Lynyrd Skynyrd has joined several other major rock acts, including Kiss, Elton John and Ozzy Osbourne, that have decided to retire from touring and are launching farewell tours to mark the occasion.
For the members of Skynyrd, the decision came down to wanting to go out on their terms, rather than having touring taken away from them.
“Well, the major reason, a lot of it, actually has to do with Gary’s health,” guitarist Rickey Medlocke explained in a recent phone interview. “He’s had a lot of ups and downs in the recent years, heart (disease), etc., you know. Basically, he’s not able to go out and do the real grind as such. And we’re all, we completely understand that.”
Gary, of course is Gary Rossington, the guitarist, singer and last remaining original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. In October 2015, Rossington was sidelined by a heart attack and has had complications since. It’s clear from talking to Medlocke that health issues have taken a toll on Rossington and the band wanted to give fans a proper farewell tour rather than be abruptly forced off the road by a health setback or some other problem.
Right now, though, it looks like this could be a longer farewell than expected. The group had planned to do a three-year final tour, but the pandemic interrupted things as the third year of concerts was just beginning. So now the band is doing a handful of dates each month into November. And the band is hinting that these sort of shorter runs will continue into the future.
Rossington is reporting that he’s in better health than he was when plans for the farewell tour were assembled. The pandemic also caused the band members to appreciate anew being able to play live and connect with fans — and be around each other as bandmates.
So it’s on with the show, and Medlocke said the band’s shows will go beyond the expected selection of hits and fan favorites.
“It’s a mixed bag of tricks,” Medlocke said of the set list, which will include some songs Lynyrd Skynyrd has not played live for some time. “It (the set list) changes, like one night on a Friday night we’ll do one set and on the next night we’ll do a different one. I think that’s one good way of kind of covering all the ground.”
An expansive set list makes sense for Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose career represents one of rock’s most triumphant and tragic tales. Some of the triumphs came early as the group, based out of Jacksonville, Fla. — not exactly known as a hotbed of promising acts at the time — overcame hardscrabble beginnings and several personnel changes to scrap their way to a record deal in the early 1970s with a hard-hitting but soulful brand of Southern rock.
With early hits like the epic “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” helping the group gain a foothold, Lynyrd Skynyrd appeared to be hitting a musical peak with their fifth album, the 1977 release “Street Survivors.” But the album had been out only three days when an October plane crash claimed the lives of singer/songwriter and band leader Ronnie Van Zant, as well as guitarist Steve Gaines and backing singer Cassie Gaines (Steve’s sister), among others.
It looked like Lynyrd Skynyrd had come to a sudden, premature and tragic end. But in 1987, surviving members Rossington, guitarist Allen Collins, bassist Leon Wilkeson, keyboardist Billy Powell and drummer Artimus Pyle decided to revive Skynyrd, bringing in guitarist Ed King (who was in Skynyrd from 1972 to 1975) and singer Johnny Van Zant to replace his late brother, Ronnie, in the new edition of the group.
Lynyrd Skynyrd has been together ever since, putting out eight studio albums and several live releases, while remaining a popular touring act.
Today’s lineup includes Rossington, Van Zant, Medlocke (who was an early member of Skynyrd from 1971-72 before he went on to form the band Blackfoot, which enjoyed a successful run, especially from 1979 and 1981, when that group notched three top 50 albums), Michael Cartellone (drums), Mark Matejka (guitar), Peter Keys (keyboards) and Keith Christopher (bass).
The history of Lynyrd Skynyrd is told in a recent documentary, “If I Leave Here Tomorrow.” Medlocke is pleased that the film gave Rossington a chance to tell the story of the band from his perspective and praised the film for capturing the brotherhood that existed during Skynyrd’s early years and not just the infamous conflicts and fights that have been highlighted in other documentaries on the band.
“It portrays the guys as a band of brothers that got together with an incredible writer named Ronnie Van Zandt, along with Gary (Rossington) and Allen (Collins) and came up with stuff that was from the heart, that really, really made history,” Medlocke said.
“I believe that all of that is portrayed in there. There are happy moments, as well as there are sad moments. It’s a roller coaster ride through the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I’m very happy that Gary had a chance to get on film and tell his side of everything.”
Alan Sculley is a freelance writer for Last Woard Features.