An Interview With Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke
“Well every time that I come home nobody wants to let me be
It seems that all the friends I got just got to come interrogate me
Well, I appreciate your feelings and I don’t want to pass you by
But I don’t ask you about your business, don’t ask me about mine”
~Gary Rossington/Ronnie VanZant
Don’t Ask Me No Questions
The iconic band that is Lynyrd Skynyrd is at once an ever changing amalgam of talent as well as a indestructible thread holding together the roots of American rock. From their auspicious beginnings, practicing in a carport in the summer of ’64 in Alabama, to their , upcoming performance at the Fraze Pavilion, Lynyrd Skynyrd has remained true to their origins, playing the type of music that has made their name synonymous with ‘Southern rock’. The history of Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of tragedy, turmoil and triumph. Yet, throughout it all, their music plays a testament to the undying appeal of their sound and words.
I was able to speak with Rickey Medlocke who began his career with Lynyrd Skynyrd as a drummer before forming his own iconic Southern rock band, Blackfoot. He has since rejoined Lynyrd Skynyrd, becoming one of the three lead guitarists, which is the linchpin in what has become Skynyrd’s signature sound. Since the last time I had interviewed him in 2007, there have been a few people from Europe that have expressed interest in reprinting my interview and short biographical piece I had done on the band for various fanzines and one hardcover book to be published in Italy. In speaking with these various people, an image emerged of how some other countries and cultures perceived American music and how some of them saw Lynyrd Skynyrd as being distinctly an American sound. I asked Rickey what his view was, having toured extensively through various countries not only with Skynyrd, but with Blackfoot as well.
“Well, you know, what’s interesting is that being with this band for as long as I’ve been in this band…they just love American music, and Skynyrd, being the well-known southern rock band that it is, it’s been pretty well accepted since day one of the band’s inception. They still think of it in terms as Southern rock, or rebel rock, or whatever they want to call it. It’s never changed; it’s always been that way. They love American music over there.” Rickey stated. “I know that touring over there as much as I did back in the late 70s, early 80s, all the way through into the 90s, they’ve just never stopped loving the Southern rock bands or rock bands, period. It’s kind of a different thing over there than it is here in the fact that when they love you, boy, they never quit loving you.”
In interviewing other bands, I have found that singles and albums are released in other countries long after they are released here in the States, sometimes a decade later. Some bands who have seen their songs chart in the USA are surprised when, years later, their song or album is number one in Holland or some other country. It is also true that songs that never see the light of day in the United States are found to be wildly popular when bands tour overseas.
“Oh absolutely, absolutely! You can go over there and find such a diverse song selection. Of course, they’re going to like Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird, we all know that…” Rickey said, “…but the deal is, you might go over there and they might like some off the wall song like Cry For The Bad Man or Don’t Ask Me No Questions or whatever, and when you play them they’re just like in awe…they’re thrilled…and they have a very different way and it’s very diverse, without a doubt.”
In dealing with the arena rock supergroups from years past, there are those that want to question their relevance in the world of modern music, flippantly dubbing them as ‘has-beens’. It seems ironic that someone would make these statements when all you have to do is flip on any new rock station and hear the influences from bands of the past carried through the music of the current chart toppers. It is also odd that these groups from the past can still pack a huge arena while many of the newer groups are unable to fill the seats in more modest venues. Why haven’t we seen the stellar songwriting and extravagant performances that was the hallmark of the arena rock era? Is it the groups? Is it the recording industry?
“Well, you gotta look at one thing. You gotta look at bands such as ourselves, The Stones, AC/DC, Aerosmith and all these classic bands who have had songs that stand the test of time. They’ve got songs that’ll be here ‘til the end of the world. Lots of new bands…show me one song out of one of these new bands that is gonna stand the test of time like that. A lot of the songs coming through…they’re gone so quick that you go, ‘Whoa…what the hell was that?’” In reference to the term ‘has-beens,’ Rickey had this to say; “I’ve heard DJ’s say that we were ‘has-beens’ before and I’ve had people say it blatantly, right to my face, but my comeback is ‘Look, if you’re insinuating that we are a ‘has-been’, it’s better to have been a has-been than a never-was.’ With Blackfoot and Skynyrd collectively, I’ve sold somewhere between 45 and 50 million records, so, when I get somebody that says things like that, I just kinda feel a lot of them sometimes have a big giant chip on their shoulder. ‘I’m a frustrated musician that never was and I can’t figure out why the hell I can’t do it!’ Well, there’s gotta be a reason. Either you didn’t write great songs, or you weren’t that talented, or you didn’t persevere and you gave it up …so there’s a lot of reasons for it.”
Rickey then alluded to the fact that it also had a lot to do with the record industry and that there were a lot of talented people out there who are ignored or don’t receive the attention of the record industry.
“Well, you’ve gotta understand, when we decided to do what we did for a living, it was two-fold; Record companies signed bands to create two careers; the record company’s and the band’s. They signed bands to build them up, which in turn built the record company’s career. Nowadays, it’s not about that anymore. First of all, you don’t have near as many record labels as you used to; everything is on the internet. People want self-satisfaction right away. Back when I got signed and the band was formed, we looked forward to a good record company.” In relating how the industry had changed, Rickey went on to say that, “Now, the only thing that you sell records for anymore is for tickets and merchandising. Really, that’s really true, to be honest with you, because the artists don’t make anything off of record sales anymore, especially publishing. A lot of these young artists are even giving their songs away, and they don’t realize how much they’re hurting themselves, you know what I mean? Like now these young bands will get into it and if they haven’t made it within a year to a year and a half, they’re like, ‘Oh God! I’m giving it up and going into something else!’ and not realizing that, being a band and being together for as long as we have, and a lot of the other classic artists…that’s what it’s all about.”
I wondered if Rickey ever looked back on all the iconic music that Lynyrd Skynyrd produced and sat in amazement, wondering how they had ever conceived such layered orchestration and captured the essence of living on vinyl.
“You gotta realize I was there for some of the stuff because I was one of the original drummers, so I was there and seeing how stuff went down, and it went down so innocently and so pure.” Rickey went on, saying, “We just wrote songs, and had a magic about ourselves. I’m a guitar player and I’ve had a love affair with my instrument ever since day one, and that’s what it’s all about. I didn’t get into this business to become a rock star; it just happened because we had great music, you know what I mean?”
Since they are coming off of a world tour in support of their God And Guns album, I was curious if going from huge arenas and stadiums to a smaller ampitheater like the Fraze would offer Skynyrd fans a more intimate view of the band..and visa versa.
“Well, it will be and it’s kind of a conscious thing by us right now. The band loves to do smaller stuff every once in a while.” Rickey paused before going on. “What it does…it brings you back to the basics, you know what I mean? And, that’s cool…that’s a great thing to do. The Lynyrd Skynrd band, as with a lot of other artists, we don’t mind doing whatever we need to…we just love to play!”