EXCERPT from the book, “As I Recall…” Part V, Page 220 – 230
On Saturday, December 30, 1972, I received an early morning phone call from Allen Collins, which went pretty much as follows:
LARRY – (Groggy) “Hello?”
ALLEN -“Tate! What the hell are you doin’?”
L – “Sleepin’, man.”
A – “Well, wake up, motherfucker! This is important! I got some important shit to talk to you about!”
L – “Okay, okay… I’m up… What’s going on?”
A – “How’d you like to join up with us? Be our bass player?”
L – “What?”
A – “You want to do it or not?”
L – “Well, wait a minute… What? … What the hell are you talking about? You know I’m playing with Don and Donnie and them. I can’t just up and leave…”
A – “That’s bullshit! We know Pelkey’s about to quit the band cause y’all ain’t making no money. Wicker’s already talked to Donnie and he says it’s okay with them. Even Donnie knows you’d be a dumbass to pass this up…. You know we got a record deal, right?”
L – “Yeah, I know… but… What brought all this on?
A – “Well, Leon’s quit again. Wicker’s tired of his shit. He says call Larry Steele, so that’s what I’m doing. So what’s it gonna be? Oh, yeah – Billy’s coming too.”
L – “What? …. Well, I know that’s bullshit. I’m looking at his gear right now, here in my living room.”
A – “I don’t mean right now, today. But as soon as he finishes up school.
L – “Well… Hell yeah! I guess so. Hell! I guess I would be a dumbass.”
A – “Okay! Me and Gary are on the way over. You got a bunch of songs to learn, fast!”
L – “Wait a minute! Right now? When we gotta play?”
A – “Tonight!”
L – “What?”
Before I could get out of the shower, I could hear Allen and Gary stomping up the metal stairs of my garage apartment. After slipping into a pair of jeans and a tee shirt I joined them in the living room where most of Alice Marr’s equipment remained, stacked to the ceiling. I reached for an amp to plug into, but Allen insisted we didn’t have time to wire up.
With Allen and I on the sofa, Gary pulled up a chair facing us, as the two of them began showing me how their songs went, playing electric guitars with no amps. Of course, I was already familiar with many of the songs, but had never really tried to play any of their originals. The first one they threw at me was “Gimme Three Steps.”
The next thing I remember, we were on stage at the National Guard Armory in St. Augustine, Florida, and I was butchering nearly every original they had.
At the end of one of the songs I looked over at Ronnie, rolling my eyes and shaking my head. He leaned over to me.
“Look at them people out there, Tate,” he said. “You think any of them knows you fucked up?” He was right, and it made me feel much more comfortable.
The rest of the night blew by.
During one of the breaks I was given the rundown of the plans for going to Atlanta the week of January 8th. We would leave Jacksonville the following Sunday, January 7, and play that Monday through Saturday at the Head Rest. Leon had committed to finishing out this last gig, so the plan was for me to watch and work with him during the week, alternating sets until I had all the songs down. The problem was that no one had been able to contact Leon for days, so it wasn’t for certain that he still intended to show up.
In the event of Leon having a change of heart, the week of January 1 would be full of rehearsals at Hell House, the small, but adequate sweat box of a building in Green Cove Springs, where Skynyrd rehearsed. For the time being, we were in sort of a holding pattern.
As things turned out, Leon was true to his word. Allen called me that Monday and said that Leon had contacted the band and reassured Ronnie that he would be there to fulfill his commitment. At this point it was decided the rehearsals were not necessary, since Leon would be there for the week in Atlanta. We would go through with the original plan of me learning a few songs at a time.
On Friday, January 5th, Ronnie called and asked what was probably the greatest question I had ever been asked.
“Tate, what kind of bass amp do you want?” It took me a second to realize he was serious.
“An Ampeg SVT, with 2 8X10 bottoms.” I answered.
“Who’s got it?” Ronnie asked. I told him Freddie Paulus had it.
“I’ll be there to pick you up in the morning, about 9.” Ronnie said. “We’ll ride down to see Fred, and if you’re sure that’s what you want, we’ll see if we can’t get you one.”
I hung up the phone dumbfounded and shocked. I had to be dreaming. Having recently purchased a new set of RotoSound strings, I was left with about $3.00 in my pocket. Now I would be playing through the best bass rig in the world. All the head room one could ever ask for, distortion-free. I went to sleep that night thinking about how my Fender Jazz Bass would sound through 16 10-inch speakers. All that power and simultaneous click and boom with every note. Sweet dreams, man.
The next morning I heard the horn blow at precisely 9 A.M. I looked out the window expecting to see Judy behind the wheel of her blue Toyota with Ronnie in the passenger’s seat. Instead, it was a new, brown Corolla. In about a minute flat the three of us were on our way downtown to Paulus Music.
After some good-natured razzing from Freddie Paulus, about having to finally come to him for the best bass amp available, I played through the SVT, demonstrating its power and wide range of tonal versatility for Ronnie. The only problem now was that they only had one speaker enclosure in stock.
Rather than settle for what was immediately available, Ronnie felt it best to order the complete rig altoathgether, the head and two 8X10 speaker cabinets, to be picked up after we returned from Atlanta. No complaints from me. Besides my current Peavey rig, Leon had a pretty decent Kasino rig to get us through the week. We’d be fine.
The next day, Sunday, I was picked up by Kevin Elson and Dean Kilpatrick in the equipment truck, “Big Blue.” We would meet the rest of the guys around Lake City, at I-10 and I-75. I could barely contain my excitement.
We arrived to meet the rest of the band at about 10 A.M., but Leon had not yet arrived. I began to get a little nervous, thinking of all that rehearsal time I could have had under my belt. Then again, I had known Leon for a long time. I knew he was a lot more likely to be running late than he was to back out of a commitment.
In a few more minutes a car pulled over behind Big Blue on the northbound side of I-75. Thank God, Leon was in it.
During the ride to Atlanta there was a lot of excitement and a lot of talk about what would likely take place once we arrived. Dean was talking about some of the girls he knew there, and about how much cooler they were than Jacksonville girls. But mostly he was talking about getting new shoes. He was naming off different shoe stores around Peachtree and Piedmont, and how only NYC offered a better selection of cool shoes than Atlanta. Dean was all about cool things to wear.
Eventually the conversation turned to the last time the band had played Atlanta, at Funnochios. Dean and Kevin told me of an incident taking place that ended up with Ronnie punching out some bounty hunter who worked for some big bail bonds outfit, and that they would probably come back looking to settle the score. This didn’t seem any big deal, Ronnie’s reputation being what it was. I actually thought it would be pretty cool. In those days you never worried about getting into a good fight, particularly when you had Ronnie in your corner. People fought hand-to-hand back then, rather than pulling a fucking gun.
We checked into the Days Inn on I-85, just north of downtown Atlanta. I believe there were only about three in Atlanta at the time, and it seems this one was Days Inn North, complete with a Tasty World Restaurant and gift shop–all a traveling rock band could possibly need.
The rooming assignments were Allen, Gary, Leon and I in one room; Ronnie, Bob, Dean and Kevin in the other. Ronnie quickly pulled me to the side and said:
“Tate, You’re probably going to see some crazy things going on while we’re here. I need your word that what happens on the road stays out here.”
I assured him that I understood completely, and that this would not be a problem. I am proud to say that, in the context Ronnie was speaking of, I’ve kept that promise to this day.
Allen and Gary made out pretty good on the rooming arrangement, as Leon and I spent practically all night, every night, in the bathroom, working on songs, leaving one of the two double beds unoccupied. With its porcelain fixtures and ceramic tile walls, the acoustics in the tiny room allowed us to hear our basses without any amplification, thereby sparing us the trouble of being thrown out of the motel. On that first night we never even got around to any Skynyrd songs, as we were both very impressed with Chris Squire of Yes and somehow ended up spending most of the night figuring out some of his more sophisticated bass parts, like “Roundabout,” “Yours Is No Disgrace,” etc.
On Monday, Kevin, the band’s soundman/road manager, woke us up and handed us each $2 per diem. We all headed downstairs to Tasty World to eat, then we would be off to the Head Rest to unload and setup.
The Head Rest was laid out in two or three different levels, with a big, lighted dance floor in the center of the lower level. I remember thinking, all they had to do was replace the dance floor with hardwood, to make a perfect basketball arena.
There was a stage at each end of the dance floor where the bands would alternate sets. I cannot recall the name of the other band, only that some of them were from Ohio and they played all cover tunes. Much of it was Top 40 dance music and the floor would immediately fill up when it was their time to play. When Skynyrd played, however, the people just stood and watched. I supposed much of the reason was because the music was just about all originals, making it difficult to dance to songs they weren’t that familiar with. But I would soon learn that it was more than that. These people weren’t interested in dancing when Skynyrd played. They didn’t want to do anything but watch and listen, not missing a single note. Listening to them that first night, I couldn’t help thinking of the day Allen had left The Mods to join them. I hadn’t given them a chance in hell of ever amounting to much.
On Tuesday night we were all sitting around while the other band played, just having a good time in general. I was very excited about getting in some playing time. Out of nowhere, this guy suddenly appeared at our table, leaned over and said something to Ronnie. All any of us heard from Ronnie as he stood up was, “Where’s he at?” As Ronnie disappeared into the crowd we all looked at each other. Dean said exactly what I was thinking, “I hope it’s not those bail bond guys!”
A few of us got up to follow in the direction Ronnie had gone. By the time we located him he was sitting at a table full of people, all smiles. I looked back at Dean and Allen, sort of puzzled.
Dean said, “Oh. It’s okay. This is about the record deal. That’s Al Kooper he’s talking to.”
I was blown away. Al fucking Kooper, of Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Super Sessions. Here he was, sitting right there before me, talking to Ronnie about making records. I had known Skynyrd had a record deal in the works, and I certainly knew who Al Kooper was, but had never connected him with being a producer of other musicians. This was some bigtime shit going on!
The other band closed out the night, which afforded us all an opportunity to go over to Funnochios to catch Hydra, another band that Kooper had been looking at in consideration of a record deal. At least that was my understanding. I had heard a lot of this place, so I was very much looking forward to seeing what it was like. As I recall, it was an old theater type room with an almost proscenium-type stage and balconies. A very cool place, with a whole lot of atmosphere, though it did seem considerably more rowdy than the Head Rest. I was so taken with the room that I don’t remember much about Hydra, other than they were a good band, a loud band and played through Marshalls.
On Wednesday we all went back down to the club for rehearsal. I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to show the guys that I now had seven or eight songs down pat, including “Gimme Three Steps,” “I Ain’t the One,” “Simple Man” and “The Great Airplane Strike,” a Paul Revere and The Raiders cover. The only song I was still a little nervous about playing was “Freebird,” due to all of the stops at the end. Again, my hope was to be able to play at least one full set, hopefully in front of the man who would ultimately be the band’s producer.
During rehearsal, the guitar player from the other band came in, and as he walked past the stage, hollered: “Hey, Ronnie! I ran into a good friend of yours Saturday night in Nashville.”
Ronnie said, “Yeah? Who was that?”
The guy said it was Ed King and added that Ed had said to be sure to tell Ronnie that he would be seeing them real soon. I thought that was pretty cool, knowing that Skynyrd had played a bunch of college shows with Strawberry Alarm Clock, and had become friends with Ed during that time.
What was weird about it, was when I looked over to Ronnie, awaiting his response. He and Gary were both staring dead at me, with that deer in the headlights look, as if I’d heard something I wasn’t supposed to. Even stranger, that seemed to mark the end of rehearsal for the day.
I didn’t put it all together until weeks later, but I definitely should have, because now, all of a sudden, I was being told that Leon would finish out the week and I would not rehearse with the band again until the week of the 15th, back at Hell House.
On Thursday night I ran into my old girlfriend, Debbie French, when she came into the club. She was now a flight attendant for National Airlines and based in Atlanta. She was doing well, looked great, and seemed to be pretty proud of me, based mostly upon what she had heard from Allen and Kathy. Later in the night she approached me, asking if I could take her home, which I did, borrowing a car from Dean that he had either rented or borrowed. When I returned to the club, an hour or so later, most of the band had gone back to the motel, and Dean was telling me they had been looking for me to play the last set. This very well could have been some of Dean’s bullshit, as I never heard anything about it from any of the band.
Skynyrd finished out the week with capacity crowds on Friday and Saturday. On Saturday night they began their final set with “Simple Man.” As soon as Allen began the opening notes a hush swept over the room. People stood on the dance floor, they stood at their tables, and at the bars. Members of the other band remained standing on the opposite stage, having just ended their own set. Every eye and ear in the club was tuned to the stage, where Lynyrd Skynyrd now performed. The audience was motionless; the entire room, mesmerized.
It was then that I knew there was no stopping this band. It was pure magic, and I can honestly say that I was never more proud of them, before or since. Now, 42 years later, the same chill comes over me at this writing as did that night so long ago.
We got back to Jacksonville late Sunday night. There were several friends, and my brother, Bo, anxiously awaiting my return, when Dean and Bob dropped me off at my apartment. It wasn’t until then, being greeted by all the smiling faces that I realized how disappointing the trip had actually been. Though I had been assured otherwise, I didn’t feel any more like Skynyrd’s bass player than I had before the whole thing began. Things would not get any better over the next several days.
On Monday morning I was picked up by Bob Burns in Big Blue. We drove out to Green Cove to unload the equipment. Gary arrived shortly afterwards to announce that Ronnie wouldn’t be able to make it, so rehearsals would begin on Tuesday instead. I wondered why we couldn’t practice without Ronnie, but never asked the question, figuring this was just the way they did things.
No one called or came by on Tuesday, so I called Allen late that morning. He said someone was on the way. No one ever showed. It went pretty much the same on Wednesday, then again on Thursday.
By Thursday afternoon, the story circulating was that the band had changed their plans where I was concerned, because Dean and I had allegedly run up such a ridiculous bar tab in Atlanta. The band had supposedly owed the club money when it came time to settle. As a result, we had both been fired. I called Dean to see what he knew about it. He confirmed that, yes, Ronnie was pissed off about the bar tabs, though he had heard nothing about anyone being fired. I pointed out that the whole band was charging drinks on our tabs for themselves and their friends over the entire week. Dean said, “I know, and so do they. This shit happens all the time. It’ll blow over, man. Don’t worry about it.”
I wouldn’t worry about it, but neither would I make any further attempts to contact any of the band. The last time I had tried to reach Allen, it was pretty obvious he was ducking my calls.
The next time I saw or heard from anyone connected with Skynyrd was another couple of weeks later. I was sitting at B.C. and Stella’s bar at their new home on Longchamp Road, when Stella came running down the stairs, crazy with excitement.
“Hey, y’all! Skynyrd’s coming over, and their bringing their new bass player!”
B.C. looked over at me with raised eyebrows, awaiting my reaction.
“Oh boy!” I said, as sarcastically as possible. “I wonder who it could be.”
About an hour later everyone but Ronnie came walking through the door, Allen, Gary, Billy, Bob, Dean and Ed King. Okay…Now I get it.
I suppose this is where I should comment further. Had it been me, about to go into the studio to record my first album, and my options were to bring another 20-year-old with minimal studio experience, versus bringing in a veteran, multitalented musician/songwriter, with multiple albums and a #1 hit song to his credit, I would, without question, have chosen the latter. Any person of average intelligence would have made the same decision.
The only question I had was, why do it this way? Why didn’t they just tell me what the real deal was? After all the years we had known each other, and been such good friends, why couldn’t they just tell me they needed me there to fill in, just in case? They knew I would have been more than happy to help out. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t done this before.
The one consolation I was able to take away from all this, was, in the following months, whenever someone asked, “Hey man! What ever happened with you and Skynyrd?” I could say, “I drank too much for those guys.” That was always good for a laugh. But the truth was, I had pretty much had it with all this bullshit.
The start of 1973 looked great for some, while not too promising for others. For me, the outlook was ominous, having recently been fired by Lynyrd Skynyrd, without so much as a valid reason why. Alice Marr was now but a memory, with drummer Bill Pelkey having moved to Texas, and keyboardist Billy Powell now with Skynyrd. Worse yet, I had no idea what Don and Donnie might be thinking about me. As far as music went, the forecast was as shitty as my attitude. Now, without a band, and without a job, I would have to find something to do with myself.
Though disappointed, and deeply discouraged by the way things had turned out, I had thought it comical, this rumor going around, that the reason for my dismissal was drinking-related. This was Lynyrd Skynyrd, for God’s sake.
Clearly, the reason had been due to the availability of Ed King, and it was pretty obvious by now that at least some agreement to that arrangement had been reached prior to my ever being invited into the band.
When that rumor got back to my dad, however, he failed to see any humor at all. It caused a major rift between the two of us, as he was of the belief that I had either quit another band, or had choked under pressure. He wasn’t going to be convinced otherwise, and this not being one of my favorite topics at the time, I was through talking about it.
His frustration was certainly understandable, considering all the years he had provided his unwavering support. He had come so close to finally being able to turn to his Shriner buddies and say, “That’s my boy!” But it was not to be. And now, on top of everything else, I would be forced to keep my distance from him, in order for the family to maintain any sense of peace.
In February, I was married to the former Mary Lee Johnson, with my good buddies, Bill Fletcher and Gary Kersey standing up for me. I soon went to work for Lerner Shops, unloading dresses and coats from semi-trailers with my old friend and former drummer James Rice. This didn’t last very long, as standing on a ladder in the back of a trailer for eight hours a day just didn’t seem to promise much of a future.
An uncle, Tony Williamson, had always been jealous of the relationship between my dad and his children, and would be the first to step forward to help me out at this time. As a contractor, he always had plenty of work to keep me busy. He paid pretty well, provided my transportation to and from the job, and never failed to buy me a cold Budweiser on the way home each day.
Tony believed in getting started at the crack of dawn, thereby ending the workday by 3 o’clock. This arrangement was great for me, as it got me home early enough to catch much of the Watergate hearings in the afternoon, while the wife was still at work.
Sitting there watching TV, however, I was constantly reminded that, instead of playing music, both Donnie and I were now painting houses for a living, while Don Barnes was driving a truck, delivering chicken to restaurants for a local poultry distributor. By this time, Donnie was growing somewhat disillusioned with the whole music thing himself. Tired of being without money, or any kind of security to look forward to, he had submitted applications to two of the major railroads, Seaboard Coastline, and Southern Railway, for employment as a clerk typist.
For some reason, I had to go to the doctor one afternoon. He was very much alarmed, first, by my appearance, and also because my blood pressure was unusually high. When he asked how I was feeling, I told him I felt fine, other than having things on my mind which prevented me from sleeping. He looked at me hard, and asked: “Have you done anything weird lately? Anything… life-changing?”
I thought for a minute. “Nah… Nothing I can…. Well, I did get married.”
The doctor promptly wrote me out a prescription for Quaaludes, instructing me to take one each night, one hour prior to bedtime. It wasn’t long, however, before I found it more to my liking to pop one along with my after-work tall boy, to better appreciate the proceedings of the Senate Watergate hearings.
In September, Mary, and my friend, Bill Fletcher, arranged a surprise party to celebrate my twenty-first birthday. Allen, Gary, Billy Powell and Dean showed up, along with my brother, Bo, B.C. and about twenty other people. Much of the conversation was centered on Skynyrd, and the success of their now month old release, (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd).
While I loved the album, and thought it a damn fine record, the initial chart success wasn’t all they had hoped for, according to Allen. I assured him that, while I was obviously biased, I believed I had listened to each song with considerable objectivity. I told him I knew it was a damn good album, regardless of who the artists happened to be. Allen said the good news was that program directors around the country were beginning to extend their airplay, particularly for “Freebird.” The song was suddenly grabbing everyone’s attention, not the least of which were young guitarists, and many who suddenly wanted to become one.
Blue Lords guitarist, Tony Bullard: At twelve years old, I was really into the ocean, man. I was gonna be the next Jacques Cousteau, and I meant it. But, in August 1973, I remember being at this pizza joint, and my brother giving me a quarter. He said, ‘Man, go up and play this song I heard, called Freebird.’ I played the song, and I had to have a guitar, like, the next day. Skynyrd had changed my whole life around. For the next five years, my parents hardly ever saw me. My mom would just leave a tray of food by my bedroom door, because they knew me and that guitar weren’t coming out of that room.
It had been about six months now since Donnie had applied for employment with the railroads. Each day he had anxiously awaited some word to arrive with the delivery of the mail. The position had offered both good money and security, so he was now growing very concerned.
One afternoon, seemingly from out of nowhere, he received a phone call from each of the two companies. Both companies offered immediate employment. But now Donnie had a crucial decision to make, one of the biggest of his life. Which direction should he take? Music, or playing it safe, by working for the railroad?
DVZ: So, as always, I went to Ronnie and Daddy at the same time, and explained the situation. Ronnie laughed at me. ‘You know … you’ve got music in your blood, whether you realize it or not.’ He said. ‘So go out there and find the best musicians you can, ones that want to make it more than you do. Then, give it your total dedication and don’t ever look back.’ Then Ronnie said: ‘Plus, you can make more money in a year, than the railroad can pay you in ten!’
Donnie called me later that day. “Hey, son! Don’t you think it’s about time we get back to work?”
In the fall of 1973, Don, Donnie and I got together to discuss step one in putting a new band together. What we needed first was the right drummer. Don had the name of a guy from New Jersey who was now attending Jacksonville University and living in the Arlington area of town. It was decided that Don and I would go over to check him out, while Donnie made some inquiries of his own.
We could hear Deep Purple’s Burn album, blasting away from inside the house when we pulled up at the address. Here was a good sign already, that our first prospect apparently had the same taste in music that we did.
Once inside, we listened intently to his playing, most of which was along with various albums. It was soon evident to both of us that Jack Grondin was just the kind of drummer we were looking for.
As we discussed the kinds of music that we liked, major influences and the type band we were trying to put together, I kept thinking I had heard Jack’s name somewhere before. “Jack, from New Jersey” kept running through my mind, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
It wasn’t until Don and I got up to leave that I realized I had walked into what could have been a very awkward situation. As we passed through the living room, there on the mantle was a picture of Jack and his live-in girlfriend. It was the same girl I was dating when Jimmy Dougherty and I had suddenly split for South Florida, two years earlier. Of course, I wasn’t about to say anything. I could only hope she wouldn’t come walking in before we had the chance to leave.
Back in the car, Don and I agreed that Jack was the guy. He wasn’t at all flashy, but played hard, like we did, heavy on the foot, and with good meter. He had grown up listening to the same music we had, and apparently had the same love for it. We had pretty much told Jack before leaving that he was our drummer.
We went back to Don’s house to call and share the good news with Donnie, only to learn that Donnie had news of his own. He had spoken to his old Standard Productions drummer, Steve Brookins, and told Steve that he had the job. Don and I both knew Steve as a fine drummer, who actually went back even farther with Donnie, to their very first band, the Sons of Satin, in 1965.
The whole thing was unbelievable. Here we had started the day fearing it would take forever to locate the right drummer, but had ended the first day with two. So what could we do now, but at least start the new project with both? We agreed to begin this way, thinking that at some point one would begin to outperform the other, at which time we would keep the better of the two. But because I had so loved playing with two drummers before, I hoped that day would never come.
We set up shop in the back room of Johnny’s Barber Shop, out on Beach Boulevard. Only Donnie could have found such an out of the way place, although I don’t recall exactly how the deal was made. What I do remember is that we had a private entrance, our own bathroom, and the rent was dirt cheap. The one drawback, besides the fact that the room was very small, was that there was a Baptist church next door.
By the time we collected and installed enough mattresses to deaden the sound, the interior had become so small that the two drummers were forced to play facing each other, leaving about eighteen inches between their two bass drums for the rest of us to get through. Donnie sang from inside the bathroom, to avoid competing with the volume of the amplifiers, and to protect his eardrums from the same volume, having suffered damage a couple of years earlier, when a guitar player jokingly tossed a firecracker inside a closet where he was singing. The M80 exploded right at ear level, causing a temporary loss of hearing, and a condition which would diminish Donnie’s ability to hear over the course of his entire career.
Don and I preferred this arrangement as well, as there was simply not room enough for a third person to stand, let alone move around. Johnny’s was quite the opposite of the Alamo, where a sixteen piece orchestra would have never been in each other’s way. But the small room proved advantageous in short order, as Jack and Steve soon began to mirror each other’s moves, becoming tighter and tighter with each rehearsal. One could only imagine the visual effect of the two on stage, playing side by side, with double the power and nearly perfect synchronization. Much to my liking, any discussion of having only one drummer eventually faded away.
What did become a concern though, was after a couple of months of rehearsing with the existing lineup, Don began to complain about the lack of a second guitar player.
Barnes wanted more freedom as a lead guitarist, which wasn’t possible under the present circumstances. Having to provide the many rhythm fills necessary to keep the band from sounding thin, he was being handcuffed, denied the opportunity to experiment more with his leads, all for the sake of the overall sound of the band.
While I was pleased with the current arrangement, having always wanted a power trio, which this basically was, I could understand Don’s position completely. As good a guitarist as he was, it made no sense that he be bogged down with any restrictions whatsoever.
My suggestion for a second guitarist was Randall Hall, who had been the other guitarist in the original lineup of Alice Marr. Both Don and Donnie had reacted favorably to the suggestion, but the name that kept coming up was Jeff Carlisi. I wanted no part of Carlisi, though it wasn’t because he wasn’t a good guitar player, or because I didn’t like him. I didn’t know Jeff well enough to form an opinion one way or the other. What I had heard about him, however, gave me an uneasy feeling about how his presence might affect the chemistry of the band.
During my years of working at Marvin Kay’s Music, I dealt with a number of fathers of young musicians. Russ Carlisi was one of the best, visiting the store frequently, boasting of his son’s accomplishments while purchasing whatever gear Jeff might have needed or wanted. Over time I developed a pretty negative picture of a kid who had attended a private school, didn’t mow his own lawn, and had never paid his own way for anything, to my knowledge.
In fact, while all this was going on in Jacksonville, Jeff was 350 miles away, in Atlanta, where he was working on a degree in Architectural Engineering at Georgia Tech, just in case “the music thing” didn’t pan out for him. Why would I want to work my ass off for the foreseeable future alongside a guy who could walk away at any given moment to make a quarter mil or better a year? I’m not sure today if that was sound logic or jealousy, but the fact was I just didn’t want him in the band. Who even knew how long he’d stay?
Unbeknownst to me at the time was that the position had apparently already been offered, either without consideration of my input, or with total disregard for what that input was.
After a few months at Johnny’s Barber Shop, the church next door really started making things difficult for us, when we made the mistake of rehearsing too late one Sunday afternoon, disrupting their evening service in the process. The cops began showing up on a regular basis, sometimes two or three times a night, so we moved to a garage apartment type building at the corner of Powers Avenue and University Boulevard.
We rehearsed in a tiny upstairs room, where we felt the equipment would be safe from any potential thieves. Again, there wasn’t much room, but there weren’t any churches either, and the chances of disturbing anyone in this high traffic commercial district were pretty slim.
One night, just before we began rehearsal, Donnie announced, “Well, I talked to Carlisi today. He’ll be here Friday, so then we can really get down to work!”
Don gave no response, but drummer Steve Brookins chimed in as if this had been an ongoing conversation, one in which I had not been a participant. I was pissed, but I stopped short of saying anything to the band, since it was obviously too late. The decision had been made without me. Spilled milk, and all that.
We rehearsed through a few more nights that week, working on an Arthur Lee cover, “Love Jumped Through My Window.” The melody drove me nuts. I didn’t like the song, and had stopped trying to. I no longer cared. When Friday rolled around I didn’t show up for rehearsal; nor did I show on Saturday, Sunday or Monday.
On Tuesday night I was at the home of B.C. and Stella, drinking beer and generally fucking off with Billy Powell and my brother, Bo, when Don and Donnie pulled up out front in Don’s car. Understandably, they were pretty upset.
The three of us sat out in the car, where I listened to a very frustrated Don Barnes try to explain to me exactly what was on the line.
“Look, man.” He began, “We’ve got a great opportunity here, staring us right in the face. Ronnie’s behind us a hundred percent and he’s going to do everything he can to help us out, once he thinks we’re ready. Jeff’s here now, he’s ready to go, so we’ve got to stick together and work our asses off, to get to that point. We don’t have time for any more bullshit. Now, you either need to come back to practice or we’re going to have to get somebody to replace you.”
In one of the more stupid moves of my professional life, I said something like, “I understand. Well, it’s your band, guys. I no longer have anything to do with it.”
No one got mad or upset in any way. In fact, I believe we were all relieved it was over. With the following weeks came resentment, regret, and then total boredom. Coming home from work, sitting around with the wife every night was not something I was programmed for. Donnie and Jeff’s former Sweet Rooster band mate, Ken Lyons, would be selected to replace me, and the band would continue to move forward.
June 22, 1974
Late one Saturday afternoon, shortly after leaving the band, I was sitting around the house, watching TV, when the phone rang. It was my dad’s buddy and neighbor, Alton Dodd.
“Larry, you need to get over to your daddy’s house right away.” he said, nervously.
“Why? What’s going on?” I asked.
“Well…uh … I don’t really want to go into it. Just get over here as soon as you can, okay?”
Growing a little concerned, I said, “Alton, I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell’s going on.” There was a long pause, then he said, “It’s Bo.”
Knowing my brother and my dad had not been getting along particularly well, I assumed Bo had gone by the house, gotten into it with my dad, and I now needed to go over and retrieve him before things got out of hand.
I said, “Thanks for the call. Tell him I’m on the way.”
As I was putting on my shoes the phone rang again. This time it was Mike Kinnamon. I told Mike I was on my way to pick up my brother and that we would see him a little later at the Still, where Mike now worked part time as a bouncer. I then jumped into my van and started toward my parents’ house.
During the drive over I tried to imagine what the two could be fighting about, as Bo and my dad had always been extremely close. In fact, Bo was the hands down favorite of the entire family. But since he had moved out on his own, Daddy had stayed on his ass about pretty much everything, most recently about his walking out on his job at Mountain Electronics.
The real basis for the conflict, I believed, was my dad was having a hard time accepting the idea of his favorite son growing up and no longer living under his roof. I surmised that Bo had simply had enough. I hoped that I would get there in time to defuse any argument before any punches were thrown.
My plan was to open the side doors of the van immediately after pulling into the driveway. I would enter the house, grab Bo in a bear hug, (so he couldn’t punch me), toss him into the back of the van, and haul ass to the Still. There we could drink some Jack Black and talk things over.
When I turned the corner onto Mount Vernon Drive I noticed a state trooper’s car parked in front of the Dodd’s home. In front of my parents’ house was an unmarked car with state plates and Bo’s pickup was in the driveway. I wondered what the hell could have taken place that warranted calling state troopers.
As I pulled up next to the pickup I could see my dad, standing in the doorway of the entrance to the house. When he walked out to meet me in the driveway he was accompanied by one of the troopers.
“It’s bad, son,” Daddy said. “It’s real, real bad.”
Daddy began to cry, something I hadn’t seen since 1958, when my grandmother had passed, and he had never before called me “son.” In my confusion, I turned to the trooper for explanation.
“What’s he talking about?” I demanded. “Where’s Bo?”
“Your brother, Gregory, was involved in a traffic incident earlier today in Clay county which he did not survive” the trooper said.
They say you go through different stages of emotion at a time like this, and it was certainly true of me.
“That’s bullshit, man!” I responded. “You guys got your wires crossed somewhere! There’s his truck right fuckin’ there!” I argued, pointing to the small, green Toyota pickup.
“He was a passenger in a vehicle belonging to a Steve Wood. Do you know him? They were apparently returning from a wedding reception down there,” the trooper said.
All sorts of questions began swirling in my mind. The wedding! How does this guy know about the wedding? How does he know it was in Clay County, or about Bo’s friend, Steve Wood? Where the hell is Bo anyway? He can clear all this up!
At that point I stormed off toward the house, looking for my brother. As I entered the den I saw my mom, sitting in my dad’s chair. She had never sat there before. When I looked into her eyes it all became clear.
My greatest fear was suddenly a horrible reality. Bo was gone.
I remember making one phone call, that to Mike Kinnamon, to tell him we wouldn’t be coming to the bar after all. He insisted on knowing why, so I told him. He didn’t believe me and I wasn’t able to argue the point, as I was having a lot of trouble believing it myself.
When the eleven o’clock news came on, the accident was the lead story. Within minutes it seemed, the house was filled with people, most of whom were dressed up, having been out enjoying a typical Saturday night when they got word. It was shortly after this that I returned to my own house, wanting to be alone. I wanted to pray. I wanted to try to somehow contact Bo. I wanted to cry out loud, without someone putting their fucking hands on me.
I don’t remember ever getting sleepy, but I woke up early Sunday morning to someone knocking on the door. It was John Ferrell, one of Bo’s friends that I sort of knew from the pool hall. He came in and sat down, prepared to listen to whatever it was I had to say.
John was still listening a couple of hours later when the front door opened widely, allowing the bright morning sun to invade the darkness of the room. The tall, dark silhouette in the doorway was Allen, followed by B.C. and Stella. Allen came over and sat beside me while B.C. took command of my kitchen, determined to make me eat something.
“I thought you were in Cleveland or something.” I managed to say.
“I was, until Kathy called last night to tell me what happened,” Allen said.
“Things were pretty fucked up out there anyway, and when I told Wicker about Bo, he said, ‘Pack it up—It’s time to go home.’ So here I am.”
Allen sat there, taking his turn listening, just as John had. But not for long.
“Tate! … Tate! … Larry! You’ve got to listen to me, man!” Allen injected. “Bo was a special dude, man! Better than you, and better than me! God saw that and rewarded him for it. You should be proud of your little brother, and be glad that he’s not still here in this hell hole, like the rest of us! This is Hell, man, where we live, because this is what we deserve! Bo is in Heaven. That’s what he deserves, and you should be happy as shit for him, instead of feeling sorry for yourself!”
Part of me wanted to throw him through the window, but deep inside I understood what Allen was trying to get across to me. Honestly, this was exactly what I’d needed to get me up off my pathetic ass and start going through the motions. There were arrangements to be made, some of which were much more than my parents could be expected to deal with. I would have to get back to feeling sorry for myself at a later date.
Bo was buried at Jacksonville Memory Gardens, Orange Park, Florida, where we had passed many times as children, on our way to Kingsley Lake. From the time he was four years old, Bo had proclaimed, “That’s where I’m going to be buried, cause that’s where Jesus is!” He was referring to a large, white statue at the cemetery entrance.
A motorcycle patrolman running escort for the funeral that day said the procession was just short of one mile long. Bo was twenty years old. He was killed by a drunk driver.
It wasn’t until August that I next heard from Allen, when he called one afternoon from Studio One, in Doraville. The call was more or less to see how I was getting along, and to bring me up to speed on how the rest of the tour had gone. Allen was extremely excited about the new song they were in the process of recording, but also had some disturbing news that I wasn’t expecting to hear.
He began by telling me about a new drummer they had found, who he believed would soon be replacing Bob Burns. He said that Bob had been acting pretty crazy out on the road, and that the episodes were coming with more frequency. Allen continued on and on about what an amazing drummer this Artimus Pyle dude was, this former Marine, who brought so much life to the recording of what was to be their next single, “Saturday Night Special.”
“You mean this guy played on the recording instead of Bob?” I asked, shocked that the transition had apparently taken place.
“Yeah, man… I don’t know if Bob could have even handled this song. He just ain’t the same Bob anymore. But Artimus killed it, Tate! Hey! This guy plays double kicks that sound like fuckin’ machine guns! He can even play on acid. I swear to God, the guy goes on stage, doing fuckin’ acid and don’t miss a lick! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
“Wait a minute.” I said. “This guy’s doing acid on stage and you say Bob’s acting crazy?”
Before the month was over Artimus Pyle would make his live debut, when Skynyrd played a benefit concert at what was then Jacksonville’s biggest nightclub, Sergeant Pepper’s. This was a big ass club by anyone’s standards, but Skynyrd had become much bigger by then; too big for any nightclub Jacksonville had to offer.
While I was invited to attend the concert as a guest of the band, the sight of the overflowing parking lot at Lakewood Shopping Center was enough to turn me right back toward home. I later learned from Allen that, on top of the enormous crowd they had to contend with, the building’s air conditioning had failed, resulting in Artimus, Ed and Leon all succumbing to heat exhaustion, in one form or another. Bob, I was told, had to relieve Artimus on drums after just two songs.
By the first week of September, Lynyrd Skynyrd would be back on the road. Beginning in the northeast, the tour would work its way down through the South, then turn back up through the Midwest, still in support of their second studio album, Second Helping.
When October rolled around, my dad still hadn’t returned to work. It had been almost four months since Bo’s passing, and my only reason for going in was to provide our few employees with some incentive to continue doing their jobs. Neither Daddy nor I had any desire to do much of anything these days but drink.
One of the guys came in to work one Friday morning, saying, “Larry, I sure was sorry to hear about your buddy.”
My response was, “What buddy? What are you talking about?”
The employee, Ted Alexander said, “Oh! I’m sorry. You must not have heard.” He gently laid a newspaper down on my desk and turned away. I read the article, which described a deadly motorcycle accident that had occurred the night before, though it didn’t name any of the victims. When I looked up from the paper, Ted was standing there.
“It was David Griffin,” he said.
On the night of October 10, David and his new bride, Tamarra, had just finished dinner at the Northside home of David’s parents. As they proceeded south, down Main Street, on their recently purchased Kawasaki motorcycle, an off-duty Jacksonville policeman, traveling north, suddenly swerved across three lanes of traffic before crashing his pickup into the newlyweds. Both were killed instantly. David had just turned 28. Tamarra was just 21. The cop was drunk.
I attended David’s funeral with my old bandmates, Rick Mathews and Charlie Wood. Marvin Kay, one of the toughest men I ever knew, cried like a baby at the gravesite.
“What a waste! My God, what a terrible waste!” he cried.
As sales manager, it was David who had taken Marvin’s early success and run with it, developing Marvin Kay’s Musicenter into what had become one of the largest musical instrument retailers in the state of Florida. The company had recently moved into a huge new location at 7500 Beach Boulevard, where was stocked virtually every major brand of musical instrument any kind of musician desired. I recall there being hundreds of MXR and SUNN tee shirts given away the day of the grand opening, reading, “When Ya Got It – Flaunt It!,” a Marvin Kay maxim if there ever was one. David Griffin had been largely responsible for the “it.”
David was a musician of the highest caliber. He was one of the founding members of the Dalton Gang, which at one time was the undisputed number one band in Jacksonville, North Florida and South Georgia. He was a great guitar teacher and a master of the electric bass, besides being a very good backing vocalist. David had taught many of us the majority of what he knew about music. On stage and off, the man made an everlasting impression on all he touched.
Besides being such an inspiration to so many young musicians, David had busted his ass to make us all better. He had handed me my first real job and chewed my ass on many occasions for interfering as he tried to make my band(s) more successful. He had done the same for Skynyrd and countless others. David had sold my first bass guitar and amplifier to my dad, as well as my brother’s first drum kit. It was he who turned me on to Fender basses and amplifiers, JBL speakers, and the differences between all the major brands. He always insisted that the electric bass should be played with a pick, to produce solid notes rather than muddy ones. All this flashed before me as I watched Marvin continue to weep.
Among the pallbearers that day were future Lieutenant Governor of Florida, Bobby Brantley, who was David’s former drummer, while Marvin Kay served as the honorary pallbearer.
About a year later, in November, Rick and I would return to the same cemetery, to bid farewell to our friend and former drummer, Charlie Wood, who had hanged himself in the upstairs bathroom of his Murray Hill home. Charlie was 27. His death, as well, would ultimately be attributed to alcohol.
In mid-November Skynyrd began a month long tour of Europe, where Bob Burns’ problems became much more serious than anyone had anticipated. From what had begun as exhibiting erratic behavior, Bob was now prone to random acts of violence, which would persist and even worsen throughout the end of the tour. By the time the band returned home for Christmas break in mid-December, Bob’s days with Lynyrd Skynyrd were essentially over.
Without A Name
The band with two drummers had now been holed up in the dark and dreary former office building on Riverside Avenue for six straight months. Here they had worked diligently, tightening and polishing the songs they now felt worthy of taking out on the road. All the band lacked was a good name. The last idea I could recall being tossed around was Skintight, but a visit by an old schoolmate would produce an idea which would eventually provide the band’s identity for the rest of their professional lives.
Riding along with band soundman, Wayne Magin, Ray Turknett was asked if he had any ideas for a name for the band. Turknett’s suggestion was that it be something based on numbers, like Thirty-Eight, or the Colt 45s. Don Barnes liked the sound of Thirty-Eight, but felt it needed something else to follow it up. Recalling the engraving on his grandfather’s handgun, his initial thought was 38 Special. The name sounded good to Barnes, yet he was reluctant to suggest the name of a gun, due to the negativity associated with any type of handgun at the time.
Returning to the practice house a few days later, Turknett showed off some of his drawings from a ring bound sketch pad, one of which depicted the smoking barrel of a recently fired revolver. The smoke escaping from the gun barrel rose up to spell out 38 Special.
Drummer Steve Brookins immediately liked the idea, while Barnes again liked the sound of the name, but still had some reservations. Donnie Van Zant was reportedly out of town at the time. But with the band’s debut in Gainesville, Florida on the horizon, the pressure was on to come up with a name. It was decided at the last minute to use the name 38 Special, if only for the one gig.
“We can always change it later,” Barnes had reasoned.
But they never did.
When Skynyrd returned from Europe, shortly before Christmas, Allen called to announce that he had just received his first Gold Album award and wanted me to come by to check it out. His wish would be granted with the quickness, as our homes were only a few blocks apart.
When I walked through his front door, Allen had the award proudly displayed, leaning back against a coffee table in the center of the living room. He and Kathy stood beside it with Cheshire grins, not unlike my own. There it was, the RIAA Certified Gold Sales Award for 500,000 sales.
As I read the inscription, I was blown away. I tried to recall if either of us even knew such an award existed at the time we were putting the Mods together, ten years earlier. What I did know with certainty was, somewhere along the way, this had become the prize for which all of us had strived. Now I actually knew someone who had achieved the goal, which, only one year earlier had seemed so incredibly distant.
The thought gave me chills as I continued taking it all in. But before I could even offer my congratulations, Allen had found something wrong with it.
“Hey! There ain’t no five songs on the front side of our record! Look at that! They plated over somebody else’s record!”
Allen was dead right. The front of the new gold record clearly showed five tracks on side one, while Second Helping had only four. Before anyone could say don’t do it, Allen was tearing the paper backing from the frame and hollering for a screwdriver, to begin prying the frame apart.
“Allen! What the hell are you doing?” I screamed. You’re gonna destroy your first Gold Album!”
“Nah!” He scoffed at the absurdity, “I just want to play it, to see who’s really on there!”
Allen eventually freed the record from its frame without inflicting too much damage, then set about to learn who exactly had Trojan horsed their way into his house under the guise of a Lynyrd Skynyrd sales award. I think it was Gary who joined us just in time for the big reveal, which turned out to be Elton John. Allen’s first Gold Album was, beneath the gold, Tumbleweed Connection.
It should be noted here that Skynyrd’s first album to reach Gold status was indeed Second Helping, on 9.20.74. Pronounced was certified Gold about three months later, on December 18th.
38 Special Begins
On New Year’s Eve 1974, Skynyrd began their first tour without Bob Burns as their drummer. It had been more than four months since Artimus laid down the tracks for “Saturday Night Special,” but I still couldn’t imagine the band without Bob. He and Gary Rossington were the original two of this thing that had become Lynyrd Skynyrd; then came Ronnie; then came Allen.
Bob had always been the one who could make just about any situation a funny one, and the one who could hold the beat steady, come hell or high water. Sadly, something had stripped him of both these abi
38 SPECIAL – SGT. PEPPER’S – 1975
Beginning in Greenville, South Carolina, Lynyrd Skynyrd would play just a handful of shows to begin the tour, before going back into the studio to complete their third LP, Nuthin’ Fancy. On the same date, 38 Special would play their first show ever, at the Granfalloon, in Gainesville, Florida.
The date was booked by Lester Langdale, another accomplished and well respected musician from Jacksonville. In fact, Langdale’s was the first band I had ever seen, while performing Beatles covers at my elementary school when I was 11 years old.
The first time I would see 38 Special was later in January at Sergeant Pepper’s, the same Jacksonville venue where the heat had nearly killed Lynyrd Skynyrd back in August. They were opening for Atlanta-based Mose Jones, who had been the first act ever signed to Al Kooper’s Sounds of the South record label.
38 Special were certainly up to the challenge, and would not disappoint. I recall being very impressed with the interplay between guitarists Don Barnes and Jeff Carlisi. Their combined attack was intimidating, their play nearly flawless, complimenting each other as if they had played together for years, rather than months. But what really hit home for me was the immense power and tight synchronization of dual drummers Jack Grondin and Steve Brookins.
Mose Jones would take the stage a short time later, polished, tight, and true to character. But as well as they performed before the Jacksonville audience, the headliners could garner little more than polite applause after the powerful onslaught delivered by the local boys. This would become a trademark of sorts for 38 Special, as upstaging headliners became more and more routine over the coming years.
On February 28th, the band would travel to Memphis, Tennessee, where they performed for one week at the club, High Cotton. On March 3rd and 4th, they were at Sun Studios with Knox Phillips, son of legendary record producer, Sam Phillps, to record their first single, “Country Man.” On March 5th they traveled back to Jacksonville for ten days of rehearsals, before playing a week in Tampa, then a week in Louisville, Kentucky, where they would finish up the month at the Time Peace, on March 30th.
On April 2nd, 38 Special arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, to perform at the Lizard Creek Ballroom. That afternoon, guitarist Jeff Carlisi, and drummer Steve Brookins stepped out to a local McDonald’s to grab some lunch. While standing in line, they overheard a group of people behind them, discussing how nobody was going to miss what was going on at Lizard Creek.
Jeff Carlisi: We’d never even been there before, so we’re standing there, thinking, ‘Man, this is pretty cool. Wonder how they even know about us way up here?’ Turns out, they didn’t know about us at all. The club’s marquee, reading ‘Tonight Only – .38 Special’ was what all the excitement had been about. These guys thought they were going to be drinking all night for thirty-eight cents a pop!
Following a gig in Charleston, West Virginia, the band had 875 miles to their next show, in Chanute, Kansas. One motivating factor they clung to during the thirteen-hour drive was, according to the itinerary, they would be playing the coliseum there. This would be a nice little morale booster, to finally play a real venue, after all the shitty little clubs they’d worked over the past six months.
Upon their arrival, however, the “Coliseum” turned out to be just another shitty club; a large cinderblock building, with open air between the walls and elevated roof. This made it necessary for the guys to take turns spending the night in the old building throughout the week, to prevent their gear from being stolen.
Following the completion of Nuthin’ Fancy at WEBB IV Studios, in Atlanta, the Lynyrd Skynyrd tour had resumed on February 1st, in Buffalo, NY. The North American leg of the tour was scheduled to continue right up through September, at which point the band would return to Europe for three more weeks.
On Wednesday, May 28th, Allen called unexpectedly, to say he was at home, and had just picked up a bushel of oysters and a quart of Jack Daniels. He suggested that I come on over to help him partake in food and drink. When I questioned why he was at home, he told me that he, Ed King and Billy Powell had all quit the band. When I asked why, all he said was, “Man, you just can’t imagine how bad it gets out there. Ed finally got sick of it, and so did I.”
By sunrise, after a long night of hard core relaxation, (and a phone call to Dolly Parton, as I recall), I could tell he was already aching to get back. As it turned out, the only one who would not return was Ed King. I would next see Allen on July 6th, when Lynyrd Skynyrd’s homecoming concert with Charlie Daniels came to the Jacksonville Coliseum.
It was hard to believe that I hadn’t actually seen Skynyrd as a band since I was with them in Atlanta, back in 1973. I remember being really pumped as I stood off stage left; the “William Tell Overture” blasting through the sound system, the gigantic Confederate flag backdrop suddenly unfurling as the band took the stage. The drama was intense, and was surely the perfect prelude to the triumphant return of Jacksonville’s rock heroes.
But something was clearly wrong, right from the start. From the beginning of the opening number, “Workin’ for MCA,” Ronnie began jiggling the female connector of his microphone cable. He was known to do this from time to time for various reasons. One would be that a bad connection really did exist, somewhere between the mic and the patch bay, causing an intermittent signal. Another could be when he was feeling particularly mischievous, and simply wanted to create some excitement among the sound crew for his own amusement. The third would be when his voice was gone, in which case he would simulate a problem with the microphone to cover the fact that he was unable to reach certain notes. Right about this time, I was convinced it was the latter–he couldn’t hit any of them.
They had just segued into their second song, “I Ain’t the One,” when Ronnie suddenly exited the stage, the band following shortly after. When it was announced a few minutes later that Skynyrd would not be able to continue, all hell broke loose. At this point, I was one of the first ones out the door. According to Skynyrd stage manager, Joe Barnes, no one had any prior indication that anything was wrong with Ronnie. It wasn’t until he left the stage that it was realized he was coughing up blood.
I knew there had been an after show party planned over in Arlington, but since there was no show, I assumed the party would be cancelled as well. By the time I reached home, however, Allen was calling to say the party was still on. Admittedly, my memory of this night is a little foggy, but it seems it was Allen who came by to pick me up, as I do recall being in the car with him, an experience one never forgets. We drove out to Waldz Restaurant and Delicatessen at Town & Country Shopping Center to join the party.
I had expected the gathering to be a fairly somber occasion when we arrived, under the circumstances, but it wasn’t that at all. Everyone was carrying on, eating, drinking and laughing, like backstage after any other rock show. Ronnie seemed to be fine, and was engaged in deep conversation with bus driver, Sammy Ammons, who also seemed to be serving in some security capacity at the time. Whatever the conversation was, Sammy wouldn’t allow anyone to get close enough to the table to hear any of it, or, for that matter, even to say hello. It must have been a pretty decent party, however, because I have no recollection of returning home.
On August 14th, Lynyrd Skynyrd would board National Airlines Flight 443 for Tampa, where the tour would pick back up with Skynyrd headlining the Tampa Fair, along with Brownsville Station, Elvin Bishop, and the Outlaws. From there, it was on to Charleston, West Virginia, for another headline date with Charlie Daniels in support, then to Boston, where Skynyrd would open for Ten Years After, at Boston Garden.
On August 22nd, they began a run of stadium shows, headlined by the Faces, along with Fleetwood Mac, and Loggins and Messina. On September 5th, Skynyrd would follow opener Peter Frampton on a Black Sabbath show at San Bernardino’s Swing Auditorium, before headlining the Long Beach Arena on September 6th.
On September 7, they would interrupt the tour long enough to go back into the studio, to begin recording what would be their fourth studio album, at the Record Plant, in Los Angeles. This would begin their relationship with renowned record producer Tom Dowd, while the album would eventually be entitled Gimme Back My Bullets.
Okay. I’ll say it. I absolutely loved Gimme Back My Bullets, though there are those, including some of the band, who would argue about the quality of the record to this day. While I agree that the material as a whole was not up to Skynyrd standards – and that, Tom Dowd or not, the production sucked – there were songs here, particularly the title track, which represented to me the Lynyrd Skynyrd that I had come to know and love years earlier.
“Bullets”–the song– was snarling, and angry, with a kiss-my-ass attitude that was Skynyrd through and through. “Double Trouble,” and even “Cry for the Bad Man” also reflected the leaner, meaner, hungrier times, which had produced such songs as “One More Time,” “Comin’ Home,” and “Down South Jukin’.” In my eyes, this was a renaissance for the band, a rebirth of sorts, one I hoped would carry them for another 20 years. The three-guitar attack had been unique, powerful and explosive, but now, without Ed King, they were forced to get back to the nuts and bolts of what the band was all about.