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. 

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Saturday Night Special

The riff in this song is ominous sounding. As usual Van Zant’s lyrics fit the music perfectly. This song seems strange knowing that many members had guns and were widely known as a wild band.

This song is about the cheap guns you could buy on the street for 20 bucks called Saturday Night Specials. Van Zant was advocating more control over the illegal ones that were so easy to get.

Lynyrd Skynyrd weren’t against legal guns. Many of them had them. Leon Wilkeson, the bass player, actually took to wearing a holster and a real gun onstage but it was only loaded with blanks. On one tour they were opening for Black Sabbath at Nassau Coliseum, Long Island. Black Sabbath fans apparently didn’t like them and rushed the stage with taunts.

When one fan got too close, Wilkeson drew his pistol and fired a blank over the heads of the crowd. Everybody immediately backed off and the show completed without any more trouble. Yep…they were a wild bunch.

The song peaked at #27 in the Billboard 100 and #63 in Canada. It was off of their Nothin’ Fancy album released in 1975. The album peaked at #8 in the Billboard Album Charts and #43 in the UK. It would be their last album produced by Al Kooper.

For this song, drummer Bob Burns had to take a break from touring and Artimus Pyle was brought in to replace him. Pyle was given just a couple of days to rehearse the song in a rented Atlanta club before they hit the road again.

This was the last album that Ed King appeared on with the original band. Ed was from Southern California and the only non-Southerner in the lineup. He said he felt like an outsider in the band. He was originally in the Strawberry Alarm Clock and joined Lynyrd Skynyrd just in time for their original album and played bass on that. He would soon switch back to electric guitar and would help write Sweet Home Alabama.

One night on tour in Pittsburgh King was fed up and left in the middle of the night. They had 4 weeks remaining on the tour.

Ed King: We had a show in Pittsburgh one night. (May 26, 1975) Ronnie and my guitar tech got thrown in jail the night before in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were really late getting to the show. My guitar strings weren’t changed for the show. By the end of the night, I had broken two strings. All the way back to the hotel Ronnie was just raising hell about it. When we got back to the hotel, I just said that this is just really screwed up. This came at the very end of all kinds of stuff on that tour. I just didn’t need it anymore.

Despite this…. some people forget just how good live they were. They could go toe to toe with the Stones or any other touring band at the time.

Mick Jagger laid some ground rules at the 1976 Knebworth Festival for Lynyrd Skynyrd…they could do what they wanted except walk down the prop tongue part of the stage. That was a stupid thing to tell this band…they did exactly that.

The Stones played later but the day belonged to Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Gary Rossington: “It was a strong message that Ronnie was conveying, Those cheap handguns were no good for hunting or anything else – they were just made to kill people. And those guns were easy to find. We came from a rough part of town, the west side of Jacksonville. There were a lot of bad people there, and every week you’d hear that somebody got shot or killed.”

Although the song didn’t hit the top 20, it has remained a staple on classic rock radio for years.

This is a live version in 1976 at the Knebworth Festival after Ed left the band and Steve Gaines took his place. Gaines was probably the best guitar player they ever had.

Saturday Night Special

Two feet they come a creepin’
Like a black cat do
And two bodies are layin’ naked
Creeper think he got nothin’ to lose
So he creeps into this house, yeah
And unlocks the door
And as a man’s reaching for his trousers
Shoots him full of thirty-eight holes

Mr. Saturday night special
Got a barrel that’s blue and cold
Ain’t good for nothin’
But put a man six feet in a hole

Big Jim’s been drinkin’ whiskey
And playin’ poker on a losin’ night
And pretty soon ol’ Jim starts a thinkin’
Somebody been cheatin’ and lyin’
So Big Jim commence to fightin’
I wouldn’t tell you no lie
Big Jim done pulled his pistol
Shot his friend right between the eyes

Mr. Saturday night special
Got a barrel that’s blue and cold
Ain’t good for nothin’
But put a man six feet in a hole

Oh, it’s the Saturday night special

Hand guns are made for killin’
They ain’t no good for nothin’ else
And if you like to drink your whiskey
You might even shoot yourself
So why don’t we dump ’em people
To the bottom of the sea
Before some ol’ fool come around here
Wanna shoot either you or me

Mr. Saturday night special
Got a barrel that’s blue and cold
Ain’t good for nothin’
But put a man six feet in a hole

Mr. the Saturday night special
And I’d like to tell you what you could do with it
And that’s the end of the song

Lynryd Skynryd – Comin’ Home

This song wasn’t released during the lifetime of the original band. It was -released on the album Skynyrd’s First and…Last  in 1978 a year after the plane crash.

The album was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama in 1971-1972. It was originally intended to be their debut album but it was shelved, making (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) their actual debut.

There are some really good songs on this posthumous album . Personally I wished this song would have made the debut album. The song is about being out on the road touring and finally making it back home. It was written by Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins. The song doesn’t have the crisp production of the debut album Prounounced but it’s a good song.

Ronnie Van Zant was a great and  sometimes under rated songwriter. The band members have  said that he never wrote lyrics down on paper. The band would be practicing and he would hear a riff or a chord progression he liked and would tell them to keep going through it over and over. After thinking about it he would start singing what he came up with. 

A year or so before the crash Ronnie thought venturing into country music. One of his musical influences was Merle Haggard.

Comin’ Home

It’s been so long since I’ve been gone
Another day might be too long for me
Traveling around I’ve had my fill
Of broken dreams and dirty deals
A concrete jungle surrounding me
Many nights I’ve slept out in the streets
I paid my dues and I changed my style
Seen hard times, all over now

I want to come home. It’s been so long since I’ve been away
And please, don’t blame me ’cause I’ve tried
I’ll be coming home soon to your love, to stay

I miss old friends that I once had
Times ain’t changed and I’ll be glad when I go home
I don’t know why the thought came to me
But why I’m here I really can’t see, and now

I want to come home. It’s been so long since I’ve been away
And please, don’t blame me ’cause I’ve tried
I’ll be coming home soon to your love, to stay
Coming home to stay
Coming home to your love, mama
I’ve seen better days

I miss old friends that I once had
Times ain’t changed and I’ll be glad when I go home
I don’t know why the thought came to me
But why I’m here I really can’t see, and now

I want to come home. it’s been so long since I’ve been away
And please, don’t blame me ’cause I’ve tried
I’ll be coming home soon to your love, to stay
Coming home to stay
Coming home to your love, mama
I’ve seen better days

Lynyrd Skynyrd – I Ain’t The One

I Ain’t the One has a great opening riff and it was written by guitarist Gary Rossington and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, and was featured as the first track on Skynyrd’s debut album (pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd).

The album was one of the great rock debut albums. When you listen to this album you can hear a little of Cream, Stones, and Free. British rock was a huge influence on Lynyrd Skynyrd.

There is a great version of this song of them playing it  at the Knebworth Festival in England. Although the headliner was The Rolling Stones but Skynyrd was the band that grabbed the notices of that festival.

At a gig in Atlanta in 1972 they were discovered and signed by musician, producer, and founding member of Blood, Sweat, and Tears and The Blues Project, Al Kooper.

After two songs into recording bassist Leon Wilkeson quit so he was replaced by ex-Strawberry Alarm Clock guitarist Ed King who originally wanted to play guitar with the band.

After they finished recording Ronnie Van Zant decided that King, who had added some guitar to the record, would be better on lead guitar so he asked Wilkeson to rejoin.

With Wilkeson back the now seven-man band was complete and would remain that way until Ed King and Bob Burns left the band in 1975. The guitarist Steve Gaines would join in 1976.

I Ain’t The One

Well, I’ll tell you plainly baby
What I plan to do
‘Cause I may be crazy baby
But I ain’t no fool
Your daddy’s rich, mama
You’re overdue
But I ain’t the one, baby
Been messing with you
Got bells in your mind, mama
So won’t you pardon me
I think its time for me to move along
I do believe

Now you’re talking jive, woman
When you say to me
Your daddy’s gonna take us in baby
‘N take care of me
You know and I know, woman
I ain’t the one
I never hurt you sweet heart
I never pulled my gun
Got bells in your mind, baby
So won’t you pardon me?
I think its time for me to move along
I do believe
Time for me to put my boots out in the street baby
Are you ready boots — walk on

All right there missy, let me tell you a thing or two
Now you’re talking jive, woman
When you say to me
Your daddy’s gonna take us in baby
‘N take care of me
When you know and I know, woman
I ain’t the one
That ain’t my idea — uh unh — of having fun
Got rings in your eyes lady
So won’t you pardon me
I think its time for me to move along
I do believe
I must be in the middle of some kind of conspiracy

Lynyrd Skynyrd – The Needle And The Spoon…Drug Reference Week

This song has a cool walk down intro along with some harmonics. I like the dynamics of the song when it kicks in.

This one has gotten some significant FM play in my region. It was written by Allen Collins and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant…Van Zant was warning about the dangers of hardcore drugs, which the band was just learning about.

The song was on their sophomore offering Second Helping. The album had their biggest hit, Sweet Home Alabama. They released their debut album the year before and their fan base was growing after opening up on The Who’s Quadrophenia tour. The album peaked at #12 in the Billboard Album Chart and #9 in Canada.

In the 2015 edition of Guitar World Magazine, the solo to this song was listed as the #19 best of all time.

 

The Needle and The Spoon

Thirty days, Lord, and thirty nights
I’m coming home on an airplane flight
Mama waiting at the ticket line
Tell me son, why do you stand there cryin’?

It was the needle and the spoon
And a trip to the moon
Took me away
Took me away

I’ve been feeling so sick inside
Got to get better, Lord, before I die
Some doctors couldn’t help my head, they said
You’d better quit, son, before you’re dead

Quit the needle, quit the spoon
Quit the trip to the moon
They gonna take you away
Lord, they gonna take you away

It was the needle and the spoon

I’ve seen a lot of people who thought they were cool
But then again, Lord, I’ve seen a lot of fools
I hope you people, Lord, can hear what I say
You’ll have your chance to hit it some day

Don’t mess with a needle or a spoon
Or a trip to the moon
They’ll take you away

Lord, their gonna bury you boy
Don’t mess with the needle
Now I know, I know, I know, I know, I know