Wednesday, November 19, 2014

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

Updated 04/10/2017

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. 

Please respect the copyright ownership on all text and photos. 
© 2017 Susan Cross – All rights reserved.
Lynyrd Skynyrd hanging out pre-concert.
From left, Al Kooper, Leon Wilkeson, Theresa Wilkeson, 
Gary Rossington, and Ronnie Van Zant.

(Photographer of all photos on this page: Arlene Muzyka)
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'.)

Al Kooper
As soon as the publicist left the room, Ronnie 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 naïve, 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 a while, 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

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.

Gary Rossington
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.)

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’.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Interview with Sisaundra Lewis by Susan Cross

Interview with Sisaundra Lewis 

with Susan Cross on April 4, 2014

I had the honor of interviewing this lady just as The Voice competition was beginning. We met years ago, because the sound of her voice at Cirque du Soleil La Nouba captivated me. Since we are local Central Floridians, we kept in touch so when I requested an interview and photo we were glad to see each other again, more than anything. And now, I am celebrating her success on The Voice and although she was eliminated from the final 4 I will continue to celebrate her talent, and hope that America does the same. I don't believe that her career will end here.

Considering the difference in age from the other contestants, it is amazing that she got as far as she did. Most have probably not even heard of Aretha Franklin and could not appreciate the genre of R&B that she represents. I love all genres from R&B to country to rock n roll to blues... It's time for a performer like Sisaundra educate the youth of America on music that may have been forgotten or not been 'covered' for a long time. Her time is coming. She has an obligation to do this and I expect her to fill that space.

Susan Cross:       Where are you from?
Sisaundra:          I am a home grown Florida girl who graduated from Haines City High School. But I really appreciate and need the support of people in all of the cities of Florida and all over the country.  

Susan Cross:      How many people auditioned for this season of the Voice?

Sisaundra:          If I’m not mistaken, there were about 70,000 hopefuls. On July 27 I flew to New York to audition. I stood in line there with about 10,000 people, by myself—without a manager, without an agent. I wanted to start there, to see if I could get through everything on my own, by myself. So everything was a test and a challenge for me as well. It was probably about a month before I knew I would make it to the blind auditions.
Susan Cross:      Out of those, how many made it to the blind auditions?

Sisaundra:          For the battle rounds there were 48 members. We’re getting down to 12 members after that.
Susan Cross:      A lot of people are wondering why you chose Blake Shelton as your coach.

Sisaundra:          His honesty in saying, “I’m probably way in over my head with this one.” Just kind of drew me to him. I think I would look at it as ‘you’re not in my genre’ kind of thing, since he’s known for grooming mostly country artists. His honesty, his humility, his connection with me as far as his eye contact, his energy, and just about everything that he said that drew me to him. I felt like he would be the one to help me to define my gift; that he would help as a superstar. If you know music it doesn’t matter what genre you’re in you have to be able to coach an artist in so many ways and Blake is the one, after standing there in that moment, listening to him, that I felt could help me open up so many amazing doors for me in the sense of my gift, my talent. I’ve done pop, I’ve done R and B, I’ve done theater but I’ve never had the experience of working with a country artist especially of that magnitude. That, coupled with the spirit of him—that’s why I chose Blake.
Susan Cross:      Some of the other judges didn’t seem to show the same reaction to your voice. Did that put you off at all?

Sisaundra:          Even with that connection with Blake, I listened carefully to what the other judges said because I am always open to learning and each one of them has something to offer.
              I will say that when I initially started this journey, my thoughts were about the typical industry standards. I don’t fit and so I’m challenged with all of that going into this with the general public. But that’s not the case with the TV, not with NBC because, of course this show was designed to avoid all of that stuff. They don’t care what the industry standards are. They just want to hear your voice and so I went into it thinking I’m older, I’m this, I’m that, and I thought I would be representing that group of people—those dreamers, those who sacrificed for kids, those who are 40 plus.

               I’m surprised to receive so much support from younger people, too, saying “You inspire us.” Not only from my voice, but even asking questions like, “How do you stay in shape like that?” “I want to look like you when I mature.” “I want to take care of myself.” It’s so nice to see that it’s not just what I thought it would be. It’s wonderful to see that it’s not just my voice but also to see that I could be so much more, that kind of a role model to young people not just as a singer but as a person, as a human being and that’s what I’m hearing so much even as I get into this journey.

Susan Cross:      Most people know by now that you have toured with Celine Dion. Where did you travel during that time?
Sisaundra:          I have performed in Las Vegas in various shows. I’ve done so many things. I’ve performed for Royalty, with Celine, of course. We’ve been at every nook and cranny of the world. I was saying that the only places that I haven’t been are Australia and Africa but when you work with someone of that magnitude you really do have the honor of performing for so many wonderful people:  The Queen of England; the royalty in Canada; Princes and Princesses; everything you could imagine. I performed for the Clinton inauguration, the inaugural ball; outside of Florida; almost everywhere in the United States and everyone in the world except those two continents.

Susan Cross:      How did this affect your family life?
Sisaundra:          I had my son Vincent at the time that I was touring with Celine. My family is my village and they were very helpful for me. They saw it as an opportunity for me to travel as a single mom and be able to provide for my son as well and so I did.

                                My family is my priority and the reason I laid my career down for over a decade was to be home and provide a stable home life for my kids until they recently gave me permission to pick it back up. [laughs]

Susan Cross:      When you came home to Orlando you eventually began performing in various venues. What was the next big step in your career?
Sisaundra:          My girlfriend, Deborah Brown was a choreographer for Cirque du Soleil during the time that I was working with Celine. Deborah and I became close. I stayed in touch with her and she said one day you’re going to have to come and work for the circus. I said, ‘Get out of here. I can’t do the circus kind of thing. I don’t think I’ll fit in.’  She said, “I think you’ll fit in.’

    So I went on to doing a lot of things and when I was working at City Jazz at Universal Orlando a group of men started walking toward the stage when I finished my set. When they approached me, they said, “Hi, Sisaundra” and I immediately picked up the French accent. It was Benoit Glazer [conductor and composer for Cirque du Soleil] and I can’t remember who he brought with him but he said, “We’ve been looking for you. We’re from Cirque du Soleil and we’d like to know if you’d come by and see the show.” So if I’m not mistaken, it was my girlfriend, Deborah Brown, who had let them know that I was in Orlando, because they had been looking for me and they didn’t know that I was here until they saw that performance. And that was the beginning of my 10 years at Cirque. I thought, oh, my gosh, Deborah was right.
I was at Cirque du Soleil La Nouba for a decade. It’s one of the most beautiful shows on the planet and I was honored to be with that show for that time and to see the WOW factor of theatrical circus. I remember your doing an article about the musicians several years ago. We appreciated people spotlighting the music in the show.

On Twitter you can "follow" @Sisaundra for updates

Keep watching on Facebook for Sisaundra's posts, she is not going to disappear.

Here are the links to remind you of her voice and performances, both on NBC’s The Voice and in other venues. Download them on iTunes so you can keep on listening. My favorite is the Blind Audition, but many of you have probably never heard that song before--all the more reason to download it.
Blind audition:
Battle round 1:
Battle round 2:
Singer’s choice:
Garden Theater:    
Tribute to Whitney Houston:

Copyright © 2014-2017 Susan Cross – All rights reserved