In 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd was on top of the world. The band just released their fifth record, Street Survivors, when the unthinkable happened. The plane crashed killed six and injured 20. Of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band members that were on that flight, only 2 are still alive. One of those survivors, former drummer Artimus Pyle, recently took some time to talk with me about his story,
Please press the PLAY icon below to hear the MisplacedStraws.com Conversation with Artimus Pyle –
On his relationship with original Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Bob Burns – Bob Burns, was an incredible drummer and played some really beautiful parts on those albums Pronounced is definitely a masterpiece. Bob actually was in my band. Our band that we’ve had together for eleven years now APB thumb the same lineup, (the other members) were tickled, they’re all in their fifties, I’m 73, Bob was a little younger than me, Bob was in our band, he joined. He would come out and play four or five songs with us. He wasn’t physically able to do a two-hour set like I do with “Free Bird”, but when we would bring Bob out I would set up production, where there’s two matching sets and we play together. I mean I saw people cry because they were seeing the two real drummers of Skynyrd and playing spot on because we learn from the same experience. So, we play those songs exactly right. I’ll tell you a quick story. Bob Burns called me up from Florida one day and he said, he had this distinctive voice and he said, “Artemis, we’ve been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”, and he said, “They want us to do “Sweet Home Alabama”, and “Free Bird”, what, what are we going to do?” I said, “Well, Bob, you’re the senior drummer said you were there before I, that’s your call”. Bob hadn’t been playing a whole lot, and I never stopped playing my whole life. Since the doctor hit me on my butt when I was born, that was the downbeat and I said, “two, three, four”, and then I ran bulldozers and rode horses. So all those rhythms under me. I am a true drummer and I said, “Bob, that’s your call. So he had me play “Free Bird” and he did “Sweet Home Alabama”. When I was standing there on stage in front of the Waldorf Astoria in front of the royalty of music because Miles Davis was inducted. I got to hang out with Herbie Hancock because I’m a jazz freak and Blondie, The Sex Pistols, Black Sabbath, and us and so Sting was there, Brian May from Queen it was the All-Star because of the genres. I’m not saying because of us, I’m saying because of Black Sabbath and Miles Davis, and then Blondie and the Sex Pistols, had this unbelievable spread, and all of the people of rock and roll were there to see this mayhem. So, I looked over while we were doing “Sweet Home” I was on tambourine, wearing a tuxedo and I looked over and saw Bob, and tears actually came to my eyes. I remember, just thinking of Bob, as that sixteen-year-old kid in his carport on the westside of Jacksonville, Florida, starting the band Lynyrd Skynyrd with Ronnie (Van Zant) and Gary (Rossington). It all happened.
On how he joined Lynyrd Skynyrd – Bob, and I actually were on the road together. I play like half the show, we used my set because I took really good care of my drums and still do and I had this beautiful set. I would come out and play and Bob would play. They went to Europe. They had an obligation to do a European tour and I hadn’t learned all the material. So they took Bob and then while they were in Paris, Bob had a pretty hard physical breakdown. God bless him, he had a lot of pressure on him, being in a band that played bars, and then all of a sudden they were opening up for The Who. That was before me. I was still a sergeant in the Marines. So with the sixties and seventies and all of the drugs and alcohol and the pressures that were on Bob, he just kind of like blew a spark plug. He got help and he was cool, but he was killed in a car wreck a few years ago. We used to talk every night at 4:00 in the morning, we were both night owls and I miss him tremendously. He was such a character. He and I together was a very strong statement because we were the engine. We are the engine of Lynyrd Skynyrd music Bob and myself. So, it was such a strong bond, and then on a dark stormy night in Atlanta, Georgia, Bob was going to get some food in a restaurant and there was a storm and he missed a curve and hit a tree and we lost him instantly. My band APB went over and sang at his service and they performed “Tuesday’s Gone” and there was a set of drums on stage. It’s one of those churches. They have a full band and, but on that day, I was not going to touch those drums. Those drums were Bob Burns’ drums. I didn’t even jam on “Tuesday’s Gone” the guys did it with just an acoustic guitar and they did it kind of acapella, and Brad Durden off, Jerry, Lyda, and Scott Raines, and then Dave Fowler’s, our bass player, those guys’ harmonies, they grew up together…So it was very moving at Bob’s service. I’ll always think about Bob and it’s like Ronnie says in “Free Bird”, “If I leave here tomorrow would you still remember me?” So by me remembering my friends and like Robert Burns every night when I play the music with my band, they play Lynyrd Skynyrd music better than any band in the world. Every night when I played songs as I go through the set I think about all of them every night and every day I think about the plane crash. So it’s not something at this point that it’s morbid to me. Four years ago on the fortieth, anniversary of the plane crash, I decided that I had been sad for forty years and and and I decided that’s long enough to be clinically depressed around this time of the year and on that day yesterday, and just carry it around and be morbidly sad. I decided to revel in the music, enjoy life, and my eight children and grandchildren, I play music with them. I’ve got the best band in the world. This coming Sunday, opening up for Dolly Parton, to raise money for breast cancer awareness in Nashville at the Country, Music Hall of Fame. I’ve got nothing to be sad about and I know that Ronnie and Steve and Cassie and Dean and Alan and Billy and Leon, they would all want all of us that are living to enjoy life at its fullest and that would be the message.
On the crash and what he went through to make the movie – It’s not a movie about me, but I had to make it from my perspective because (of) Judy Van Zant. As soon as I told Judy and Vector management and Gary that I wanted to do this movie and please come to the table and join me and let’s make this movie together and make this broad range and this beautiful film. Immediately, they went out and got a bunch of thousand-dollar-an-hour blood-sucking weasel attorneys, came at me, and attacked me. Called me every name in the book and a three-foot-tall stack of lawsuit they put on my front porch. We eventually ended up in the Court of Appeals and we beat Judy and her lawyers, liars, and because it’s the First Amendment. All three judges, and the lower court there, in the Court of Appeals. It’s not the Supreme Court, but you can have one dissenting vote, but majority rules. These three judges unanimously voted against Judy and her judge that gave her the stupid ruling and the Judge, Judy’s Judge, may he rest in peace, he was 96 years old. He was his name was Judge Robert Sweet. He sat on the bench his whole life and he gave Judy this favorable ruling because I guess they had something going on. I don’t know if it was money or they were dating or what. I don’t know. But here’s the deal. He gave her a favorable ruling and which blocked the film and it went immediately to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. It automatically does that. So the three judges they ruled against. So the bottom line is Judy lost, we won, we finished the movie. We had a $1,800,000 budget, which is not a whole lot of money for doing a movie, films are much higher than that. Judy spent, from what I heard, $2,500,000 two on these jerks from New York City who would sue their own mothers, and that two and half million would have gone a long way in our budget. We could have used the proper airplane. We had to use a taildragger rather than a tricycle landing gear because those 560 Convair’s are very expensive to lease and use. We had to use a C117. We could have done location shooting in Florida because we had to shoot the whole thing in California. So, this is the bottom line, I’ll just cut to the chase. Shame on Judy, shame on Gary, shame on Vector management, for not coming to the table. They had to pay the two and a half million dollars, tough luck. They shouldn’t have done it in the first place. I had to make it from my perspective so as not to get sued by a bunch of morons. I knew if I used any Lynyrd Skynyrd music in the film that there would be another bunch of lawyers off to the bank on Judy Van Zant and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Because these lawyers love us because Lynyrd Skynyrd has got some deep pockets. Judy inherited a billion-dollar band. The bottom line is I am so proud of Cleopatra Films, our director Jared Cohen and Brian Pereira, the president of Cleopatra, Tim Yasui for not giving up. A lot of film companies would have run like a scalded dog away from this thing. I told him, in the beginning, I said, “Judy will sue. She would sue her mother. She’ll sue anybody. It’s all about power, and greed money”, and they said, “Okay”, and they didn’t throw in the towel. Our attorneys went up, against her attorneys. We won because it’s First Amendment. I’m allowed to tell my life story and Judy should have known that. It was a unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals, Second Circuit Court. This movie meant a lot to me. I wanted us all to do it together. I love Gary, at one point I was friends with Judy. I don’t hate Judy. I don’t hate Gary. I love Gary and they keep Gary and I separated because there’s more money for them to steal if the two remaining, only remaining members of Lynyrd Skynyrd are not able to talk. So they surround Gary with a bunch of sinister, people that are protecting their paychecks. In the meantime, I’m missing my brother. He’s had seven heart attacks and seven years. He’s not even on the road anymore. They still call that. band Lynyrd Skynyrd. So, I had to do what I had to do. My sons and I wrote the soundtrack to the movie. My band wrote a song, the title track. I put up against any southern rock song in the world. My friends up in Nashville wrote a beautiful piece of instrumental music a friend of mine named Bill Stevens from Winston-Salem wrote this unbelievable, powerful piece of instrumental music that is in the film. I am so proud of the soundtrack. All original, award-winning. The movie is an independent film about something that really happened in history. It’s an award-winning Film Festival People’s Choice Awards, but because we released the whole thing during a pandemic, we got passed over a little bit. So I’m not going to whine about that because the whole world suffered through this pandemic, the whole world. We lost millions of people. I’m not going to complain about not getting first-class treatment on our beautiful movie and soundtrack. We got passed over a little bit. So what? I’m still proud of, the effort, the actors that portrayed us in our twenties, they put their hearts and souls into those roles. That may have been a movie that may have been shelved because of Judy’s frivolous lawsuit and never seen but yet they put everything they had into those roles and worked hard and it wasn’t easy making this film under the duress of this ridiculous lawsuit and the fact that we had a small budget and I couldn’t use any of my music from my band. We did use “Call Me The Breeze”. The reason we got to use “Call Me The Breeze” that Ronnie kind of made famous is that JJ, Cale wrote it. So we paid the licensing fee and we used it in the movie for a live shot of the band on stage and it worked out. So I’m very proud of everybody Cleopatra. All the way through for putting the effort in. My son, Chris Pyle, wrote three songs for the movie. They’re incredibly strong rock songs that Chris wrote when we were living in Jerusalem, Israel in the castle of King David on Mount Zion for three years. I was studying Old Testament and trying to become a human being and working on my character. Chris started writing these songs. My son Marshall wrote. My son Marshall is an amazing singer-songwriter. Of course, all of my eight children and grandchildren played drums. I start them out on that so that they’ll learn time. They go to trombone or guitar or, oboe. But the point is that they have their timing and all of my children, as I say are incredibly brilliant people. I love them so much and in spite of my dumb ass.
On the 1987 reunion – I was living in Jerusalem, Israel, in the castle of King David on Mount Zion, I got a call from Gary and Allan that they were going to put together this tribute to it. So we never came back as Lynyrd Skynyrd. Without Ronnie Van Zant in your band, you are not under any stretch of the imagination Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ronnie Van Zant is Lynyrd Skynyrd. His voice, his vision, his songwriting his performance, his presence. That’s Lynyrd Skynyrd. We came back as a tribute band. That’s what Judy sued us and said that we couldn’t ever call ourselves Lynyrd Skynyrd. Not that we would because we knew we were the band. We had a name at one point Mylvyn Skyrydr. So it was Mylvyn Skyrydr with the “y’s” just like, Lynyrd Skynyrd, but it was not Lynyrd Skynyrd, and our logo was an airplane. We had cards made up and stationery with, with our logo, in the name, Mylvyn Skyrydr. Ed King came up with that, and we loved it, and we were ready to switch. Then Bill Graham said that we should keep the name Lynyrd Skynyrd in the promotion, we can call it the “Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour” because if we change the name, we would lose money. Well, we weren’t worried about money. We were worried about being a genuine effort after we lost Ronnie and Steve and Cassie and Dean Kilpatrick. He wasn’t in the band but I lived, ate, and breathed (the band), he was Ronnie’s personal assistant and we love Dean and miss him. We came back on the Tribute tour as the Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Band and that’s what it always should be. But, quite a few years ago due to cocaine and gluttonous, just excessive amounts of cocaine and drinking champagne and acting like a bunch of rock stars, I guess they decided at some point that they Lynyrd Skynyrd and they dropped everything else. Now there is a band out there on the road calling itself Lynyrd Skynyrd, with nobody from Lynyrd Skynyrd in the band. Gary, they finally worked him to have to leave the road. Seven heart attacks. They kept pushing him back out all the time. Make that money, make that money Gary and now Gary’s off the road and they’re out there with a bunch of people and I don’t hold anything against the people that they hired. They hire them, give them a little bit of money. I guarantee you, they don’t pay them fairly and they give them a little money, and Johnnie and Rickey Medlock and Judy Van Zant, and Gary, Gary doesn’t make any decisions, everybody else makes the decisions. So they’re making the big bucks calling themselves, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and it’s a fan rip-off. They sell all the stupid merchandising that’s gaudy that you put in your drawer and never look at again. They charge hundreds of dollars for their tickets and they call it Lynyrd Skynyrd. It is a clown act. But, they get away with it because Judy Van Zant always wants a big fat bag of money. So, as long as they get Judy Van Zant a big fat bag of money she lets them use the name, Lynyrd Skynyrd. She sued us because we were going to go out and make her and her children money. She sued us put an injunction to stop the tour unless she had control over this, that, and the other. So the whole thing is ludicrous, ridiculous, ironic pathetic.
On his band – My band APB, the Artimus Pyle band, or is a lot of people say All Possible. Bullshit. We have a tour bus, a 1999 Primo that we bought from Lenny Kravitz. He owned it, designed it. We got it. We keep it clean off. We run a tight ship and we call her Pearl. She’s pearl white with chrome, and we will drive 20 hours in one direction to play one show. Last week, we played Minnesota and Iowa. The ride home is 24 hours on that bus. We do that. Nobody in the business does what me and my band do, our band, we work hard and because we love the music. We get paid, we don’t demand what Judy and them demand for $100,000 for a show to come out and be the fake Lynyrd Skynyrd. We are a tribute then we say it in our advertising. We say we tribute the music of Ronnie Van Zant and his band. My guys, they’re all in their fifties, I’m 73, and they play the music better than any band in the world. They got a chance to go up to Nashville, Tennessee, and sit with Ed King wage three days on three separate occasions and sit all day with Ed and Ed showed them exactly how those guitar parts were played. So, Scott Raines and Jerry Lyda heard it from the master. Then we lost Ed because he had a lot of physical problems. He had a heart transplant to get some cancer but Ed was an amazing person. He lived to be 68, which is pretty good, having all those things going against you.He had a great life. It’s like we all live and we all die. It’s how you live your life. Ronnie Van Zant lived life to the fullest even though his life was cut short. He left this amazing legacy of music and I get to go with my band to these little places that Judy and them won’t go play because they’re not big enough, they don’t pay them enough money and I take Skynyrd music into smaller venues all over the country, all the time. By doing that, I hear stories of where people were when the plane went down. They told me these stories. What the music means to them. They buried a friend to “Free Bird”, their high school theme was be a “Simple Man”. All of these stories of the love for this music and for all the right reasons. Ronnie was not a racist. The stars and bars that they used to put with us, nobody in that ban was racist. I’ve heard a few members of the band use the n-word back in the days. I don’t use it. I love all people. I don’t care if you’re gay, African American, Mexican-American. If you’re a good person, you’re a good person. That’s the way Ronnie felt. That’s the way I feel. He loved Neil Young. He loved Jimi Hendrix. “The Ballad Of Curtis Loew” is about a black man with curly hair that was the greatest picker the world has ever seen. Ronnie loved all people. If you’re good, you were cool. So I get to hear these stories and live these songs. There’s not just one song. We do our set and at the end of the set, we do the big hit, every single song is a hit song. Ronnie wrote hit albums. It’s phenomenal and the smiles that are on the people’s faces. We played last summer for this thing up in New Jersey, Rock, Ribs, and Ridges, forty to sixty thousand people, man. Forty thousand people fist-pumping with us and singing every word to every song. It is a phenomenon to be the drummer of that type of band where almost every song is recognizable and it means something special. No two Skynyrd songs of the same for the drummer. Every song has a minor nuance of tempo, dynamics, stops and starts. You gotta put on your thinking cap to play Skynyrd songs. I’m seventy-three, and I’m strong as an ox. I’m hard as a rock. I take care of myself and I still play these songs like I’m thirty. I’m loving life. Of course, I’m sad on the day yesterday. I’m sad but not clinically depressed. I’m somber and I’m reverent. I went out last night and got amongst people in my little town here, in North Carolina, and had a glass of wine and a nice meal. That’s what everybody should do because live each day like it’s the last day of your life, which is the hook of my son Marshall’s song for the soundtrack.
On whether he would play on stage with Gary Rossington again – I love Gary. I miss Gary. I would give anything, but I’m not going to beg anybody for his telephone number. All these years, if Gary wanted to call me, he could call me. I’ve been through hell, they stole all my money down. I was left in Jacksonville, Florida for a crime worse than murder that I was totally innocent of, and by myself. Everybody left me for dead. Gary is surrounded by these sinister people that won’t let him see any of his friends. I love Gary, I’d give anything to play with Gary. He’s always invited to play with my band. My band is better than his band. We wouldn’t work him to death. We would, we wouldn’t say, “Hey Gary, I know you had a heart attack last week, but would you go out on the road next week because we need that money?” They found a way to do it without Gary, but the point is that I miss him. We played for the kings and queens of rock and roll all over this world and I miss him. He’s my brother, but I’m not going to beg anybody. They were talking about having me come out on the “Farewell Tour” that they were doing before the pandemic. They “farewelled” for like four years ripping off the fans. I didn’t want to be a part of that. I’m the drummer of the real Lynyrd Skynyrd. I didn’t want to be a part of a clown act from Vegas, some circus act. My point is that, yes, I miss Gary. Yes, I would love to play with him once again or a hundred times or a thousand times. My band is playing with Dolly Parton in Nashville, this coming Sunday, to raise money for breast cancer awareness and I would give anything for Gary (to come). They’ve asked us to do two songs, “Sweet Home Alabama”, and “Simple Man”. Do you not think that it would be the coolest thing in the world after all these years for Gary the thumb his nose at all these people that try to keep him away from his true friends and come to Nashville and come out and play with us on “Sweet Home” and “Simple Man”? Do you think he knows them? Yeah. So I mean it would be him and Kent Wells, Dolly Parton’s producer, is also joining us on stage for those songs. Dolly always when we play with her and do stuff to raise money for good causes, we did it off last time at the Ryman Auditorium before the pandemic, we opened up for Dolly and she sent out her three backup singers that have been with her for years to sing with us on “Sweet Home Alabama”. So, you talk about a Love Fest and so, it would make my life if Gary were to join us on stage. But if I were to call Vector Management right now and try and try to say, “Hey Vector Management, would you please tell Gary he has an invitation to join us with Dolly Parton to raise money for breast cancer awareness?” They won’t tell him they won’t pass on the message. I asked Gary and Judy, and Vector to come to the table and do the movie, and they decided to attack me with a bunch of blood-sucking reasons. So, anyway, we won. They lost. The movie is out. It’s incredible. I’m very proud of it. In spite of all of the trouble that we had doing it and the duress that we did it under. I am so proud of our soundtrack. My son’s, my band, my friends, Ed King was involved. my dad was in the movie. Everybody put forth such an effort, and thank you so much for giving me the opportunity, to act like the movie and the soundtrack is almost a new product because pandemic put a vacuum and everything. Everything has been in this, this black hole for over a year, so it’s crazy times, but I’m not complaining. I just want to end by saying all the people that I talked about. It probably sounds like I hate them. I love these people. I really do and I’m not mad at anybody. ‘m not about the money. I’m about to, I’m about to the music. So me not having the millions of dollars that I earned to help my family, just made my family strong, my eight children and grandchildren are brilliant, and they’re all great musicians and they’re doing things for the environment and the planet. I’m so proud of them. So, I’m not mad. I’m just, trying to get over all that anger and, and that bitterness and everything. I guarantee you if Judy Van Zant or Gary Rossington, walked up to my front porch right now and knocked on the door, I put my arms around them and welcome them into my home and I’d roll a gigantic doobie.
On earnings from the movie – I don’t make a dime from this movie. I gave my story. It’s a million-dollar story and I gave my story to Hollywood because I wanted the story told for the Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. I did not want more time to go by. I wanted people to know that the music is incredible and lives on forever and Ronnie’s amazing and the band is amazing. But it was a tragedy and we had a hard day that day, but I don’t make money from this movie. I did it because I wanted the story told. I didn’t sell my story and that can be backed up. That was one of the reasons that we won in the Second Circuit Court of Appeal. Because they were trying to say, “Well, Artimis is doing to try to cash in”. I make money when I play live and that’s it. I work hard and I don’t mind because I love playing drums, especially with my band. We’ve been together for eleven years, we’re damn good. It’s important for me to for you to know and for the fans to know that I’m not out here trying to cash in and make a buck off on my friends’ loss of their lives in that plane crash. I wouldn’t do that. I didn’t do that. The movie stands. Just like the Dude says in The Big Lebowski, “This movie stands, bro”.