WASHINGTON — In 1977, a plane crash in the swamps of Mississippi put an end to the meteoric rise of southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The crash killed three people, including the bands founder and creative force Ronnie Van Zant.
“I ran for help even though I had been injured,” says Artimus Pyle, the band’s drummer and one of the crash survivors.
“My friends were bleeding and every second counted.”
They were just five days into a 95-city world tour when the plane ran out of gas midair.
Surviving members retreated to various parts of the world to heal from their injuries and try to piece together their lives.
Pyle put a band together with friends and neighbors because he wanted to keep playing music. After 10 years, he got a call from fellow Lynyrd Skynyrd band mate and crash survivor Gary Rossington, who said it was time to put the band together again.
A tribute tour was planned, but Pyle soon soured on the idea and left.
“I was a part of the real Lynyrd Skynyrd. I certainly didn’t want to be part of something less. And it was getting less and less everyday,” he says.
Pyle blames drugs, alcohol and egos on the split from that reunion.
But soon after, The Artimus Pyle band started touring and playing tribute songs to the man Pyle admired and to the music that was such a part of his life.
“Ronnie could sing, Ronnie could write and Ronnie had stage presence,” he says.
But Pyle was not the only one touring. Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie’s brother, was leading a band under the name Lynyrd Skynyrd. Pyle was not impressed.
“I’m gonna tell you all right now — if Ronnie Van Zant is not your lead singer, it is not Lynyrd Skynyrd. Period,” he says.
Fans are being cheated by the new incarnation of the band, Pyle says. He considers them nothing more than a “clown act,” and “circus act.”
“They are like a Las Vegas Karaoke team,” he says.
Lawyers for the new Lynyrd Skynyrd have challenged Pyle on his band’s tribute to Van Zant.
“My band plays the music without the clown act. We respect and love the music,” he says, adding that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the drummer.
Pyle says he would never use the Skynyrd name, but calls his band the ultimate tribute to Van Zant.
“I would like to see them get a bunch of bloodsucking, weasel attorneys and I would like to see them try to stop me from going out and making a living by being who I am,” he says defiantly.