Turn It UP! My years with Lynyrd Skynyrd…. by Ron Eckerman

Not long ago I had to fly somewhere and I’m a nervous flyer. I usually dread getting into a plane but I was determined I would enjoy this flight to Texas and then Colorado. We got into the air with my right ear-popping like crazy and I decided to listen to an audiobook once we were flying. I opened my audible library selection and just picked one at random. Well, needless to say, I picked this one. I was 30 minutes into the book before I discovered the irony of the situation. I quickly picked another book (Grateful Dead bio) and listened to that but…I finished this one on the way back while… driving safely on the ground.

This is not an autobiography of the band… it is an account of their mid to late-70s tours. The book was written by an insider (the road manager) book from 1974 to the 1977 plane crash. Lynyrd Skynyrd was a wild bunch who was ruled by lead singer Ronnie Van Zant with an iron fist. It was partly about babysitting a bunch of up-and-coming rock stars and yes…very entertaining. These guys learned from the best… they had opened for The Who on the Quadrophenia tour in 1973. Keith Moon showed them the path to destruction in hotels across the globe. They took it to a new level though…not only fighting with people who annoyed them…they fought each other. Contrary to popular belief…most of them were well-read and intelligent men but with a wild side. 

The band was managed by Peter Rudge who was known to be very cheap with bands. He also managed the Stones and The Who. It was Ron Eckerman’s (tour manager) job to collect the money and figure out the most economical way of traveling. In early 1977 he saw that traveling by plane would be cheaper than by bus. The band toured constantly and was rarely at home adding to the short tempers. They lost their guitar player Ed King in 1975 because of that plus madness exploding out of pure exhaustion. Keeping a road crew together while you are not touring was near impossible unless you play over 200 – 250 shows a year. 

Reading this book is truly like being transported in time back in the seventies rock world. It was back to a time when bands had to build up an audience. It didn’t happen with a youtube video or a Facebook page. There were no auto-tune or backing tracks to save you in concert. Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the best live bands around. They played at Knebworth in 1976 and were heralded in the press as the next great band in league with the Stones and Who. They never got that chance and were different than most bands. They had no production values at all…just a mirror disco ball. Ronnie Van Zant did not dance around like Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler…he was more like a field general directing his troops to conquer the audience. 

After losing Ed King, a great California guitarist… they picked up Oklahoma native Steve Gaines who would have had a chance to be a huge star. Gaines was an absolute phenom on guitar and had he not died at 28 in the plane crash, he might well be a guitar legend now. The book is hilarious in places but you know what is coming. They climbed the rock ladder and the new album Street Survivors showed what they might do. The album was not a “southern rock” album…it was a rock album by a band from the south. 

They never would get a chance to fulfill their promise. The new album was their biggest yet and in two weeks’ time, they would have headlined Madison Square Garden for the first time. It really did look like they were about to be elevated to the top bracket of touring rock bands.

I was a kid when all of this was going on but I am amazed at how much the world has changed since then. If a band, no matter how successful, would do what they did in today’s world…the band would be in jail and shunned. Not only Lynyrd Skynryd but Led Zeppelin, The Stones, The Who, and a host of other rock bands. The book will truly transport you back to that time. Even if you are a fan or not…it’s worth a read. Ron Eckerman was in the plane when it crashed and his description is truly chilling. 

Eckerman took the blame for the crash but it wasn’t one man’s fault. A short while after releasing the book he died of acute myeloid leukemia. His wife said he never got over the guilt for the crash and he died three years after the book was published. 

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

24 thoughts on “Turn It UP! My years with Lynyrd Skynyrd…. by Ron Eckerman”

  1. Interesting post, and could be an interesting read. It’s neat to see the details behind getting a tour together and how much work is involved. I re-read an interview I did with Bertis Downs , REM’s manager and kind of wish I’d delved deeper into the paperwork he had to do to get them into places like Russia and all the insurance kind of hassles that were daily necessities with a band on the road.
    I feel for your ear! That’s the reason I HATE flying – not real fear of crashing but I’ve had so many incidents of bad ear pain that keeps on after I land for hours, or even the next day.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Well I’ll take the popping in the ear…as long as I still have an ear and we are in flight lol.
      It is interesting and strange how the world has changed now. Even the innocent fun these guys had would be called out now. Also having long hair even in the mid seventies was dangerous…even for them if they were in a truck stop or where ever.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So let’s get this straight. A nervous airplane flyer gets on a plane and reads a book about Skynyrd the quickly realizes he’s on a plane himself. lol…oh man…
    Looks like a great read Max…too bad as you point out that Eckerman lived with the guilt…damn thats tuff

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yea I know man…stupidity of me lol.

      Yea and it wasn’t his fault…shit…they ran out of gas…that wasn’t his job but I can see where he thought that.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Hah, not the best book to start reading at 20,000 feet and (hopefully) rising! My wife hated flying for years and only got over it when she had to fly to see a sick friend, or not see her at all. That cured her, but she still has an iron grip on the odd turbulent take off. ‘Welcome to your flight aboard White Knuckle Airlines…’
    They were tight musically. This book is another I’ll have to add to the ‘want to read’ pile…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I totally relate to your wife. Every shake or shimmy my mind goes to a bad place while in the air.

      They were a wild bunch but Rudge had them on a touring wheel that never stopped. I can see why they were that wild…they were exhausted half the time. They did get better toward the end with days off…and surprise surprise…less trouble.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Sounds like a good read, Max. And, yep, looking at some of the stuff bands like The Who, The Kinks or Skynyrd for that matter did back in the ’70s, it does border on a miracle they made it through – well except of course of Ronnie Van Zandt and the others who perished during that plane crash.

    One can only imagine how Eckerman must have felt about the accident – frankly, I think it would have been better for him not to survive the tragedy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea the bad part is…he shouldn’ t have taken the blame in it. Rudge is the one that approved the plane…Eckerman just found it…so yea he suffered but shouldn’t have.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is simply one of the best music articles about a group I have ever read. I mean, this article in its totality is music appreciation to a tee.
    Personal, educational and very entertaining. I think you just wrote the best music article Max. My golly that is one for the ages! I’m gobsmacked really.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I do remember that! I had to look it up because I’m terrible with names!
        Yes it is really good…Bailey likes it also.

        Like

  6. I envision their song “Sweet Alabama” was written as a reaction to the band being on the road so relentlessly. I also hope they don’t commercialize their songs in the south for a political reason.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As far as I know they don’t. It was a shot at George Wallace with the boo boo boo…and at Neil for generalizing southern people.
      I’ve never covered that song before because I think everyone is just sick of it.

      Liked by 1 person

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