For so many, Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert is a chance to scream “Free Bird! at the top of your lungs.
There is, of course, so much more than that.
The Florida-formed group has been putting out records since 1973 and, with the Allman Brothers Band in retirement is the leading proponent of the southern rock genre. Even a tragic airplane crash 40 years ago that killed three members couldn’t stop Skynyrd, which regrouped a decade later and has been going on since.
And when you listen to its members talk, it certainly sounds like this group of Free Birds plans to maintain altitude for as long as they’re able to stand up and play.
• The group’s latest tour -- which kicks off Thursday night, Feb. 2, in Detroit -- comes after a long, by Skynyrd’s standard, layoff and has the band chomping at the bit to play again. “Being off a long time is kind of unusual for us, but certain things are necessary and it’s been necessary to do that,” guitarist Rickey Medlocke, who played with Skynyrd during 1071-72 and has been back with the group since 1996, says by phone from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. “We’re just ready to play again, man. I just talked to Gary (Rossington) not too long ago and he’s been going absolutely nuts sitting around waiting. We do what we do and we’re going to do it for as long as we can.”
• Rossington’s health, however, is one of the reasons for Skynyrd’s long break. The guitarist and sole remaining founding member in the band’s lineup has a history of mostly health problems and quite a few shows were canceled last year (including a planned stop at the DTE Energy Music Theatre) for additional heart bypass surgery. Rossington, 65, acknowledges that the latest issue did spur some thoughts about retiring, or dialing down. But Rossington decided otherwise. “I just take every day on faith,” he says by phone.” I guess when it’s my time, I’m ready. I’d rather be playing and living life up than...Like Neil Young said, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. I’d rather just burn out in the next 10 years than sit in a rocking chair and look at the trees blowing in the wind. It’s just in my blood, y’know? I’m just an old guitar player. When you retire, what’s next? I like to fish, but how much of that can you do, right? So I want to keep doing what I do now.”
• Despite that, Rossington and company aren’t afraid to broach the F word these days. “I’m sure we’ll end up doing a farewell tour in the next few years; I don’t know when, exactly, but we’re getting old here,” Rossington acknowledges. “Touring’s gotten to be harder, but we still love it. It’s just a gas to play to people and see their expression and their feelings. It’s just a dream come true.” But Medlocke, 66, doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, either: “Right now at this point, at this day and time, there are no plans to call it quits or to announce a farewell tour,” he says. “We’re just gonna go out and do what we do and to the best of our ability have fun ‘cause we have a load of fun out there entertaining everybody.”
• A new album -- Skynyrd’s first since 2012’s “Last Of A Dyin’ Breed” -- is in the planning stages. “We’ve got so many songs sitting around, cataloged, and I think we’re going to start looking at all those songs and try to figure out what to do as far as new recordings,” Medlocke says. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a whole CD or if it’s going to be an EP or if we’re gonna do a single at a time. We haven’t made any decisions yet, so that’s coming up.”
• This year also marks the 40th anniversary of both the plane crash (Oct. 20) and of “Street Survivors,” largely considered Skynyrd’s best studio album. Medlocke anticipates some sort of commemorations will occur this year, while Rossington says he’s guided by a calling to pay tribute to his late bandmates. “I think we’re blessed to be able to play and share our music and our band,” he says, “and the stories of Skynyrd and talk about Ronnie (Van Zant), Allen (Collins) and Steve (Gaines) and all the guys -- Billy (Powell) and Leon (Wilkeson) now, too, all the guys that have left us. We talk about them and we play, and it’s just a great thing to do. Since the plane crash I’m just thankful to still be here and try to make my way through this life.”
If You Go:
• Lynyrd Skynyrd
• 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2.
• SoundBoard in the Motor City Casino Hotel, 2901 Grand River Blvd., Detroit
• Tickets are $40-$60.
• Call (313) 237-7711 or visit motorcitycasino.com.
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