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Lynyrd Skynyrd Still Sweet Home To Southern Rock Fans

Of the Oakland Press

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Lynyrd Skynyrd survived a nine dates worth of August shows with Kid Rock and his Twisted Brown Trucker Band, although the Southern rock group's members hardly considered that a tough road.

As guitarist Rickey Medlocke notes, "Dude, we've survived everything" -- which in Skynyrd's case includes some pretty wild party days and, on a more somber note, the 1977 plane crash that killed three bands members and halted the Southern rockers for 10 years.

But Medlocke reports the recent romp with Rock was nothing but pleasurable for the "Free Bird" crew.

"It was phenomenal," says Medlocke, 58, who played drums in Skynyrd during 1970 before leaving to form the group Blackfoot, returning to Skynyrd in 1996 as a guitarist. "The business end was just great, and the personal end of it was even better." But, he adds with a laugh, "I want to keep that part off the record right now..."

Fellow guitarist Gary Rossington, who's been part of the entire 44-year Skynyrd odyssey, adds that "we love (Rock), and he's done a lot for us." Skynyrd and Rock also share a tour bus driver, according to Rossington, "so we talk to each other all the time through him. And we hear all the wild stories about him. We've calmed down now, so we listen to all the stories about the Kid Rock party bus instead."

Besides Rock's professed love of Southern rock -- and musical reference to "Free Bird" in his 2001 song "You Never Met a Mother... Quite Like Me" -- the two acts share even more common ground these days. Rock's latest hit, "All Summer Long," is built on the riff from Skynyrd's anthem "Sweet Home Alabama;" the group's keyboardist, Billy Powell, even played piano on Rock's recording.

That made for some intriguing concert moments during the shows, according to Medlocke.

"You take a great song like that and you do what (Rock's) done, and basically what it does is it spikes everything for both parties," he notes. "It spikes him and it spikes us 'cause everyone recognizes the ('Sweet Home Alabama') lick in it.

"So it was kind of an interesting deal when we were out on the road. We'd play 'Alabama,' and then he comes behind us in his show and he plays 'All Summer Long' -- and it works. We're happy for him. We're happy for us."

Skynyrd, meanwhile, continues to please fans with its lengthy library of Southern rock hits, recorded after the group -- which took its name from Jacksonville, Fla., high school gym teacher Leonard Skinner -- was discovered by Blood, Sweat & Tears founder Al Kooper. Given the numerous personnel changes over its career, Medlocke says Skynyrd is living proof that it's the songs and not the singers -- or the players -- that are responsible for the band's durability.

"I think it just comes down to one thing, that the music is timeless," Medlocke explains. "I think that's what keeps people coming back is that the music is so great, man. It's never-ending. It's timeless. I think it'll be here way long after me and the rest of the guys are gone."

But, he adds, "It's very important for a band like Lynyrd Skynyrd to try and create and do new stuff." And to that end, the group has been working on new music and is eyeballing a 2009 release for its first set of fresh material since 2003's "Vicious Cycle."

Medlocke says the group has "already got enough songs written right now...but we want to write more songs with more people." Skynyrd has made plans to do some writing with Twisted Brown Trucker guitarist Marlon Young -- who co-wrote "All Summer Long's" -- and Medlocke says the band's wish list also includes Detroit native Jack White of the White Stripes and Raconteurs, T-Bone Burnett and rock guitarist turned country hitmaker Dann [cq] Huff.

The group has also spent time in Nashville working with, among others, Trey Bruce, who's written hits for Randy Travis, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood and Trace Adkins.

"We're not doing a country album," Rossington, 56, says, "but Skynyrd's always had a little bit of country blood in us. That's where we come from."

Ultimately, Medlocke adds, "what we're looking for is somebody to capture the essence of what Skynyrd really is instead of making it slick and all that. You can't slick-up Lynyrd Skynyrd; Lynyrd Skynyrd is a raw band and has to be done raw. So that's what we're after."

The group wraps its tour on Tuesday and plans to take a little time off before hitting the studio again. "It's been a long tour," Medlocke notes. "We've been on the road since April. We need to take a little time to be with our loved ones and drop back 10." But he predicts Skynyrd will be recording again sooner rather than later, getting back to the task of adding to a formidable catalog.

"We know you can't go into the studio and purposely go, 'OK, we're gonna try to come up with another 'Sweet Home Alabama' or another 'Free Bird,' " acknowledges Medlocke, who has an active acting career on the side. "I would never even try to match or try to even think about trying to write another '...Alabama.'

"You just gotta go into the studio with the intention of recording great songs. The key secret to it is to try to make great songs that can stand the test of time, too. That's what we're trying to do."

Lynyrd Skynyrd performs at 7:30 Sunday (Sept. 21) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $59.50 and $39.50 pavilion, $15 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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