#577: 1973, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gimme Three Steps

by Jackie_South on November 15, 2012

Ray seemed a little upset when he posted his last song that George and I spent Monday evening at Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s Shepherd’s Bush gig, in particular when George called him so that we could share our enjoyment of Sweet Home Alabama with him.

As gigs go, it was an enjoyable experience, if not one that I think either George or I will repeating anytime soon. It was also one of those moments when you feel a little like you have fallen down Alice’s rabbithole: where are all these people who filled the Empire jammed packed normally? Why, as forty-something blokes, were we safely in the younger 50% of the crowd? As Johnny Van Zant said “There’s no crowd like a Skynyrd crowd” – an assertion it is difficult to argue with.

But if the crowd were a little strange, the band were odder.  Of course, it is a bit difficult to play as a band when most of you are dead: Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines died in the 1977 plane crash, guitarist Allen Collins pegged it in 1990 (after first going through a second crash – paralyzed in a car crash in 1986), keyboardist Billy Powell died three years ago.  The only original member left is Gary Rossington (ironically, the band member Ronnie Van Zant predicted would kill himself with drugs), so the band is a bit like a Skynyrd tribute band nowadays.

Rossington seemed the most normal on stage (impressively, for a 60-year old, keeping his long locks that helped name the band).  To find someone as short and ugly as Ronnie, the band have drafted his younger brother Johnny, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Harry Hill’s Wagbo. The drummer appeared to be wearing John McEnroe’s hair circa 1981.  The keyboard player, Mr Keys (yes, really) was a dead-ringer for Roy Wood.  One of the guitarists was surely in Bucks Fizz. I think the bassist has a regular slot busking on the underground.

Oddest of all was Ricky Medlocke, who had actually played with the band before they became famous.  Imagine Victor Meldrew, with a long silver wig covering the back half of his head, crossed with Nigel Tufnell. That’s my version. George’s was Klaus Kinski brought back from the dead and reanimated by a cocktail of electric shocks and cocaine.

But despite all this, it was one of those real, if slightly guilty, pleasures being there.  Yes, the overblown and very long guitar solo in Free Bird helps explain why punk was necessary, but watching a 62-year old gurn his way, a la Spinal Tap, through it was a brilliant joy to behold.  And punk owes Skynyrd some debts too: the Sex PistolsSubmission borrows heavily from their 1974 The Needle and The Spoon (Skynyrd themselves were a band happy to repay their own musical forefathers, with songs praising old bluesmen like Son House).

They were a band that made it big the hard way: years playing bars until they made it big with their first album.  Which included not only Free Bird, but also Gimme Three Steps.

It is the true story of Van Zant getting a gun pulled on him in a Jacksonville biker bar.  As all good bar songs should, it is a story of lechery, drunken stupidity, macho psychotic meatheads and a  narrow escape.

And this is why you have to love them: this is the distilled sound of American bars, of southern Honky-Tonks. It is three-(yes, three)-lead guitar, adrenalin-pumping, boogie-woogie keyboarded, overblown rawk music that does not expect to be taken overly seriously but does ask to be enjoyed.  This is the Rolling Stones as they should have grown old – without the three-figure price tag ticket or the heads-up-its-own-arse-ness.

It may not be complicated, but it is music to raise a drink to.  And Ray of all people should love that.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray_North November 15, 2012 at 7:49 am

A sterling defence Jackie!

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Bobby_West November 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm

This sounds like Status Quo!

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