did?
Gary: Oh, there were a few. There was Atlanta Rhythm Section. They were really good and had a few songs that got on the radio. They were really tight and tasty.
Johnny: I think Wet Willie, with Jimmy Hall. A very different kind of Southern rock band. I can [also] honestly say that the Marshall Tucker Band was one of those. Looking back on those guys, Marshall Tucker was very underrated. I mean, they had the flute player. Doug [Gray] singing. [Guitarist] Toy Caldwell. They had their own thing goin' on. It's pretty amazing when you look back on it.
Gary, you're really the last guy standing from the original band. How does that feel and how have you found the perseverance to keep going?
Gary: It's kind of strange, and just a whirlwind of feelings. Our dream -- Ronnie Van Zant and me and Allen Collins -- we had a dream after we saw the Stones and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, we wanted to start a rock band. Our dream was to write songs and make a band out of it -- and it happened. It got taken away so quickly and [in such] a tragic way.
I count my blessings every day that I'm still here to do it. And we love to talk about the guys that aren't here anymore, the ones that are up in heaven ... I think Ronnie and Allen and the guys that aren't here would be happy that we're still talkin' about it and playin' it and that folks are still enjoying it. Sometimes we look out [during] certain songs like "Tuesday's Gone" or "Free Bird," you can see people cryin' or laughin' or singin' along with the words. And it's just real emotional. Some people say it's like the soundtrack of their lives.
Johnny, you grew up with two older brothers who were singers. What did each of you have that's unique, that maybe the other two guys didn't have, as a singer?
Johnny: You know -- I've thought about that. Ronnie was definitely a stylist. Like a Jagger. When he sang, you knew it was Ronnie Van Zant. Donnie has a blues-rock, country feel to what he does. Myself, I'm still figuring that one out! You know what I mean? I just go for whatever I think I can do.
What does the rest of 2012 have in store for Skynyrd?
Johnny: We're going' back to Europe. Then we're actually doin' a string of dates with ZZ Top. Then we're doin' our Lynyrd Skynyrd Cruise in October, which is a hoot! You've got 4,000 crazy Skynyrd fans on a boat. We get to meet a lot of our fans from all over the world on that cruise. It's an amazing thing, you know, pretty much 24/7. And then we're gonna have Christmas and turkey and all that good stuff. We're looking' forward to the rest of the year.