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’.


Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert May 31, 1975

So where does George Wallace enter the picture? It seems that each member of Lynyrd Skynyrd was presented with a plaque, technically making them members of the Alabama State Militia. In the past, this honor had only been bestowed upon country-western musicians making Skynyrd the first rock band (albeit ‘southern rock’) to receive the recognition.

How do the boys in the band feel about this honor? Ambivalent. The three musicians to whom I spoke, Ronnie Van Zant (lyricist-vocalist), Leon Wilkeson (bass guitarist) and Gary Rossington (lead guitarist) unanimously expressed their respect for the good Governor who had come forth announcing to the world during his campaign for re-election that he had experienced a change of heart.

Van Zant expounded, “We respect him because he’s a man of principles. And he does stick to his fucking principles. He’s a tough motherfucker, and we respect him for that. But as far as going out and campaigning for him, I don’t want to go out wearing a bullet-proof vest when I get on stage to sing.”

As far as Lynyrd Skynyrd is concerned, in reference to Governor Wallace, nothing of any relevance has gone down between them. As spokesman for the band, Vant Zant goes on record as saying, “George Wallace don’t know any fucking thing about rock ‘n’ roll and I don’t know any fucking thing about politics.”

Meanwhile until George Wallace is seen and heard onstage, playing electric guitar and singing about some ‘pretty mama he knew for a night’, don’t expect any of the musicians in Lynyrd Skynyrd to be giving campaign speeches or running for office!

Copyright © 1975-2017 Susan Cross – All rights reserved


Adeline Nicholas said...

Where was Allen?????

Susan Cross said...

Hi Adeline. I don't know where the other band members were. I was assigned to do an interview with Ronnie and was surprised that anyone else, other than a publicist (the usual situation with other interviews I'd done), was in the room. Although everyone was silent after introductions, I was lucky enough to have met them and have my partner/photographer, Arlene Muzyka, take the photos.

Unknown said...

Hi Susan, I sent you a pm on facebook pertaining to the Barry Hay interview. Is that available?

Susan Cross said...

The interview with Barry was very short. He was not interested in the PR process and didn't offer anything that was worth publishing. Back then publicists arranged interviews from morning til show time, almost in hope that articles will get published, however short, to get publicity before the concert. In the U.S. at the time, Golden Earring had one hit song, Radar Love, although they had a larger following, of course. Perhaps I wasn't experienced enough; I was freelance back then although I did get assignments so the publicists called me. They also knew that I was the "new girl in town' and some writers would decline interviews because they had better knowledge of who would give a good interview. I also had a very short interview with Frank Zappa. He was playing a sold out show at the Nassau Colliseum in Long Island, NY. I wondered how I was able to get the interview and press passes to someone that big. Turns out nobody wanted to interview him because he hated interviews, didn't speak except in one word answers and I basically got nothing from him. I learned a lot about the business from that one. Even Ronnie didn't want to do the interview and bullied me when I walked in. I am not a groupie, never was impressed by musicians although I loved them and their music. My attitude was, I can't do what you do and you can't do what I do, so we are pretty much equals. When I told Ronnie that plus the other things on my blog, he backed down and liked 'my spunk'. Nothing to publish from Hay. Too bad. There were others like that. Some one hit wonders and others that were just invites to the concerts and after parties like ZZ Topp, Mac Davis (that held a great conversation from the after party but I agreed not to publish it). Probably more info than you wanted. But it answers your question and other possible questions about the business. Although the magazines I wrote for in the 70s and then again others from 2006-2010, including the Arlo Gurthrie one, have gone out of print, I still have the contacts even though I can only really publish anything on my blog for free. I have declined some, done some but not published them for various reasons.

JRFRYED said...

Hi Susan, WOW!!! AWESOME Interview & article, is that all there was of the interview?? Seems so short, only talked about George Wallace? Is there more of the interview elsewhere? I would do anything for a copy of your interview tape.. I collect interviews and really love Ronnie's honesty when he gives an interview. And you were very lucky to get one (he didn't do many) Is there audio available anywhere? Thanks again ~ Please write me back :)

Susan Cross said...

JR, I was only assigned to ask about Wallace for the magazine, that's why it's just a blurb. Ronnie hated doing interviews and most writers knew it so refused to deal with him. I was quite surprised when the publicist called and offered it to me because I was relatively new to the game and LS and Ronnie were huge! When I walked in, he jumped up and started yelling at me. I am only 4'10" but NEVER let anyone intimidate me and I told him that. He liked my spunk and that's why we ended up spending so much of the day together. He had no other interviews after mine. I no longer have the tape, having moved many times since then.. I sure wish I did! At least I still have those great pics. (I have a broken hand so please forgive any typos) His tragic death crushed me and I know how lucky I was for this experience.