Why ‘Free Bird’ Never Gets Old for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke
So Lynyrd Skynyrd continued, even after Rossington's passing last March. They're scheduled to perform on New Year’s Eve Live: Nashville's Big Bash, a five-hour CBS special that will also feature stars like Blake Shelton, Trombone Shorty and more. Then Skynyrd hits the road again in March with ZZ Top, bringing the Sharp Dressed Simple Man tour to cities across America.
UCR caught up with longtime Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Rickey Medlocke to discuss the upcoming shows, the status of new music from the band, and more.
What can you tell us about the upcoming New Year's Eve show? Are there any surprises planned or things fans should expect?
Well, you know, it's actually gonna be interesting, because we've got some guest stars on the show with us — we've got Lainey Wilson and Elle King on there — you know, there's a whole bunch of things. And I'm sure, I'm pretty sure, that we're going to pull out maybe a couple of surprises for everybody. But at this point, I won't give it away. I have heard of a couple of good ones for New Year's Eve, so I'm just going to keep it at that.
So Lynyrd Skynyrd will be on the road again with ZZ Top in 2024, and you guys have obviously gotten to know each other well over the years. What's the best part of touring with ZZ Top?
Well, first of all, I mean, for myself going all the way back, I've been friends with the guys as far back as the mid-70s. But for Skynyrd ... you know, they did shows with them in the '70s. And then, what was really cool is that both bands hooked up for what is called a millennium tour, which was the 1999 into 2000 tour. And everybody thought the world was going to come to an end at that time, but obviously, it didn't happen. It started out that we were only doing a certain amount of shows, I think maybe 50. And as it turns out, the tour was going so well, they extended it, and we ended up doing 104 shows together. It went right into 2000, and it was one of the best tours, I think, that Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top ever did together. What's really cool about this year is that both bands, of course, celebrated 50 years in existence in the music business — you know, like Skynyrd, 50 years since their first release, our first release in '73. And I think what is really cool is that both bands have seen some tragedy in their band, you know, with ZZ losing Dusty Hill and us, ended up losing Gary this year, and I think it's a celebration of music ... it really is.
Watch ZZ Top Perform 'Just Got Paid' Live
If you could include one ZZ Top cover in your set list, what would it be?
Oh, my God, that's an interesting question. You know, one song that I love [from] the guys and it was always probably one of my favorites by them, is "Just Got Paid." I always loved it — it was a real funky song anyway. But you know what, I mean, they're like us. I mean, they have so many iconic songs. And of course, you know, you got "La Grange" and "Legs" and all that stuff, but going back in their history, I just love "Just Got Paid." And I love going out — I stood out there this year when we were out together. I stood out there at night, you know, and listened to them play it and it just brought back a lot of memories, and made great memories, new ones. And it was really cool this year — Billy [Gibbons] and I got to hang out together and talk shop and talk about music and experiences. And I don't know, man, it was really an incredible thing this year.
Speaking of things turning 50, Second Helping will turn 50 next April. I know you weren't a part of the band when that album was made, but I've always been curious what led Lynyrd Skynyrd to cover J.J. Cale's "Call Me the Breeze" on that album. J.J. Cale had experienced some success at that point, but he wasn't exactly a household name.
From what I understand, Ronnie [Van Zant] was a big J.J. Cale fan. And he really, you know — that was his thing. And I think it was a combination between Ronnie and Gary. And possibly Allen [Collins], but I know Ronnie was a big fan of J.J. Cale. And I believe, in all seriousness, that's why that song came about, for Skynyrd to do. And I'm telling you, you know, in our history, and in our past, I mean, there are several songs that you get into the show and there's several songs that you cannot forget to do. And "Call Me the Breeze" is one of them. Everybody loves the song. So, there you go.
Another one of those songs you have to do is "Free Bird." Do you ever get tired of playing that one? Or is it still fun?
Well, coming from the guy that plays the ending, the solo, [laughs] "Free Bird" actually never gets tiring to me because basically of what it stands for, and the meaning of it. And people get different meanings out of [it] — their own meaning out of "Free Bird," you know? And every night that we play it, people just — you look at people and [they're] so overwhelmed with it, it's beautiful. It's just a beautiful song. And I never get tired of playing it. In fact, you know, a lot of people say, "Don't you ever get tired of playing 'Free Bird' or 'Alabama' or whatever?" And I'm like, "No, because they're great songs." And when we stand up there, it just makes people — it gives people a lot of happiness and a lot of joy, and I love that. You know what I mean? I really do.
Watch Lynyrd Skynyrd Perform 'Free Bird' Live
Recently, Lynyrd Skynyrd gifted one of Gary Rossington's guitars to Jelly Roll. He's someone who's been kind of expanding the idea of what "country" or "southern" music sounds like. I'm wondering: when you think of the future of "southern rock," which Lynyrd Skynyrd helped to make so popular in the first place, what does that look like to you?
I think, first of all, he is the real deal. I mean, you can't get no more real than that dude. I mean, of everything that that guy's been through, and he portrays that. And I really believe deep down — I mean, I really believe he is grateful for everything. You know what I mean? It could have gone really the wrong way for him all the way. But it didn't, you know, somehow he found a blessing and he got out of it. And came out with great songs. There you go.
See, I believe that there's no limit now to what music has become. I think all the genres of music crosses each other. And I believe that, you know, even thinking about Kid Rock. Kid Rock crossed over in the genre, where he's done well with it. And now you've got people like Jelly Roll and you've got — you know, you've had other bands that have done it. And I mean, personally for me, if your heart and your soul is in it, and the feel is in it, then what's the big deal? Music, and the music world, is forever changing. It's never going to stay the same. As long as you've got talented people reaching out and trying different things, then it's gonna change. And with today's technology, believe me, it's going to change.
As I understand it, Lynyrd Skynyrd was at work on a new album at the time Gary passed. Is there a status update on that?
We weren't really, what you say — we had gone in before we did the, uh, you know before we did the Street Survivors tour, starting in 2018. We went in the studio. Gary, Johnny [Van Zant] and I had produced a song that we had written many years ago called "Last of the Street Survivors." And it came out. And in fact, it was available, it still is, on iTunes and Spotify and so forth. But we then got all these old songs that were sitting around. And actually, Gary, Johnny and I had talked about taking the band in and coming out and doing a brand new record. The way things went, you know, Gary succumbed to his illness and it really kind of set things on the back burner. Recently, I've actually talked about maybe, every once in a while, putting a song out. One song out for the fans. Maybe not a whole album. But every once in a while, a song, put a song out, you know, and let people see these songs and hear these songs that we've had sitting around all this time, and do something with them to ensure they get it heard.
I've got a lightning round of questions for you. What's your favorite song to perform on tour?
Oh, my God, are you kidding? It would probably be a combination — actually it would be a combination of three different songs. Probably would be "Tuesday's Gone," "Needle and [the] Spoon" and "Simple Man."
What's your favorite thing to do when you're not on the road?
Fishing. I'm an avid fisherman, I love fishing.
What's a Lynyrd Skynyrd deep cut you think should be appreciated more?
Oh, "Cry for the Bad Man."
What's one piece of advice you’d offer a young guitarist who wants to make it in rock?
Well, you know what, if you really believe in your heart that that is your destiny and you really believe in your heart that that is what you're supposed to do, follow your heart, follow your dream. And stay with it. Stay focused, you know, just stay focused on what you love and what you want to do. And don't stop. I mean, you know, don't let nothing deter you, and it's all about making great songs. That's what it's about.
Top 25 Southern Rock Albums
Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso
When Lynyrd Skynyrd's Rickey Medlocke Met Kiss