Lynyrd Skynyrd farewell tour hits Big Sandy
On Saturday, Nov. 17, the legendary southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd will bring their Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour to the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington. The concert will mark the end of an almost 50-year run for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group that has seen much tragedy amidst its legendary ride in the music business.
In the early 1970s, Lynyrd Skynyrd became one of the most well-known bands in the southern rock era, second only to the Allman Brothers Band, who by default created the genre in the late 1960s. Both bands had Florida roots and after Lynyrd Skynyrd played the circuit for years, they finally recorded their first self-titled album in 1973 when famed musician Al Kooper heard them and became their producer.
That first album caught the music world’s attention with songs such as “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Simple Man” and “Thing’s Goin’ On” as well as the anthemic song that would become their trademark, “Free Bird.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s next album Second Helping featured the song “Sweet Home Alabama,” which climbed the music charts. The lineup of the band at that time included Ronnie Van Zant on vocals, Gary Rossington on guitar, Allen Collins on guitar, Ed King on guitar, Billy Powell on keyboards, Leon Wilkeson on bass and Bob Burns on drums.
By the time the critically acclaimed album “Street Survivors” was recorded in 1977, Artimus Pyle had replaced Burns on the drums and guitarist Steve Gaines was brought in after King’s departure. Lynyrd Skynyrd was a full-fledged headlining band at that point, filling up arenas and gaining steam with new music that was continuously evolving.
In October of 1977, however, the world would change in an instant for Lynyrd Skynyrd when their chartered plane ran out of gas and crashed in a forest in Mississippi. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Gaines’ sister, singer Cassie Gaines, died on the ground amidst the wreckage. The group disbanded after that fateful event and it would be years before they would regroup with different personnel.
Lynyrd Skynyrd eventually reunited and they have toured and recorded new albums since then. As time went on, Allen Collins died in 1990, Leon Wilkeson died in 2001, and Billy Powell died in 2009. The current lineup features original member Gary Rossington on guitar, Ronnie Van Zant’s brother Johnny Van Zant on lead vocals, Rickey Medlocke on guitar, Michael Cartellone on drums, Mark Matejka on guitar, Peter Keys on piano and Keith Christopher on bass.
Medlocke was with the band in the early 1970s, then went on to form the successful group Blackfoot, who had their own hit song with “Train Train.” Medlocke eventually returned to the Lynyrd Skynyrd fold in 1996.
With the Allman Brothers Band ending their long run in 2014, the last tour of Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2018 marks an significant moment in the history of southern rock.
Amazingly, after all of these years, Medlocke still loves to tour as a rock and roll musician.
“I guess I’m stuck as far as being a road dog because that’s where I feel the best, when I’m on the road and playing in front of people,” said Medlocke. “I don’t mind the traveling. I don’t mind the miles. I love being on the bus. I love playing in front of people. I love entertaining people. I think that’s my number one thing that I really love, is to be able to stand on stage and watch people have a great time with what we are doing and the music that we play.”
Looking back, Medlocke reflects on what was accomplished with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“I believe that, first of all, when our music was tagged as ‘southern rock,’ I believe it was because the bands all happened to be from the South,” said Medlocke. “Really, southern rock, to be honest with you, is blues-ladled. The foundation is really the blues, with influences including everything from heavy rock to European rock to country to everything mixed in with the bag. I think that Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band (who died in 1971 in a motorcycle crash and for whom the song “Free Bird” was dedicated to) was the most influential guitarist of his time. He was the guy who, I think, really brought about a different style of guitar playing. He was a beautiful person. Duane was an incredible guy. Personally, I met him on several occasions and was able to talk to him back then. I think he was a well-rounded blues player. That was one thing that drew us all to love Duane Allman, and his style and his spirit and the way he played. It’s too bad that he had to go as early as he did because there’s no telling what kind of influence that guy would be.”
As this run by Lynyrd Skynyrd comes to an end, Medlocke looks back on this time in the band, playing the hits for the fans.
“You know what? It is an incredible thing when you’ve got this kind of camaraderie and brotherhood with people that have been with you a while,” said Medlocke. “It is a great thing. I love the people that surround us, from the fans to the people that work with us, and you can’t ask for anything better than that. The loyalty has been just wonderful.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s show at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17. Tickets range from $30 to $350 for VIP. Opening the show will be the legendary Marshall Tucker Band.
More information can be found at bigsandyarena.com and 800-745-3000.