There’s ubiquity and memories attached to the songs the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd created in the 1970s.
“Free Bird” is a concert staple and recurring joke for people to request. The riff and melody to “Sweet Home Alabama” is instantly recognizable and embedded in the pop culture zeitgeist. “Simple Man” lives on in covers by rock bands like Deftones and Shinedown.
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Paying tribute to the Ronnie Van Zant-led era of Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Artimus Pyle Band is a throwback to the carefree days when those songs changed the sound of rock.
“My older brother, he would bring home stuff like Bachman Turner Overdrive ... and Grand Funk Railroad, that album with the 3-D glasses. But then, it was Lynyrd Skynyrd. I heard that and I was like, ‘Holy cow. This is it,’” Artimus Pyle guitarist Jerry Lyda said.
The band will pay tribute to Skynyrd’s peak era at the debut concert of River Bluff Brewing’s Summer Concert Series starting at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15. Local ’80s cover band Blue Oyster Culture Club will open the concert. The series is sponsored byNews-Press NOW.
A big part of the era of Lynyrd Skynyrd was drummer Artimus Pyle, who provided the backbeats for the band from 1975 to 1977, when it released albums like “Nuthin’ Fancy” and “Street Survivors,” before the group went on hiatus after a plane crash that killed vocalist Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines and several others and severely injured the rest of the band. He returned when the band reunited in 1987 and performed with it until 1991.
Almost a decade ago, Lyda said he was performing with Pyle when the idea struck them that they could pay tribute to that watershed era of the band.
“Artimus called me one day and said, ‘Hey, I got some gigs coming up and they pay pretty good. You want to go do it with me?’ And I said, ‘I’d love to do it. But let’s do it right for a change?’” he said.
Putting together a lineup of seasoned rock veterans like singer Brad Durden, who’s performed with bands like Night Ranger and Foreigner, guitarist Scott Raines, a studio musician, and bassist Dave Fowler, who’s shared the stage with Ronnie Milsap and Tracy Lawrence, the band members have had fun rekindling the spirit of the ’70s.
“When you hear the music that you loved as a kid, it always takes you back to the good times,” Lyda said.
Doing that with the drummer who helped create some of those legendary hits is a dream that Lyda said still surprises him.
“Artimus sort of defined that sound, in my opinion. Often, when you’re standing there, playing with him onstage and you hear all that and you think back to, gosh, when I was a kid in the ’70s ... It’s pretty special,” he said.
Growing up listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blue Oyster Culture Club guitarist Todd Cooper said it feels almost serendipitous to get the opportunity to share the same bill with one of its members.
“I’m really, really excited to get the chance to actually work with him. I mean, he survived the plane crash and he was the one that got out and ran for help and he got shot at approaching someone’s house. There’s all this crazy legacy to it,” Cooper said. “It’s really cool to say that you got to work someone like that.”
While the current iteration of Lynyrd Skynyrd still continues to release albums, Lyda said The Artimus Pyle Band chooses to focus only on the Van Zant era of the band.
“It’s like a ’70s version of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The current band is not even in our train of thought ... And I don’t mean that in a bad way. We focus strictly on the Ronnie Van Zant years,” he said.
Over the years, the band has seen the love and goodwill people have for that era and have enjoyed Pyle’s interpretation of it. It’s landed them as a frequent guest on the Rock Legends Cruise, which features classic acts like Sammy Hagar, Bad Company, Steppenwolf and Kansas. The group has shared stages with bands like The Rolling Stones and The Who.
Lyda said no matter what the stage is, people are always amazed and often brought to tears when the band performs the classic hits ingrained in American rock music.
“I think when people hear those Skynyrd songs, it takes them back to that time in the ’70s when I guess life was simpler. Things were a lot more fun and we’re having a great time,” he said. “We see people cry when we play ‘Simple Man,” when we play ‘Free Bird,’ when we play ‘Tuesday’s Gone.’”
The event will be held in the outdoor concert area of River Bluff Brewing. Tickets are $20 to $50 and available at npnow.news/2KQJqlt. Anyone younger than 21 must be accompanied by a guardian.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live