The Lineup Card (1971-1977)
Ronnie Van Zandt (vocals) Died 1977
Gary Rossington (guitar) also of Rossington-Collins Band
Allen Collins (guitar) also of Rossington-Collins Band
Leon Wilkeson (bass)
Bob Burns (drums) 1971-1974
Billy Powell (keyboards)
Ed King (guitar) 1971-1976
Artimus Pyle (drums) 1974-77
Steve Gaines (guitar) 1976-1977
Capn's Note: This page does not specifically reference the post-crash Johnny Van Zant version of this band, but may in the future. This band's best work was in the Seventies, there's no doubt about that.
Lynyrd Skynyrd represent something both beautiful and utterly disgusting about living in the United States of America, and as Redneck America's pet band, are about as open to as much misguided elitist urbanite leftist wussball criticism as any artist outside of the guy who sang 'Ballad of the Green Berets'. To hear it, this is either one of the best or very worst bands to ever come out of the Seventies, the embodiment of Southern Rock at a time when the Allman Brothers were a fading giant with too many aimless jams and not enough rabble-rousing biker badassism, when the slickness of California suburbia rock was failing to connect with the folks back in the pines. Skynyrd, in their time, was a fearsome rock band that demanded respect from their peers, but somehow managed to operate outside of the usual rock establishment. You simply didn't expect the likes of Ronnie Van Zandt to go schmoozing with Cher at Hollywood parties, and you goddamn well didn't see it happen, either. And for a time, you could make a case that Skynyrd, love 'em or hate 'em, had a formula that worked a charm. They were loud (they had three guitars that weren't just there for show), at least as crunchy as the Stones, able to pop out a jam like Duane but also riff it like Zeppelin if need be, defiantly Southern (which does not always equal 'defiantly conservative', no matter how much his dimbulb younger brother might have you believe), and defiantly anti-bullshit. Also unlike the Allmans, they were absolutely and completely unpretentious...just a bunch of down-home brothers with t-shirts with whiskey stains on 'em, though, like John Fogerty, somehow pushing the boundaries in their own hard-nosed way. And, most of all, their songs were tough, catchy, and immediately memorable. If you're counting, in less than four years time, they generated enough memorable radio hits to fill a pretty fatless 2-album hits collection, and hopelessly clog up the Southern airways for more than thirty years without any real challengers.
But Skynyrd, somewhat wrongly at first, were branded for life with the Redneck Rock tag by both their fans and detractors. To outsiders, they were little hairball George Wallaces, drinkin' moonshine, worshipping NASCAR drivers, wearin' coonskin caps, ready to lynch the first nigger that looks at 'em crosseyed. To insiders, they were One of Us, people who Knew What It Was Like to be Southern, White, Poor, and Misunderstood. They Loved America, Momma, and Knew The Way Things Were Supposed to Be. They had been Sent From God to Protect Our Precious Way Of Life. Well, goddamn it, they were both fucking wrong. The Seventies Skynyrd weren't racists (hell, they knew where all their music came from, and appreciated it), weren't reactionary attack dogs, and weren't mindless party animals. They were just a bunch of normal, flawed guys with a healthy cynicism for the system and a soft spot for the 'swampahs', which, again, bore a lot of resemblance to ol. Fogey himself. Except, you know, Skynyrd weren't from the Bay Area.
Of course, when I say 'them', I of course mean 'him' - talented, witty dead-as-doornail bandleader and vocalist Ronnie Van Zandt, and not his somewhat less intellectually convincing bandmates. When Van Zandt died in that fateful plane crash that also took Steve Gaines in 1977, the real Skynyrd died forever. The fact that they attempted to supplement the legend in the late 80's by reincarnating a cartoonish retread version of the band fronted by younger brother Johnny Van Zandt and touring every last country fair and rodeo they can get their hands on testifies to their desperate lack of shame. These days, they're cultivating a fanbase that's every bit as ridiculous and misguided as the old Deadheads used to be, a group of idiots that identify with The Southern Redneck Ideal to which they aspire. The fact that the New Skynyrd encourage that Dixie flag-waving-gunrack-Daniels-Harley-shitkicker image is irresistible for their hardcore fans but damned impossible for any outsider to take seriously. Take into account that the Rossington-Powell led band has also heartlessly exiled original drummer Artimus Pyle and guitarist Ed King and you're talking about a money machine that cares more about the gate receipts than the songs it plays.
The truth is, Skynyrd is neither 'America's Band', representing all that is true and good and hairy about the Reyd, Whahht, 'n' Bleew, or the bane of good taste that is neither enjoyable or applicable to anyone who lives north of the Kentucky-Indiana border. In fact, they're simply a pretty great hard rock band led (well, used to be led) by a pretty smart dude who probably had more sincerity in his beard than most rock artists have in their entire bodies....they just happened to be from Florida, and, well, never much let you forget about it. And that's where the problem lies - these guys are so much a product of their Jacksonville roots, just like, say, Lou Reed is a product of New York, or Van Morrison of Ireland, or Ryan Adams from No-Talent Asshole Land - that it's easy to let your stereotypes take over when reality stops and use a few choice lines in 'Sweet Home Alabama' to color your opinion of the band. Their musical muscle outweighs all their trappings, anyhow, and if you really want to criticize this band, call 'em formulaic.
Goddamn! Three guitars, some magnificent instrumental passages, skull-busting hooks, and you're still gonna knock this band? Well, if their albums hadn't slowly descended in quality from the peak of their debut, laying bare the fact that Skynyrdsongs are essentially much the same as each other, perhaps I'd feel better. Plus, taken as individuals, I'm also not much convinced that any of these musicians is all that impressive. The guitar players are mostly flashy technocrats, next to soulless when compared with true masters like Roy Buchanan, Eric Clapton, or ol' Duane himself (and don't have anything near the unique country-zonk style of a Dickie Betts), the rhythm section is good but undifferentiated from any number of bar bands, and even Ronnie Van Zandt's voice, for all it's tough-guy realism, has little of Gregg Allman's soulful flare. For these reasons, plus the fact that Skynyrd pretty much only did two things well (the Big Crunchy Anthem and the Tight Bastard Rocker), I can't really count Skynyrd as one of the important American bands in history, not like the Beach Boys or CCR, but we can still thank the Good Lord of Southern Rock that the rednecks don't worship 38 Special or Black Oak Arkansas instead.
Steve Your Rating:
Any Short Comments?: Skynyrd's newer CDs are just bland, corporate rock music; you're not missing much. IMHO, the only Johnny V-led CD that's worth hearing now and then is THE LAST REBEL, which I'd give a B-. Apart from that, LYNYRD SKYNYRD 1991 (C), EDGE OF FOREVER (D), and VICIOUS CIRCLE (C+) have maybe three or four decent songs, but are otherwise unexceptional. Hell, even Charlie Daniels' more recent CDs are better buys than any new Skynyrd CD--as jingoistic as he often is nowadays, at least Daniels can laugh at himself, and his band can still cook (especially on TAILGATE PARTY and ROAD DOGS) while the new Skynyrd seems to consider humor or any sign of smoke or sweat off-limits. Just my view, though.
pronounced len-nerd skin-nerd
The Skins set the killer formula on their debut, apparently recorded a few years after the songs had already been 'broken in' live and on studio demos (collected in fully-written but underproduced form on The Complete Muscle Shoals, reviewed, well, somewheres 'round here), and they do indeed sound completely fleshed out and ready to rip out some throats. Now, I'll go ahead and say it now before I go and review the rest of this band's catalog - there's nothing on any of their later albums, with the possible exceptions of 'Sweet Home Alabama' and 'Saturday Night Special', that wasn't first conceived of on pronounced. And as predictable as George W. Bush mispronouncing 'initiative', Skynyrd capably only produce two different kinds of songs here, the Big Ballad and the Crunchy Boogie. The Big Ballad would never be any better for Skynyrd than it is on this album, presented in triplicate: the somewhat listless, 'Tuesday's Gone', 7 ½ minutes of tear-jerkin' brightened by some expensive keyboard sounds, the growling, defiant, but also crushingly unvaried 'Simple Man', and the King Biscuit Flower Glower of all power ballads, 'Freebird', complete with the whiny slide guitar lead and the manic Allman-beating three-guitars-as-one unison instrumental passage (it's not a 'jam', because no three humans alive could repeat these lines during a bout of improvisation, unless they're RoboRocker or something.) that is so delightfully, tastelessly over-the-top it actually becomes wonderful and tasteful again. Supposedly, 'Freebird' is dedicated to l'il Duane Allman, but the lyrics sure sound like good ol' 'babe I'm gonna leave you' fuck 'em and leave 'em ramblin' man cliche. The lyrics of 'Tuesday's Gone' are more convincing as a fist-pumpin', crowd-pleasin' life anthem ('livin' right' versus 'Goodbye and Thanks for all the Cat') than the 'Bird', but trying to determine the motivations behind Skynyrd fans is like asking yourself how Ben Affleck turned out to be such a useless Ken doll of an actor. Van Zandt, however, is able to somehow sing it with enough controlled emotion that makes his stunning crescendo into 'Flyyyy Hiiiiiighhh Freeeee Birrrrd, yeah!' the most recognizable Skynyrd hookline outside of maybe the 'toin it up' that kicks off 'Alabama'. I've always felt that the soloing goes on a little long, the fade-out section following the 'rave-up' climax crosses the line into showboating guitar ambience rather than charged soloing, but we'll let it go. Hell, they loved ol' Duane, and Duane loved shit like this, so let's just say it's part of the tribute and say it goes on just long enough.
The rockers, however, were at a point that could still stand some improvement, but it's still hard to argue with their bullet-tight performances and technically challenging riffs. Most memorably, 'Gimme Three Steps' adds a lead line that is somehow cartoonishly Western (it almost sounds like the Eagles from the same period but, you know, with hair on the chest) over a stomping boogie that feels torn from the sticky Linoleum floor of a dusty roadhouse. How the three guitars and the bass player can play these slowly morphing lines so tightly (which they could also nail in concert, in case you're blaming studio trickery), is testament to their apparently grueling rate of rehearsal. That and the fact that they had some years to get it down right, but no one who's listening to the album cares that these songs are from 1971 and not 1973, do they? Anyhow, isn't it great to hear a 'macho' song about a guy wanting to run ass-on-fire away from a fight with a threatening dude? It's funny, humble, and probably a whole lot closer to real life than anything those poseur Eagles came up with for Desperado. Skynyrd do a little posing of their own on the unoriginal Poison Whiskey, sounding both uncomfortably similar and more uncomfortably inferior to Idlewild South-era Allman Brothers, the clear inspiration for this track. 'Things Goin' On' and 'I Ain't the One' are more in their voice, with 'Things' moving from a decrepit, draggy protest song to the cheeriest of supercharged Willie and the Poor Boys stomps in a breathtaking bit of arrangement, and 'I Ain't the One' crackles with the tough attitude and tougher riffage that would pull the band's later hard rockers over.
I suppose this leaves 'Mississippi Kid', which as an acoustic country-blues is quite clearly the odd man out. The clean harmonica work and straight-tempo give this one a very genuine feel, and I can't help but believe this rootsier area was one place that Skynyrd didn't explore nearly enough during their existence...they were one of the few bands that could've done this stuff without coming across like they were showing off their 'range' (ala Clapton, even the 70's Allmans) or performing a bizarre parody (ala the Stones, Zeppelin) of the kindly ol' black guys who pioneered this stuff. If there's nothing else about Skynyrd, with their lack of originality and diversity, they're authentic, and when they play it rootsy, by God it comes out rootsy.
There's something about pronounced, perhaps because of all of those soggy ballads, that seems to be missing from the band's later albums - vulnerability. I guess when this album was recorded, the band had already probably been burned a few times, and were no doubt wondering if this would be their one and only shot to take a hammer to the golden piggy bank of fame, so they brought their A-game in a way that the other albums didn't really have. They mixed up their song choices better, including a better balance of the mean and soft, than they ever would again, and generally opened themselves and their talents up in a way that brought folks in and gave 'em a piece of Kayro-nut pie and a dollop of Cool Whip and invited them to take their boots off and stay awhile. That's what young, innocent Southern punks'll do when they have something important to say to you.
Capn's Final Word: Hey! Southern rock by headbangers instead of jazzbos! Maaah-velous!
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Any Short Comments?: Great, great album this is. Ironically, though there are 7 Skynyrd members on the cover, there are actually only two guitarists playing on most of this--bassist Leon Wilkeson had briefly skipped the band, and they drafted guitarist Ed King to sub on bass. Wilkeson rejoined the band in time to make the final cover, but as a result of his leaving, King plays mostly bass and not guitar on this album . The big jam at the end of Freebird is actually Rossington on rhythm guitar, and Allen Collins doing two leads at once via overdubbing... of course, when King switched over to guitar, this became easier to do live! By the way, yer totally right about the Skynyrds NOT being reactionaries--check out the lyrics for "Things Going On," which are about as left-wing populist as anything John Fogarty ever wrote.
Second Helping - MCA 1974
Skynyrd's big 'growing up' record, meaning that they've washed the beer foam and loogies off their pronounced image and reconfigured themselves as the social commenters of the Southern rock scene, dying to be taken as seriously in their lyrics as they were in their musicianship. They tackle Southern pride (and Southern government, and injured Southern pride), the unfortunate compromises of the music biz, the underappreciated contributions of black folks, drugs, but gosh, do they have to seem so goddamn serious themselves? This version of Lynyrd Skynyrd is less fun and more conventional than the one that made the rollicking debut album, and at times seems damn close to shutting down shop altogether, and at other times perfectly happy to pull an AC/DC and do more assembly-line boogie rockers that are just as good as the original if only half as exciting...you know how hard it is to get your excitement up for re-watching a thriller once you know that Kaiser Sose isn't real, you can kill the aliens with a water gun, Bruce Willis is actually dead, and the mother is Norman. 'Don't Ask Me No Questions' is an okay remake of 'Gimme Three Steps', though not as much good-timey fun at all. Lyrically, 'Don't Ask' is downright cranky, where Van Zandt essentially tells whomever (his lover, his friends...his fans?) that it'd be okay to talk about fishing, but if you ask him any 'stupid questions', he'll be flying out the screen door like the milkman having been caught shtupping your wife. Whatever...it's your second album, dude. Maybe you can give the whole jaded rock star thing a rest for a little bit. The other rockers are decent but similarly unaffecting - 'Swamp Music' sure doesn't sound very swampy (sounds like the Grateful Dead's early 70's Pigpen country-rock songs, as a matter of fact), and 'Needle and the Spoon' sure doesn't sound grave enough as an anti-drug song, not like the sleazy, slimy 'That Smell' would several years later, anyway, and is there any clue why 'Was I Right Or Wrong' recreates most if not all of the instrumental sections of 'Gimme Three Steps' in the context of a slow, moody rocker about his father's death? It's all a bit too muddled for its own good, a bit too restrained, and I for one ache for the bare-ass rollicking of the debut. Not that I want Skynyrd to be a bunch of leather-clad metal mongrels or anything, but this stuff is just low on the gas I know Skynyrd's got in it's tank. Only 'Workin' for MCA' delivers fully on the band's potential, a cocky, growlingly back-handed blow at the record business that had just given him and his buddies a nice contract the year before. How's that for gratitude, boys? And to think most people believe the Sex Pistols were the first on this industry-bashing kick...phsa! The Pistols were about as groundbreaking as a bag of dirty socks. Of course, true balls would've been to put 'MCA' on the debut to see what would happen, but maybe we wouldn't have a Skynyrd to kick around if that'd happened. I also like the effortless version of J.J. Cale's 'Call Me The Breeze', but that's a cover. Trained monkeys could cover a Cale tune and make it sound like the second coming of 'Tulsa Time'.
Apparently part of their newfound stoicism is to strip down their ballads to a bare, quivering minimalism that begs little attention next to their bid debut buddies. The worst of the worst is the gratingly slow 'I Need You', featuring the worst kind of Skynyrd non-riff and Van Zandt croaking out his lyrics as if he were so bored he couldn't wait to get down to the bar. If I'd been in his shoes, trying to come up with a new way of singing 'I nee-yeee-yeeed yeeewww!' in the sixth straight minute of this dozer, I'd have felt the same way. Probably would've been awful. Hell, heartfelt or no, I also think the 'Ballad of Curtis Leow' is pretty lame as well, especially when you consider it can't hold a candle to the bulletproof authenticity of 'Mississippi Kid'. Suffice it to say that all the 'Freebird's are on the debut where they belong.
I'm completely underwhelmed by Second Helping, especially considering the accolades it usually gets (Skynyrd's best album! The peak of Southern Rock! Cures Psoriasis Without Causing Drowsiness! Your Ticket to Spiritual Salvation!), but that's not held up by the evidence of this record. Sure, sure, 'Sweet Home Alabama' is a monster song, quite possibly the best expression of Skynyrd's free-wheelin' musical style and underestimated intelligence, and I'm sure you've heard it, or at least heard all about it. Maybe sung it in a bar, possibly. Sung it at karaoke. Sung it at karaoke in Cozumel, Mexico just before doing six shots of random tequila and spending the rest of the evening attempting to lick the neck of any female under the age of 50 at Senor Frog's. Or not, but besides 'Alabama', 'Breeze', 'Questions', and 'MCA', I don't hear the same quality of tunes here as on the debut, and even those songs aren't given the same charismatic, enthusiastic performance that you got last time. Still, it's a good album, and for Skynyrd I think we have to suppose that this is already the peak, or just after it. They'd continue downhill from here, from producing albums with a majority of the tracks as blistering bits of Southern Power to albums not even half worth mentioning, in just a few years. Who knew that the Skynyrd power reserve was so shallow?
Capn's Final Word: I won't call them leftovers, but other than a few gems, they could've used a spin in the ol' microwave oven first.
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Fancy - MCA 1974
Well, one thing's fancy, and that's the opening 'Saturday Night Special', a flesh-flayin' display of redneck hard-rock guitar interplay that pops and crackles like its dynamo's about to blow. It's about little cheap pistols that 'ain't good for nuthin' but puttin' a man six feet in a hole', and if there was ever a point at which full-on Lynyrd Skynyrd grit meets artistry, it's on this most electrifying of singles. Dig the subtle use of swooshy keyboards, dig the off-beat percussion 'twak!' noises, and definitely dig the dive-bombin' reentry from the lockstep instrumental section. Goddamn I love divebomb guitars....Edward Van, 'I Wanna Know If It's Good to You', that one song on Daydream Nation....aww mannnn. I'd trade in every Hammond organ lick I've ever heard just to have more songs with whammy-bar madness like the classic laser zap on here. Whoo! I mean, who can hate this band if they write a song as good as this?
Well, yeah, otherwise on Nuthin' Fancy they lay it back in a string of solid little mid-tempo rockers that might just slide by without burning your voicebox if you're not payin' good attention. This, my friends, is not the Skynyrd of Second Helping, not the Skynyrd around which legends were created and virgins sacrificed, but I still prefer it...eight songs and not a damn one of them sucks? Not a single filler tune? Well, hell, man, I'll trade in an 'MCA' and a 'Sweet Ass Mamma Jamma' on that and a bag of pork rinds any day. Fancy is almost sublime in it's muscular understatedness (after, of course, the early cumshot of the leadoff track). I've never heard Van Zandt play it as jazzy-cool soulful as he does on the organ-driven 'Cheatin' Women', and the defiantly Luddite 'I'm a Country Boy' is 10 thousand-fold more convincing than 'Swamp Rock Flim Flam' from the last album. Tighter rockin', too, as the three guitars once again remind us throughout this album that they can form a living, breathing dragon of crunchy grind and move reflexively between Allman Brothers lead harmonies and Brit-rock hard riffage. 'Saturday Night', 'Country Boy' and 'On the Hunt' are tasty porkchop-lickin' good studies in this kind of well-practiced 'little' rock, hard and loud without losing, you know, the razor's edge cut of it all. The album finishes with 'Whiskey Rock 'n' Roller', which falls in the same lineage as 'Gimme Three Steps' and 'Call Me the Breeze' and such, and sure doesn't embarrass itself. Fine, lyrically it's as fresh as Liz Taylor's birth canal with its enlightening view of life on the road ('It's dull!' 'There's lots of chicks!' 'We drink so much we make Ed McMahon look like a Buddhist monk!'), but let's face it...a Skynyrd album without a good-timey rocker would be like Pee Wee's Playhouse without the weird Jungle Fever sexual subtext between Miss Yvonne and Cowboy Curtis.
I also respect 'Am I Losin', the Dickie Betts-y rumination on the price of fame that slyly interpolates a few stealth bars of 'Sweet Home Alabama' into its center section, hinting that everything's different now that Van Zandt has more money than the entire population of Florida. Taken with 'Country Boy' and 'Made In the Shade', a leech-woman slam (which is supposedly about a railroad workin' man, but c'mon...it's about groupies, let's be honest with ourselves here), not to mention 'MCA' and about a dozen others, it seems that Van Zandt's got plenty of healthy angst about his new job as the Spokesman for the Redneck Carter Voter. Sure, it's a little tiresome that pretty much every Skynyrd song is self-referential, making this band the most navel-gazing since Mott the Hoople, but at least Van Zandt's lyric make it clear that he's still humble and more than a bit confused about how he got to this position, considering he's just a 'Whiskey Rock 'n' Roller', after all. But that's just the thing...he ain't. He's a sharp dude, and I'm not even sure he understands his own abilities. For awhile, it's held his band in the tenuous position of writing and performing brilliant songs without any undue pretension or unearned bravado (and never more deftly than on this record right here), but it seems that he's started to convince himself that mediocrity might be the answer, and that's a dangerous sonofabitch. Take a look at the next album and tell me they don't drop the string in a morass of cliche, exhaustion, and retreat to see the fruits of Van Zandt's continued self-absorption. Here, though, thank Christ, he's still at the top of his game.This album would, in fact be for 'fans' of Lynyrd Skynyrd only, though lemme qualify that first. This is a great entry point for people who like the idea of Lynyrd Skynyrd much more than the singles they play endlessly on FM radio, or folks who've worn out their copies of pronounced and are looking for something a bit more, you know, mature. Though, again, praising Skynyrd's 'maturity' is sort of like praising the table manners of a Tourette's sufferer...it's all loud and uncompromising and defiant, anyway, and if you don't buy the Skynyrd 'thing', I doubt the relative restraint and subtle power of Fancy Pants is going to sway your sweatpants. Hell, I think it's excellent, and easily overlooked because of the lack of big, stereotypically Southern singles, and if you don't buy it because of the drab cover and uninspiring title, now that's your damn loss.
Capn's Final Word: Camouflaged greatness. Proves they've got it where it counts even when the hooks aren't huge.
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Gimme Back My Bullets- MCA 1975.
The well's a runnin' dry, and though the body's willin' the brain can muster the park to turn this puppy over. Bullets attempts another Nuthin' Fancy - low-profile rock tunes showcasing the band's eerily telepathic guitar interplay and tight songwriting, except the songwriting ain't tight and it doesn't give the rockers enough of a snap to make the manic ensemble work worth too much. Hell, taking a look at Ye Olde Track Listing has got to clue you in that this one just ain't made of the same cloth as the first three have been. The first two are packed with crowd-pleasin' hit-package prime suspects, which sometimes covered up the fact that the othertunes were kind of lame, and though Nuthin' Fancy only had one sure-fire monster single, the rest was as solid as Mia Hamm's pincushion. Gimme Back My Songwriting cheats us out of any of that stuff...the title track confusedly attempts to recreate the loose rock of 'Saturday Night Special' by invoking guns and a minor-key, three-guitars-careening riff, but it ends up sounding merely grumpy rather than seething, and the riff is burbling rather than slicing. And what's with the moronic lead guitar line? Whomever the soloist is (Rossington? Sheet, like I can tell...) can't even make his guitar cut through over the din of the mix. Bummer...I know what they were attempting here and I'm a bit offended by it. It's one thing to rewrite a basic barroom rocker like 'Three Steps', but to take a groundbreaking rocker and attempt to repackage it in the exact same position on the very next album is cheap and flimsy. To be sure, I expected more from this band. It could be the fault of losing a third of their guitar power when Ed King jetted prior to this album, but isn't that what guitar overdubs are for? Or in fact did they lose more than just a third after all?
The other songs are more faceless and tired than the ones on Tom Clancy, though in the end I simply like hearing how the parts of Skynyrd work together too much to slam it too hard. I love the lead piano section that plays out the congested 'Every Mother's Son', the 10 zillionth song Ronnie Van Zandt's written about how money's made every creep in his past come crawling out from under a rock to bug him. 'Trust' is a snappy little rocker, but not anything more exciting than that, and 'I Got The Same Ol' Blues' (yet another J.J. Cale tune) and 'Roll Gyspy' both lay back so far it's comatose. 'Double Trouble' always gets a mention by critics because good ol' Stevie Ray used it for the name of his band, but if he only played riffs this generic, he'd never have made it off Sixth Street. (Come to think of it, if Skynyrd had only played riffs this generic, they'd never have made it off the Shoals).
They attempt a bit of old timey duel-guitar ass-branding on 'Searching', but never really make it stick. Lacking confidence, 'Searching' is almost desperately trying to replicate a little bit of the young debut-album swagger, but the hooks are transparent, the guitar lines weak, and most of the solos sound like random fucking about more than charged up Lynyrd leads. Somehow something very tangible has been lost here, people, and though Skynyrd is still competent, very little of this is anything more than that. Hell the last two tracks ('Cry For The Bad Man' and 'All I Can Do Is Write About It') are either half as tough or half as authentic (respectively) as I'm sure they were intended to be and end the album on a distinct stinker note. Man, I don't even like the live album refugee bonus tracks of the title track and 'Bad Man' much either, and I thought the badass rustler energy of One More From the Road could fix anything, like MacGyver can.
Man, wotta flat, bludgeoning 2X4 of a record this turned out to be. I suppose the Skynyrd professionalism is still in place, and Van Zandt still sings everything in that marvelously convincing, side-wise monotone of his, and the guitar tones are still imminently crunchy, but the songs just simply aren't here. Listen, I'd get this cheap, just to complete the 'legitimate years' Lynyrd Skynyrd collection, but just make sure you don't mix this in with Nuthin' Fancy...these are two completely different albums in terms of quality. And do yourself a favor - learn to love these songs on the live album before picking up the studio version. The difference is HUGE.
Capn's Final Word: As flat as the Skinflutes get, which is still pretty good, though. What happened to the songwriting?
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Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: Maybe they DID lose more than a third of their guitar power when King left... well, actually, all three were great guitarists, but King wrote the music for most of the best sonds from the previous few albums... Sweet Home Alabama, Working for MCA, Saturday Night Special to name a few. Ironically, I just heard that Nu-Skynyrd just lost the guitarist that they kicked Ed King out to hire... maybe they need to give King and Pyle a call!
From the Road - MCA 1976
A big fucking live wouldn't-you-know-it from the Ledskins circa Gimme Back My Bullets summer tour that saez, yeah, this band was pretty great live, too. I'm not surprised, considering these guys were road pigs of the Grateful Dead Endless Tour stripe, hitting all the Birmingham, Alabamas and Charlotte, North Carolinas that constituted their fanbase and giving them a nice heapin' slice of triplet guitar attack. Unlike the Dead or the Allmans, however, Skynyrd didn't much dig on the jamming side of things, and Road plays out songs that run extremely close to their studio counterparts in terms of running time and arrangement. There are a few conspicuous guitar solos grafted onto the tunes, but I wouldn't call them excessive. In fact, they fit right in...what's a bit more bluesy finger-twiddling when you're already drowning in an ocean of guitar funk anyway? The setlist is strong and avoids too many surprises with the self-penned material - they noticeably shy away from the thin Bullets material and concentrate on their first two albums, not that I wouldn't have done the same thing if I'd turned out as a hairy Florida redneck instead of a clan-cut Texas one. They play all the primo pronounced material with all the requisite gusto, what with 'Tuesday's Guano', 'Simp Man', 'Gimme Three Sniffs (of your Index Finger)', and, of course, the show-stopping closer (is there any other kind?) 'Free Willy'. Seconds Yelping gets a similarly hefty representation, lending long-needed heft to 'Needle and the Spoon', to name one example. The latter two studio albums don't get nearly the same attention, though they crackle 'Saturday Night Special' with enough professionalism it sounds like they could play it backwards in their sleep and bash 'Gimme Back My Bullets' into something resembling a convincing rock 'n' roll format. In short, all the goods are delivered as ordered, and though at times they outdo themselves, there are other times I have to ask...is this it? Perhaps they're overpracticed, or over-overdubbed, but the overall over/under is that sometimes I wish they'd play with a bit more passion than practice. I mean, they comp way too much, seem to tiptoe around Van Zandt's vocals instead of egging him on. Van Zandt? Well, he sings, every damn bit like on the studio versions...no blown notes, no huff'n'puff missed syllables, no running around, no undue bullshit whatsoever. But for a guy who really gets off when Ian Gillan goes apeshit with his screeching, or Otis Redding brings down the tears from on high, or Roger Daltrey screams like the end of the world has begun in his trousers, Van Zandt's laid back control seems a little bit like cheating. And don't call me Shirley. These guys are so damned practiced that when they play 'Crossroads', it's like they've been trying nightly since Wheels of Fire came out in 1968 to make an exact replica of Cream's version, down to Jack Bruce's vocal inflections and all of that. I tell you, I'm not exaggerating here...this isn't merely a band paying homage to their forebears, this is Revell Airplane Scale Model rock. And what it gives in tightness and adequacy, it takes away in spontaneity.
Of course, most people just care about 'Free Bird', and it's hard to say they don't deliver...the slide work is impeccable, and the tempo is never dropped into standstill land, even during a sweet little improvised piano interlude before the beginning of the final verse. In fact, there's two versions of ol' 'Bird' on my copy, if'n you include the bonus tracks, which have to rank as some of the least necessary on any disc I've ever bought. If I'm already doubting how much different this experience really is from the studio albums, the bonus tracks clinch it. They give us extra versions of 'Gimme Three Steps', 'I Ain't the One', 'Searchin', 'Call Me The Breeze', 'Crossroads', 'Sweet Home Alabama', and the aforementioned 'Thick as a Brick', all of which included in the original album and none of them doing anything more than tell us that Lynyrd Skynyrd were so rehearsed they can play the same songs the exact same way in two different places at completely different times. Now if they'd included, say, a copy of Ronnie Van Zandt performing Allen Ginsburg's Howl backed only by three unamplified ukeleles and Artemus Pyle rubbing cream pies into his bare crotch, I'd raise my hands in defense, but some stage chatter isn't enough to make me believe that two birds are better than one, signature tune or not.
Capn's Final Word: It's like drinking Lysol...quite a kick going down but it'll leave you feeling antiseptic.
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Street Survivors - MCA 1977
Right. The one where they're formerly, prophetically engulfed in flames on the cover, released just before the band experienced the horrific plane crash that cut short lives (Van Zandt, Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines) and careers (everyone else)...does this mean they go down in flames, overloaded by the baggage of Gimme Back My Bullets-filler, too much traveling and too much firewater? Not at all, friends, but rather the artistic rebirth of Skynyrd and most probably their best album ever, not to mention a reiteration of Southern rock's commercial power at a time when it had been looking a bit hairy around the nostrils. By 1976, the Allmans were playing out their final strings as a combo before breaking apart until '79, your Molly Hatchetts and your Marshall Tucker Bands hadn't yet spawn from the primordial cowpie, and bluesy rock in general seemed to be on the way out. While I'm not going to claim that Street Survivors saved Southern Rock (it seems like if you want to cast some blame that way, you also shouldn't forget to include Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and that whole outlaw-cowboy country movement for turning on the redneck record buyer), it sure shines as a beacon of artistic success in a puddle of slime. Skynyrd sharpen up their hooks and shine up their classic sound, bright and clear after a period of sludginess, and that's quite enough to transform their former doldrums into a solid, imminently listenable album that seems to be a bit more than any other Skynyrd album outside of the debut. It's a compact, expedient, and damned-near sardine-packed set of eight songs that seem to hit all of the Skynyrd's best sides (convincing C&W, crackling hard rock, good-time boogie, ruminative anthems) and refrain from becoming too much of one particular thing. Of course, they're also recycling their old tunes like an army of Berkley Lesbian Vegan Environazis, but they're doing it well enough and mixing it up deftly enough that I honestly couldn't give a Governor Moonbeam. Case in point - 'What's Your Name' kicks things off with yet one more boogaloo 'Gimme Three Steps' rewrite, but this time a good one with some of the humor that the interim issues lacked. Sure, it's sexist as hell, but how many times have I or you not exactly known who you were professing endless boundless love to, just to get a little bit of the ol' 'bodily fluid transfer'? We're just big walking Darwinian inevitabilities, that's all, baby. Don't take it all personal....besides, Ronnie Van Zandt said it was okay that I sleep with you tonight. And whatever Ronnie Van Zandt says is good for me, unless it's 'Refuel the plane? Man, we've got to be in Baton Rouge in two hours! We ain't got time for that!'
'That Smell' was the second of the hits here, a sleazy, slimy anti-drug tune in the 'Saturday Night Special' vein, darkly funny and effective in a way that, say, 'Needle and the Spoon' never was. The background singers swoop obscenely and the guitars grind, and what is a more effective damnation of drug addiction than reminding people what it fucking smells like? It makes my skin crawl, and I used to hate that, but now I recognize how originally it conveys its sleaze. I'm a big proponent of sleaze.
Anyhow, Skynyrd also record the best Allman Brothers song since 1973 (which was, heh, originally written in 1971! See the demo version on Muscle Shoals, which doesn't explain why they kept this gem in the can for six years while rushing out dog vomit like 'I Need You') with 'One More Time', a half-acoustic ballad with an irresistible sweeping chorus, a brilliant steel guitar (impression? Is that just Steve Gaines with his hand on the volume knob?) and some of the warmest, least contrived arrangement ever on a Skynyrd ballad. Call me Mr. Nuts-In-Mouth, but I prefer the epic crush of 'One More Time' to 'Tuesday's Gone' and 'Simple Man', for sure, and if there were better solos I'd say it was better than 'Freebird', too. Of course, I also think the Monkees' 'Valerie' is a better epic than 'Freebird'. Mental illness is not funny, especially when it's happening to all those people in your head. If you can't trust the voices, who can you trust?
The rest of the album isn't nearly that weighty, but that's a good thing. The second half of Street Survivors is a lightweight, drunken pleasure of good-timey bar rock that has no equals in Southern Rock....it neither takes itself too seriously or lets the essential dignity slip from these super-professional performances. 'I Know a Little' happily boogies the roadhouse, 'You Got That Right' is goofy and not particularly thick, but shows Skynyrd had some potential as arena rockers, competing with the Doobie Brothers for the easy AM dollar, and 'Honky Tonk Might Time Man' shows they could just as easily retreated to roots C&W and made it just as big as urban cowboys. It may have been difficult to discern what exactly Lynyrd Skynyrd was so good at on Gimme Back My Bullets, but on Street Survivors it's hard to tell what kind of rootsy hard rock they couldn't have done well. They don't reinvent any wheels, but their quiet confidence and Van Zandt's shining personality are here better than ever before, making this album required reading for any eight year old who flunks first grade Roots Rock Deliverance.
Capn's Final Word: Cut down in their shiny prime. Their second one.
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Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Just a small nit pick. The Marshall Tucker Band's first lp was released in 1973. So they were making southern/country rock four years before this Skynyrd album was released. You are correct about Molly hatchet. They were yet to come.
First: The Complete Muscle Shoals - MCA 1998
Intriguing for fans of the debut, Muscle Shoals collects a bunch of demos the early Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded in 1971 down at the Home of Booker T and the MG's, proving once and for all that these dudes were waiting entirely too long to finally get a recording contract from MCA. This is mostly made up of the same rarities that ended up on Skynyrd's First...and Last from 1978, and a set of alternate demo versions of pronounced tunes in slightly thin, underproduced, but still fully-fleshed versions. As such, these aren't too hot for casual fans who can't really get a hard-on for another version of 'Freebird' with exactly the same guitar solo as the final version, or an early, highly identical version of Street Survivors' classic 'One More Time', but for big-time Skynyrd Frynds, it's irreplacable. It's damn near a miracle, or at least quite good for a bunch of redneck longhairs who could barely afford to feed themselves. See, Skynyrd at the time were experiencing a sort of creative downpour, and it's hard to see how a rough bunch of young 20-year olds could make music that took even the Allmans a couple of years to nail down, but yet they do it. Unfortunately, like Eddie Van Halen would later experience, they'd begin to run dry not long after their first album was released, but to see the band at their undoubtable peak is thrilling. The guitars still crackle with all of the telepathic tightness of the later days, Van Zandt never sounded deeper or more powerful, and most of these are performed with more fire and vitriol than the ensuing studio versions.
The rarities that never showed up on MCA studio albums aren't up to the same standards as the pronounced material (there aren't any hidden 'Freebirds' or 'Gimme Three Steps', anyway), but I'll take Skynyrd crunching out mean-ass hard rock any time. 'Preacher's Daughter' is uncharacteristically venomous, making it sound like Van Zandt wants to cook and eat the aforementioned youngster rather than, you know, hold hands in the back row of the picture show or whatever, and 'Lend a Helping Hand' has some of the best guitars of the record. When Skynyrd attempts to cut their coke with fluff is when trouble ensues. Bassist Medlocke's bleating power ballad 'White Dove' is melodic but somehow ridiculous at the same time, and his 'Seasons' tops it by being highly similar but 10 times as boring. Who was this guy? A Jim Messina wannabe? In a band of loud guitar players? No wonder he didn't last. As for other rootsy recycling, 'Comin Home' gives us an unsettling interpretation of CSN harmonies in an even more disingenuous manner than 'White Dove' does airy country rock. Skynyrd as Poco? Skynyrd as Crosby, Stills, and Nash? Man, that's the weirdest thing I've heard all day, and I listened to an Einsturzende Neubauten record, too! The low point, 'Wino' is simply vomitessent Deep Purplizing heavy metal, apparently another one of Skynyrds dead ends. Van Zandt sounds like he's attempting to give birth to a 20-pound bag of dog food on this one. I guess that when you haven't yet risen to the level of a Big Rock Star, and you're starving and your mom and dad are pressuring you to give up, cut your hair, and come home and work at the gas station, you have to do everything you can to convince yourself that you are, in fact, better than the Allmans/Stones/Yardbirds. And what's a more obvious way of doing that than by taking everything to the next extreme from your idols. Of course, being more 'extreme' wasn't what ended up making Skynyrd memorable, not like it was for Aerosmith, and for that reason the more familiar good-timey rock 'n' rollers like 'Down South Jukin' are much more enjoyable and much less likely to give me a rash.
It's a shame they're too busy attempting to snag a contract by sounding as unoriginal as possible when their original work is so clearly preferable. Supposedly these demos scared the fuck out of record execs back in the Seventies, and it's hard not to tell why. Who would want a band that's half California country-rock and half Uriah Heep, anyway? I guess, finally, someone was able to pick the shrooms from the shit and put Skynyrd on the right track (their own track), and aren't we all happy they did.
Capn's Final Word: A demos collection that's a bit too testy at times and waaaay Cali-pussy derivative at others, but the juice is still impressive for the Skynyrd Frynd.
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Matthew Ward Your Rating: D
Any Short Comments?: Since you haven't gotten around to reviewing the Nu-Skynyrd albums (can't blame you for not being in a hurry) I think that Johnny Van Zant is probably not going to become another proverbial Skynyrd "Freebyrd" anytime soon. At least, he's going to try very hard to stay alive for a good long while. Why? Well, I think that his big bro is going to give him a major ass-kicking for "Red White and Blue," and another major ass-kicking for playing at the 2004 REPUBLICAN CONVENTION. Hey, I wouldn't want to get my ass kicked by Ronnie Van Zant either!
You wanna hear Skynyrd in 2004, buy yerself a Drive-By Truckers album, and leave the Nu-Skynyrd well alone. Rolling Stone gave the latest
Skynyrd album a one out of five, and Drive By Truckers leadman Patterson Hood called it "The worst album of the year... nothing so sad as seeing a once-great southern rock band become a right-wing parody of itself."
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