Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Interview with Lynyrd Skynyrd - May 31, 1975 (Update)

Updated 11/18/2014

By now, most of you surmised that I am not a young pup after reading interviews I've done with the likes of Arlo Guthrie sparking my own memories of Woodstock. So the fact that I interviewed the original Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1975 should come as no surprise.

Life was just a wee bit different in those days. I had a tape recorder, with a real tape in it, and batteries that were fully charged when I went into the penthouse suite of what was then the Americana Hotel in New York City. (This was the same suite I had been in the week before when I interviewed Barry Hay, the lead singer/songwriter for Golden Earring, a band most recognized for their hit song, 'Radar Love'.)


As soon as the publicist left the room, Van Zant jumped out of his chair to confront me. Although a huge presence on-stage, he actually stood 5’7” tall (with his boots on), towering over my 4’10” frame.

“I want you to know before we get started that I hate writers so whatever you have to say, say it quick!” he shouted in my face.

Standing nose to nose with him (I have always been pretty gutsy) I asked, “Why do you hate writers? You just met me. Why would you hate me?”

“Because writers lie. They take everything I say out of context and then print it to make me look ignorant,” he said.

“You see this? It’s a tape recorder,” I told him. “I intend to record this interview and when it is printed, if you are misquoted, taken out of context or made to look ignorant I swear I will never do another interview with anyone.” What was I thinking? I was very na├»ve, but I meant what I said.

Ronnie Van Zant
“Really?” he said. “Ya know, I kinda like you. And you're shorter than me, too. Sit down.” There was no place to sit but the floor so I made myself comfy on the carpet. (Yes, my hair was long and dark then and my signature felt hat was part of my identity.) He introduced his friends and when he got to the end, I said, “You don’t have to go any further. I know who Al Kooper is!” Kooper just looked at me silently, expressionless. I admit I was disappointed. I would rather have been interviewing him at that moment.

Van Zant proceeded to offer me a drink and I declined. He called room service and ordered screwdrivers for everybody. We chatted for awhile, conversationally, and then the tray of drinks was delivered. Van Zant placed them on his lap, offered them to his friends and after they declined he started drinking. Later on, the interview began.

Leon Wilkeson
Gary Rossington


The resulting article appeared in the front section of a magazine named SWANK. Yes, that’s right, my loyal readers. Susan Cross (under a pen name)had a short article that appeared in a magazine often found under the beds of teenaged boys. In my defense, I proudly am included in the same issue as author Henry Miller (Tropic of Capricorn) and Ed Naha (screenwriter who wrote ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’) so, yes, some people really did buy the magazines to read the articles.

The two hours that followed were very revealing but I was there for a specific reason—to ask about his relationship with Alabama’s Governor George Wallace who was well known as a segregationist.

In Skynyrd’s song, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ there is a line, “In Birmingham they love the Governor, boo, boo, boo,” expressing the band’s opposition to the Guv’s racist leanings, although it is often taken out of context and misunderstood as a result of another line, “I hope Neil Young will remember, southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” Neil young was recognized for his anti-racist attitude. (There are plenty of explanations of this on the web so I won’t go into further detail here.)
Concert that night, May 31,1975

Following is the portion of the article as it was submitted and later published in the magazine.

WARNING: Ronnie Van Zant used blunt language which some people might find offensive. If you are one of those people, either stop reading or cover one eye and skip any words that start with the letter ‘f’ and end with the letter ‘g’.