Lynyrd Skynyrd Drummer Keeps The Music Alive His Way
Lynyrd Skynyrd was a pioneer of Southern rock with hits “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Free Bird” and “What’s Your Name” until the music was silenced by a plane crash in Mississippi that killed three band members including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant in 1977.
Drummer Artimus Pyle, who had joined the band in 1975, survived the crash. The six surviving band members didn’t reunite for another 10 years, but it was a short lived. Meanwhile, Pyle, who will be performing with his band Thursday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m. at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach, formed a number of bands over the years and has kept the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd alive.
Pyle said he is a “survivor if nothing else.”
“I’ve been blessed with playing the drums and having a young mind and staying healthy,” said Pyle from his home in North Carolina. “I’m a vegetarian, I take good care of myself. I’ll be the last Skynyrd standing. All those guys smoke themselves to death. They all drank themselves to death, drugs.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, including its members Van Zant, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Ed King, Steve Gaines, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson, Bob Burns and Pyle. In addition to Van Zant, Gaines and his sister, Cassie, were killed, (the band’s assistant road manager was also killed along with the pilot and co-pilot) while the other band members suffered serious injuries.
Pyle, who suffered broken bones and burns, said it took more than a year to recover from the plane crash, but the music helped him get back on his feet. But another accident sidelined him again in 1980. XXXXX mike is fact checking this XXXXXXXX
“I got my chops back, then after that motorcycle wreck that broke my right leg in 20 places, it took me a few years and six surgeries …. I still have stainless steel from the knee down in my right leg; I have bone against bone against stainless steel against nerve ending. Every step I take is painful, but when I play drums I push everything away, I get into the zone and I do what I’m supposed to do. I went to the V.A. hospital and told them my leg was really messed up. Their answer was to cut it off. I said, ‘I’m in four bands, I’m playing on five albums right now, I kind of need my leg.’”
Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited in 1987 with crash survivors Rossington, Powell, Wilkeson and Pyle, with Johnny Van Zant (Ronnie’s younger brother), taking over lead vocals. The tour with the Charlie Daniels Band was planned for 100 shows, but that faced hurdles, according to Pyle.
“It was great for the first 32 days until everybody in the band except me started doing cocaine and drinking champagne,” said Pyle, who also took part in the recording of “Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991.”
“Everything went downhill from there and all the lawyers and the managers were able to steal from us, steal us blind. I never met a manager or a lawyer concerning Lynyrd Skynyrd – much less road crew and management – that hasn’t made a career out of stealing from the band. They’ve all been very successful. There’s only Gary (Rossington) and I left. Gary has all the marbles and I live on nothing. But music has kept me alive and I feel that someday everything will straighten itself out.”
Rossington, along with Johnny Van Zant on vocals, is currently touring the country with the most recent incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Pyle has had little professional contact with Lynyrd Skynyrd since that 1991 album, and he doesn’t mince words when he talks about Rossington’s group, which he calls the “phony one out of Nashville.” Pyle currently plays with Burns, who was the drummer in the original line-up of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“If Ronnie Van Zant is not your lead singer, it’s not Lynyrd Skynyrd period. It’s something less, something different. I call my band All Points Bulletin or the Artimus Pyle Band … I play Lynyrd Skynyrd music because that’s who I am. Everything else has been taken from me, my reputation, my world, my money has all been stolen from me by people that I thought loved me. However they can’t take away my ability to play drums.”
Pyle’s reputation took a hit in 1993 when he pled guilty to attempted capital sexual battery and lewd assault on two girls in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., according to various news sources. In 2009, he was in the courtroom again when he was acquitted of charges that he failed to register as a sex offender and for lying on a driver’s license application. According to the Florida Times-Union, Pyle’s daughter, Kelly, said her father only pled guilty because he was facing 25 years to life in prison. He received probation instead. Pyle called them “false accusations.”
But that was the latest hardship in Pyle’s life. Besides the plane crash and later the motorcycle crash that nearly killed him, in 1971 his father was killed in a mid-air collision in Albuquerque, N.M. when he was nearly finished with four years in the military.
“I was the sole surviving son, so they let me out, but not by much,” he said. “I was in 3 years, 11 months, 22 days, 6 hours, and 25 minutes, but I had a four year hitch and I had signed up to go to officer’s candidate school and fly jets. I passed all the Marine Corp history and everything, but they wanted me to do two more years of college. I had one year of college and not good grades. They wanted me to go back to do two more years, make the grade and then go to officer’s candidate school at Quantico. Then my dad was killed … I just lost my heart for flight. My dad had taken lessons about the same time I started taking flight lessons. He soloed and I was about to solo, then he was killed. I went from being a Marine Corp officer flying jet airplanes to a drummer in a rock band.”
Pyle auditioned for King, Wilkeson and Ronnie Van Zant before he joined the band in 1975.
“I was in London, England with another band when I got the call that I was supposed to go back to America. We had already recorded ‘Saturday Night Special’ for the Burt Reynolds movie ‘The Longest Yard’ … Ronnie called me and said that Bob had a severe nervous breakdown and they needed me immediately, so I flew back to America and we did ‘Nuthin’ Fancy.’”
Pyle has five children, all are drummers, who range from 14 to 41 years old. He calls them “killer monster people” in spite of his “(messed) up life.”
“They all saw how much I love to play,” Pyle said. “I never taught them. I never made them play. But I always did provide a musical instrument. There were always drums around. They picked it up naturally and took it to new heights.”
With Burns by his side, Pyle said his band best honors the memory of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“I don’t charge a whole lot of money,” he said. “I get paid very little to do what I do, but my band is the best Lynyrd Skynyrd band in the world. My singers are great vocalists, they have beautiful voices. They sing the songs with respect and accuracy. They look like a bunch of FBI agents, but man they spend long hours working out those guitar parts and those keyboard parts and those vocal parts. When the fans come and see my band they hear what the band is suppose to sound like from the 1970s … we respect the music.”