Some in the South still observe the Oct. 20, 1977, crash near Gillsburg, Miss., that killed Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, vocalist Cassie Gaines, as a day of regional mourning. The casualties were not limited to those killed in the wreckage. The surviving band members struggled with physical and psychological impacts that put the band on ice for nearly 10 years. In 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited with five of the surviving members of the pre-crash band, and with Johnny Van Zant—Ronnie's little brother—as lead vocalist.
Since then, through a series of departures, deaths and personnel changes, Lynyrd Skynyrd has continued to record albums and sell-out concerts around the world.
Since May 2018, Lynyrd Skynyrd has been on a global farewell tour, entitled "Last of the Street Survivors." The Jackson Free Press caught up with Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist and vocalist Rickey Medlocke in advance of the band's Sept. 27 concert at the Brandon Amphitheater.
How has the tour been going?
The tour's been going really great, man. Ever since we started this world tour last year, pretty much 90% of the shows have been sold out, and if not sold out, very close to it.
Really, how this all came about is that we were all concerned for Gary's (original band member, Gary Rossington) well-being, because it's pretty common knowledge in the past 10 years or more, Gary had been having issues with his heart.
So in 2017, we decided, "Hey, look, we're just not going to do that 80 to100 shows a year. Let's pull it back, do a farewell in places we have played, and some that we haven't—whether it be in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, South America, New Zealand—wherever." It's been really incredible.
What is it about Lynyrd Skynyrd that accounts for this abiding affection and deep loyalty within your fan base?
You know, Ronnie was a street guy. (He knew) how to speak the words that people could relate to. And I believe that all through the years those songs ... I think people have gotten so (used) to them and understand them so well that the grandparents passed it on down to their kids, and they're passing it on down to their kids—and we see it every night at the shows. So when you see that, you realize just how special that music is. The music speaks for itself.
There've been many times I've been standing at the airport, and somebody will get a phone call and "Sweet Home Alabama" is their ringtone. Or "Free Bird"—and you look that, and it's definitely woven into their lifes. It's in their car, on their phone, movies, television—wherever. It's pretty amazing how this band has just become so endeared and loved, you know.
What are you guys listening to these days?
As far as southern rock goes, you've got some great rock bands out there that are embedded in the South. There's a band from Mississippi called Bishop Gunn that's starting to make a lot of noise. Great band. I mean just a killer band. I look at them and I go, "Now that's rock." It's soulful rock. They've got badass players. They've got a badass singer. And there's others, like Blackberry Smoke and Black Stone Cherry and Cadillac Three. These bands have all got that southern rock essence about them.
You grew up with Ronnie (Van Zant). Any Ronnie stories you can share?
It would take me a week to go through everything [laughs]. The one thing I can tell you, that I can share, is that this guy, in my opinion, was just a total genius. He was a Southern poet. He was a great friend. I just hated to see it end the way it went. I wish he could have been here, and Allen (Collins), Steve (Gaines) and Cass (Cassie Gaines) to see how this all has culminated, right now. I know their spirits are with us every night, and I'm sure that they can see it. But I would have loved for them to have been (heres) and able to see how this has ended up.
I understand that there is a new Lynyrd Skynyrd album coming out sometime after the tour is over. Anything to say about that?
Yep, just that we're getting stuff done, so stay tuned.
Lynyrd Skynyrd will perform at the Brandon Amphitheater (8190 Rock Way, Brandon, 601-724-2726) on Friday, Sept. 27, starting at 6 p.m. For more information, find the venue on Facebook.