Most of Lynyrd Skynyrd Is Gone, But Who Cares?

On a recent trip to Oregon, I ended up at West Fest, an annual event aimed at drumming up business in the western outskirts of Salem, the state's capital. Both Boston and The Kingsmen were scheduled to play, so it sounded like it would be worth the $3 admission, even though I was pretty sure the Kingsmen broke up right after recording "Louie Louie" 40-something years ago.

We've all seen this gimmick: a band with one or two original members tours making a living on the fair and festival circuit. Imagining the current lineups of these bands, I shook my head. Maybe the singer's brother-in-law had taken over the vocals and the guy who was subletting the manager's condo had landed himself a gig behind the drums.

As it turned out, it wasn't even that legitimate. Both The Kingsmen and Boston are still touring somewhere in one incarnation or another, but not at West Fest. Instead, we got The Dennis Mitchell Band, named for the brother of the original guitarist on "Louie Louie," who is, like, Dennis, also a member of the band. Why the band isn't named after Mike, the guy who was actually in the band, I don't know. The Mitchellmen took the stage and offered up a workmanlike set of their older material along with some songs I didn't recognize.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: How many of these people played on the original "Free Bird?"
Courtesy of Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lynyrd Skynyrd: How many of these people played on the original "Free Bird?"

Next, instead of Boston, it was a band called Cosmo, featuring Fran and Anthony Cosmo, a father and son who had both performed on the road with Boston at one point or another. The more I thought about it, the more I grew terrified of the upcoming Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at Celebrity Theatre.

You see, I fell in love with Skynyrd at the beginning of my high school classic-rock phase. In no time, I had collected all their albums and some rare vinyl, paid way too much to see them live, and alienated my college roommate by refusing to listen to anything else.

As time wore on, I realized that the lineup that bore the Skynyrd name was not the lineup I had fallen in love with. Everyone knows that the plane crash killed singer Ronnie Van Zant and half the gang, but since then, five more members have died, and now the band's only ties to the '70s include founder Gary Rossington, Ronnie's brother, Johnny, and drummer-turned-guitarist Rickey Medlocke.

When pianist Billy Powell died of a heart attack in June, Rossington was left as the only member of the band that recorded the familiar versions of "Free Bird" and "Sweet Home Alabama" that you hear on the radio.

The disconnect gradually turned me off, and I eventually adopted a more detached, somewhat ironic, appreciation for the band. And now I was going to be tasked with reviewing their show. Standing in Oregon, waiting for "Boston" to take the stage, I was having trouble reconciling what I expected to be writing in a month with what my younger self would have written.

Despite the fact that these acts were not the genuine article and despite the fact that the bands' claims to fame bordered on frivolous, West Fest was charging an admission fee for the first time ever, and this usually small festival instead saw thousands turn out to rock along with whoever the dude onstage was. Waiting for "Boston" to play the hits we all know and love, all I could think about was the fact that half the guys onstage looked as though they were young enough to be breastfeeding when the songs they were playing in 2009 first hit the airwaves. I was filled with resentment.

But I'll be damned if the resentment didn't melt away when they made the transition between "Foreplay" and "Long Time." Fran Cosmo didn't sound anything like Brad Delp, but really, rock 'n' roll has never been about vocal talent. The guitars were there, and they sounded like the guitars I loved. And every single person in the crowd was jamming along. I swear to God that I saw a 70-year-old blind woman put her orange-tipped cane in the air and start headbanging.

Suddenly, I was getting into it, and that's when I realized that even though you can't always get the band back together, it doesn't really matter. Concerts are about latching onto something tacitly connected to the music's source. When that happens, it's not hard to understand why the feeling seems to rub off on everyone onstage and in the audience. Maybe it didn't work for The Kingsmen, who had trouble charting with anything other than covers, but Boston built its fan base by writing rock epics and touring the hell out of them.

Suddenly, I wasn't stressing the Skynyrd show quite as much.

I've since asked Skynyrd fans about what keeps them coming back to see a band that bears little resemblance to what they heard when they first heard Skynyrd's 1976 live album. They told me about the music and how it had touched their lives this way or that, but I was frustrated that no one could really address the issues brought up by the band's revolving-door lineup.

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4 comments
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JC
JC

Your story on Lynryd Skynyrd got my attention (Tuesday's Gone). The inconsistencies are many. Ricky Medlocke was nothing more than a session drummer for the band in the early 70's. He never went out on the road with them. He didn't leave Skynryd to start Blackfoot, he never was in the band to begin with. He states it's Gary Rossingtons prerogative who he has in the band. While that part may be true he doesn't have the final say in anything the band does, Judy VanZant Jeness does. It is also a well known fact among the die hards that there must be three original members in the band to call it Lynyrd Skynyrd. Unless Rossington bought out the contract from Allen Collins family it is still the same. You stated that Medlocke joined up with the band after they reconstituted which is also false. The lineup consisted of Gary, Leon, Billy, Artimus, Ed King, Barry Harwood and Jonny Vanzant. Only after Ed got sick did Medlocke join up with the band along with Hughie Thomasson some years later. I have been a fan of this band since they were known as The One Percent Band and have sat down with Ronnies dad Lacy and have spoken to him extensively about the ins and outs of the family and the band. So if you want to know what the actual history is please let me know. I hate to see an article that has so many mistakes in it about a band that I know inside and out. And Medlocke well he's in his own world always has been.

Donna G. Adams
Donna G. Adams

Just an added note. If the "ill fated" crash was in October 1977, how did Cyrus see the original band in the early '80's. The reunion tour was not until 1987. Me thinks he saw a diferent band. lol

aphtech55@yahoo.com
aphtech55@yahoo.com

I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd last night at Winstar World Casino. They were awesome!! And yes I know it is not the original band. But what band around for thirty years has all the original members? With Johnny on vocals, to stand in for Ronnie(Johnny would be the first to tell you that no one can replace Ronnie), it is as close to the original as it could be. The heart of Skynyrd is what keeps them going and what keeps the fans coming back for more. I have seen the original Skynyrd in July "77 just before the plane crash and I have seen the "new" version. It is the same soul and heart that you heard from Ronnie. What you hear is the convictions and beliefs of the band and guess what, that just happens to be the same beliefs as a lot of people. If the fans did not believe what they were singing they would not keep coming back. It is such a rush when they come out on stage, can't get that feeling anywhere else. When I started reading this article, I was prepared to be mad at the writer. But after reading it, I say, "way to go, good writing". I have seen the band trashed in several articles because they are not the originals and that just makes me mad. They do not claim to be the original. And as for Cyrus in Austin, if you are gonna talk about them, at least learn how to spell SKYNYRD. lol

Cyrus
Cyrus

Good article. Although I will say that I haven't really cared for the incarnation of Skynerd since that ill-fated plance crash. I saw the original Skynerd back in the 80's when they just came out with Second Helping (screw Frampton, everybody had this ablum!) and they blew me away just because they were so real. No fancy light shows, explosions, etc. Just a bunch of regulars guys who came in in their jeans and smoking onstage and giving it all they had and it only cost $6.00! I got right in front Gary Rossington with my arms on the stage (they didn't have barriers back in those days!) just as he tore into the Freebird. Those were two shows I will never forget :-) Miss ya Ronnie!

 
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