Believe in me for who I am: Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer to play AVLfest
On Oct. 20, 1977, a plane carrying southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed into the woods near Gillsburg, Mississippi.
At the time, the group was one of the hottest rock acts on the planet. As a result of the crash, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines, were all killed, in addition to three others.
With the rest of the surviving members of the band seriously injured in the wreck, Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle, in a state of shock and with broken ribs, trudged through the thick brush and ran for help. Nothing was ever the same for Skynyrd, for Pyle and the survivors after that fateful day, even if the band itself still tours regularly with a rotating cast of musicians.
The road to the present for Skynyrd has been a haphazard trek of the good, the bad and the ugly. For Pyle, he went out on his own long ago, come hell or high water. A man of grit and grace, of integrity and purity of the Skynyrd music he holds close to his heart, Pyle has traveled the world over with beloved project, The Artimus Pyle Band, as well as his family band, PYLEtribe.
“[The music] keeps me alive,” Pyle said. “Blood-sucking weasel attorneys, managers and all those people that make music bad, they have not been able to take away from me my ability to play drums. I still kick ass. I’m still going to play drums when I’m 100, then I’m going to switch to stand-up comedy.”
Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for his work with Skynyrd in 2006, Pyle is also the only living full-time member left of the famed ensemble. Holding court behind his iconic drum kit, Pyle is a force of nature onstage, this thunderous roar of cymbals and kick drums. Offstage, Pyle is a genuine presence of calmness and peace when face-to-face in conversation.
“This isn’t Lynyrd Skynyrd, this is a tribute band to Ronnie Van Zant, his band and his music — and we do it better than anybody in the world,” Pyle said.
Rolling through a slew of Skynyrd classics and juggernaut hits, The Artimus Pyle Band is as authentic as it is a bridge to the sound, size and scope of one of America’s greatest rock bands. With PYLEtribe, there’s a thick thread of Skynyrd running through the ensemble atop a keen focus on original melodies and deep dives into the world of percussion.
“We’re serious with what we do, the guys play the music with respect and accuracy. My vocalists are second to none, so there’s no problem,” Pyle said. “These huge crowds we play for they respond. They hear the music, they feel it, and they’re responding to the lush sound of the music.”
So, just what is it about the melodies of Skynyrd that continue to captivate the hearts and souls of music lovers across the globe?
“Well, people bury their friends to ‘Free Bird.’ ‘Simple Man’? Ronnie wrote [it] about his mother,” Pyle said. “So, it’s all about the American family — it’s about real, good stuff.”
When asked about Skynyrd’s storied number “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe” and what that says about the South, Pyle will be the first to tell you that the foundation of Skynyrd is one of openness and acceptance of others — that notion of “we’re all in this together, so be good to one another.”
“[With ‘The Ballad of Curtis Lowe’] Ronnie was talking about showing that if a person is a good person, it doesn’t matter what color, what gender, what race — if they’re good, they’re good, if they’re bad, they’re bad,” Pyle said. “‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is saying don’t blame every Southern man. Ronnie was saying don’t blame all of us for the racism of the few because Ronnie wasn’t like that — he loved people for the way they were.”
To be blunt, what Pyle does isn’t a nostalgia act — far from. It’s rock-n-roll in its purest form, which is rebellious and eternal. He is the real deal, through and through. He’s a straight shooter in a world full of smoke and mirrors. To watch a legend of his caliber perform live is a moment that will forever be talked about by those who witness rock royalty in real time.
At age 74, Pyle shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, the touring is a vehicle by which he can continue to spread the message of love and fellowship at the melodic core of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“[Age] is just a number. You know, when I’m playing I’m in the moment. It’s ageless, timeless, effortless. It just comes perfect when I’m playing,” Pyle said. “I’ve had three airplane crashes, eight motorcycle wrecks and 12 car crashes, so I feel my age sometimes because of the injuries to my body. But, in my mind, I’m Peter Pan. The music of Lynyrd Skynyrd has kept me going — I feel like I’ll never grow old because of the music.”
Want to go?
Presented by Wicked Weed Brewing and Worthwhile Sounds, the inaugural AVLfest will be held Aug. 3-6 at a variety of music venues, bars and restaurants around Asheville.
Featuring over 200 bands and artists, national headliners will be Watchhouse, Kurt Vile & The Violators, Cedric Burnside, Nikki Lane, Scott McMicken (of Dr. Dog), River Whyless and Sarah Shook & The Disarmers.
Artimus Pyle, iconic Rock & Roll Hall of Fame drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, will also perform with his family band, PYLEtribe.
Local/regional acts taking the stage will include Toubab Krewe, Tyler Ramsey, Amanda Platt & The Honeycutters, The Get Right Band, Empire Strikes Bass, Brothers Gillespie, The Fritz, Pink Beds, Caitlin Krisko & The Broadcast, Abby Bryant & The Echoes, Lyric and many more.
For more information, tickets and/or a full schedule of events, go to avlfest.com.