Johnny Van Zant talks about 25 years with Lynyrd Skynyrd and new album “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”

2012 marks the 25th anniversary of Johnny Van Zant taking over as the leader singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd. I have been a fan of this band since I was old enough to speak. There is something special about this band that just really speaks to it’s fans and they are so multi-generational. I am proof of that having a 4 month only daughter that has been listening to their tunes after only being born for 5 minutes. Johnny and the band are celebrating the release of their latest new album “Last of a Dyin’ Breed” and he took out some time to chat with us about the new album and to reflect on 25 years with the band.

Mike Gencarelli: How can you reflect on how Skynyrd is definitely still relevant today?
Johnny Van Zant: My brother was pulling for the common people when he started this band. He was writing songs like “Alabama”, “Curtis Lowe”, “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Simple Man”. To this day man, we try to keep it to things that we lived or our fans have lived or living through. People can relate to that. We like to think we are pretty down to earth people. When I get home, I take out the garbage and drop my kids off at school. I do the same things as everyone else and that keeps us humble to that fact. I always tell people we are no different from our fans.  That is the way that I have always remembered how Lynyrd Skynyrd has been. We are common people and I feel that it lives through the music.

MG: Like I mentioned I already have my 4 month daughter listening to Skynyrd, can you reflect on being so multi-generational?
JVZ: We call it the Skynyrd Nation, Mike. We are three generations old. I got a great place on stage, so I have this bird’s eye view of the audience. It is very mixed and everyone is out there. Young, old and in-between…and younger. [laughs].

MG:“Last of a Dyin’ Breed” is a really fierce follow-up to 2009’s “Gods and Guns”, which was also a hard year for the band. What did you enjoy most about this album and working again with “Gods and Guns” producer Bob Marlette?
JVZ: Bob is really great. I like him not only as a producer but also a friend. We were introduced to him by John5 from Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. We wanted to go in the studio and do a few tracks before we signed on for a whole record. But when we went in, everything really clicked. To have Bob back on board for “Last of a Dyin’ Breed” is just really great. We work with him very well. We  also tried to have a lot of fun working on this record. Like you said during the last record, we were going through some hard times, not only personally but as a band. When you lose members of a band, that is actually very personal as well though. There were times during recording “Gods and Guns”, where we asked ourselves if we should hang up our boots and call it a day. But Bob was one of the influences pushing us to get the record done. If Billy (Powell), Ean (Evans) or even my brother were still around, they would be kicking butt and taking names. That is why we are trying to carry this band on. I mean, this is my 25th year with the band now.

MG:The new album charted at #14 on the Billboard Charts, which is the best debut for Skynyrd since “Street Survivors”, can you reflect on that?
JVZ: I am just glad – it’s like Skynyrd was nominated seven times for Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame and it became a joke within the band. We used to say “Do we have to die to get into it”. But when it finally happened, I was just so happy for Ronnie (Van Zant), Gary (Rossington), Allen (Collins), Leon (Wilkeson) and Billy (Powell), the guys that started this band. I was overwhelmed with happiness for them. The thing that it comes back to is that is it great to debut at #14, but for me though it makes me happy that the fans like it. Numbers are great but to know the fans appreciate it what it is all about. We had a great time doing it and thought it was the best thing to biscuits and gravy [laughs]. But when the fans start liking it and to hear folks like you liking it, that is real payoff for me.

MG:I like that the band is continuing to produce new tunes. When I spoke with Rickey Medlocke, he said that “I guess we could sit back and rely on our classic tracks but if we can put out new music and material, it will keep things from getting stale.”
JVZ: It does. That would be the wrong thing and my brother would be coming down and kicking all of our asses. [laughs] He would say “What the hell, go out there and make some new music”. It is refreshing, it really is. We all know what made this band what it is. People have told us “Well why don’t you right another ‘Sweet Home Alabama'”? It has already been done right the first time. We don’t need to do it again.

MG:I got it Johnny, “Sweet Home Alabama 2”?
JVZ: Yeah that’s it! [singing] “Sweet Home Alabama…2”. Yeah, it doesn’t work. [laughs].

MG:Like you said 2012 marks your 25 years with the band, how do you feel that the music has changed throughout the years?
JVZ: I am not sure really. We have always been sticking with things we know about, like I said before, or things that have touched people around us. Lyrically, I don’t think we tried to change at all. I think we have tried to put some new guitar work. But I think that is more progress, you know? Believe me, I was a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan before I was in the band and if I wasn’t a part of Skynyrd and the albums came out and all sounded the same as in the old days. I would be like “Oh, it just sounds like the old stuff”. So we try to take a step forward. Someone people gonna like, some people gonna love it and some people gonna hate it. That’s the way life is.

MG:For me it would be “Simple Man” and those opening cords. What is the one track that when it goes on you completely jam into it?
JVZ: OH GOD! Hell yeah! It has to be “Simple Man”. That is just timeless. It just tells it like it is about being a simple man. The old saying is “If you gain the world, but lose your soul…what do you have?” That is basically what the song is saying: “Forget your lust, for the rich man’s gold. All that you need, is in your soul”. What a great song!

MG:Which tracks from the new album do foresee becoming part of a must play list during touring?
JVZ: Right now, we are playing “Good Teacher”, “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”, “One Day at a Time” and trying to work up “Homegrown”. The problem is [laughs], we love making new music but putting everything in the set [laughs] is one hard chore to do. You don’t want to take away an old classic. You want to be able to play the old songs that people love and cherish. So to put a new one is…you kind of have to sneak them in when you can [laughs].

MG:What do you do to keep it fresh constantly touring all around the world?
JVZ: I enjoy seeing the fans. Each night is a different night. Any member of Lynyrd Skynyrd will tell you the same. Every night is a different situation, a different part of the country or different part of the world. And it thrills me to get out there and play songs for people. There are nights where you may be tired or your voice isn’t up to par though. A friend of mine said they say a particular artist not too long ago and said that their voice wasn’t that good. I asked them if they checked their website to see how many shows they had before that [laughs]. You can tune a piano…but you can’t tune a voice! [laughs].

MG:You think The Van Zants will ever get in the studio again?
JVZ: We got to a point – we did a couple of country albums. The first one which we really worked hard on was “Get Right with the Man”. Then we got to the second one, “My Kind of Country”, which we also put a lot of time into. We finally looked at each other and just said that we were killing ourselves. He is still going with .38 Special and I am with Skynyrd, then you throw in this project into the mix. It has been a few years now…and we are definitely both getting a little antsy now. So let’s see what’s going to happen in the near future.

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke chats about band’s latest album “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”

Rickey Medlocke originally joined with Lynyrd Skynyrd back in the early 70’s before forming the band “Blackfoot”.  He re-joined Skynyrd in 1996 and has been rocking out since.  He is one of the bands guitarist along with Garry Rossington and Mark Matejka.  Rickey took out some time to chat with Media Mikes about the band’s latest album “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”.

Mike Gencarelli: What was the driving force inspiration behind “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”?
Rickey Medlocke: I feel like we are the last of a dyin’ breed. Along with our band and others like The Stones, AC/DC, ZZ Top, Aerosmith and The Allman Brothers, we all are the last of our kind. Even by the way we recorded this album was a great approach. After it was written, we setup in the studio live and recorded it.  Just like the way you hear it is the way it went down. It has really been a great experience.

MG: I’ve been a member of the Skynyrd Nation for 20 years and now I can’t wait to introduce my daughter to you as well; How can you reflect on Skynyrd being so multi-generational and still relevant today?
RM: First of all the bands fan-base is definitely multi-generational. Our fans span three generations and our fans are anywhere from 15 to 70. It is pretty cool when we you get to see fans that love your music and just enjoy listening to the songs. It goes to show what music represents. That is one of the key secrets in making new music to give fans something new to listen to. I guess we could sit back and rely on our classic tracks but if we can put out new music and material, it will keep things from getting stale.

MG: Tell us about the fierce use of guitar on these tracks?
RM: When we started this album, Garry (Rossington), Mark (Matejka) and myself had decided that we were going to try and bring the guitars out more. We wanted to make it more of a guitar based record, since the band is a guitar band. I believe what we have done is created a solid foundation of all three guitars. Each guy has his own place within each song. Everyone stepped up when they needed to take lead. You know what man, I think worked out really great. I for one am very happy with work that I did on it. Anyone always look back at their own work and think maybe I could have done better here or there but I think we nailed it. There are some guys that strive for perfection but hey man it is rock ‘n roll and rock ‘n roll is not perfect. It came out the way it was suppose to and we couldn’t be happier.

MG: You are working again with “God and Guns” producer Bob Marlette, how does the collaboration on this album differ?
RM: We decided way before this record that we were going to go out with Bob again. Bob is a really good director and producer. We are able to go off and do what we do. He is not one of these guys that it has to be his way or no way. With Bob on board, we planned to get into the studio and setup it up old school like. We wanted to record this live as we were performing it. We loved working with Bob and we are all the better for it.

MG: Love your vocal track on “Mississippi Blood”, how did that come about?
RM: Johnny (Van Zant) and I throughout the last several records have tried to do a duet. I like being a part of a song vocally, it is always a lot of fun. With that particular tune, the way it was written it fitted what Johnny and I wanted to go after. I really enjoyed it.

MG: For me it would be “Simple Man” and those opening cords, what is the one track that when it goes on you completely jam into it?
RM: There are a lot of songs in the Lynyrd Skynrd catalog. Right now in the shows, we are doing a melody of songs. We got “Needle and the Song” leading into “Tuesday’s Gone”. I really get off on those and love doing those two together.

MG: With each track omitting gold, which ones do you foresee becoming part of a must play list during touring?
RM: As far as the new stuff, we are doing “One Day at a Time”, “Last of a Dyin’ Breed” and “Good Teacher”. We wrote “One Day at a Time” we Kid Rock’s guitar player and writer Marlon Young. I really like doing “Good Teacher” because it has this Hendrix-style Wah-Wah. I broke out my ole Cry Baby for that tune when we recorded the track. I really enjoyed doing that. I also think that “Homegrown” is a great track to play live also. It has that Drop C that I really like. And of course, I also love “Mississippi Blood”, it has got some really great elements in it. Jerry Douglas played a great lap steel lead in that. This album overall is just loaded with good songs.


Related Content

CD Review: Lynyrd Skynyrd “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”

Lynyrd Skynyrd
Last of a Dyin’ Breed
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Label: Roadrunner Records/Loud & Proud Records
Tracks: 11
Running Time: 43 minutes

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Pronounced “leh-nerd skin nerd”, I have been a member of the Skynyrd Nation for the last 20 years. When I was approached to review this album, I got a wave of terror since they are in fact of my favorite bands. When you are reviewing one of your favorite band, you most importanting don’t want it to suck. Well luckily this album doesn’t and in fact is one of the bands most amped up records to date. If you go from the country-backed “Gods and Guns” to this Southern rock-infused “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”, it is like two different bands. Compared to the political edge to “Gods”, you can just feel that boys of Skynyrd are in the studio just having fun and delivering some good ‘ole southern rock! Skynyrd is still at the top of their game and show no signs of slowing down.

“Guns” producer Bob Marlette is back on board for “Last Of A Dyin’ Breed” and really re-ignites and even improves on the magic they had last go-round. The sound of the album is traditional Skynyrd blended very well with what is going on right now in the world. It is an album for the fans and definitely made for the fans. If you are looking for instantly memorable songs and some ridiculous three-guitar attacks, look no further! I do not think that there is a Skynyrd fan out there that will disagree with me that Skynyrd is on fire with this album.

Longtime members Gary Rossington (guitar), Johnny Van Zant (vocals) and Rickey Medlocke (guitar) and drummer Michael Cartellone are leading the pack on this album. The last time they recorded an album was 2009, which was a rough year for the band with the loss of Billy Powell and Ean Evans. Joining them is their newest bassist Johnny Colt (The Black Crowes, Train), guitarist Mark “Sparky” Matejka and keyboardist Peter Keys. Van Zant has honestly never sounded better vocally. With Medlocke and Rossington, you can just tell that they are literally tearing the shit out of their guitars. Skynyrd is a band that will never be put down and will just keep on coming.

If I had to choose a favorite song, I would have a very hard time for sure. Some notable tracks are “One Day at a Time”, “Something to Live For” and definitely “Ready to Fly” (shit, I guess I do have a favorite). Other notable tracks are “Homegrown”, which uses some cool vocal distortion and “Honey Hole”. They are probably two of the most unique tracks and just plain fun. Of course props needs to also be given to the title track “Last Of A Dyin’ Breed”. Johnny’s vocals are honestly the best they have ever been.  Also keep an ear out for “Mississippi Blood” featuring rare vocals from Medlock.  I have seen Skynyrd perform live probably 10 or more times and that track can easily open every show and get the crowd going.  I can just see Johnny getting up there and raising that microphone up like he always does! Woo hoo hoo!

If you are a die-hard Skynyrd fan, be sure to pick up the special edition of this record because you get not one but four bonus tracks, including “Poor Man’s Dream”, “Do It Up Right”, “Sad Song” and “Low Down Dirty”. After listening these tracks together as whole, this album isn’t complete without them personally. I can’t stress more that these are a must for all Skynyrd fans.

Track Listing:
1. Last Of A Dyin’ Breed
2. One Day At A Time
3. Homegrown
4. Ready To Fly
5. Mississippi Blood
6. Good Teacher
7. Something To Live For
8. Life’s Twisted
9. Nothing Comes Easy
10. Honey Hole
11. Start Livin’ Life Again