Michelle LaRose talks with Artimus Pyle for Road To Jacksonville
Photographs by Michelle LaRose
Can you possibly conceive yourself surviving a plane crash? Artimus Pyle doesn’t have to image it, he lived it or should we say survived it. He is one of only a few people who lived to tell the tale of what happened that ill fated day in 1977 when Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane went down taking the lives of three band members and forever changing the face of rock and roll history. The painful loss still echoes in Artimus’s words today. Artimus is a survivor. A survivor who’s legacy shall always be with Lynyrd Skynyrd and who’s future shall always be that of one of the most sought after rock and roll drummers in the music business.
Artimus was kind enough to talk with Road To Jacksonville about his new album and a whirlwind of projects that keep him busy.
Artimus: Yes. I gave myself a five-year window to do that album. I finished it in three. I finished it June the 20th. We were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame on March the thirteenth with Blondie, Black Sabbath, The Sex Pistols and Miles Davis and of course Lynyrd Skynyrd. We went up there to the Waldorf Astoria and I had my album almost finished, I had four songs that I took up on a sampler and then I realized it was not the time or place to be shoving CD’s. We were there to be inducted in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and nothing more. So I didn’t really pass my album out. Shortly thereafter on June 20th I finished the complete album. I’m as proud of this effort as anything I’ve ever done. I’m proud of every single note and every single word on the album. It was something that I had to do. I couldn’t steal other peoples songs like is done in the business. I couldn’t ask someone else to sing the words that I wrote so I did it myself with my good friend Larry Goad from Nashville Tennessee who has a great studio. He was a friend of Ronnie Van Zant’s and this makes it come full circle to me because Ronnie was a friend of Larry’s and Larry knew how important it was for me to have an album that sounded like a Skynyrd record yet sounded like me. Frank Zappa was a friend of mine. If Frank had lived, I would have played with Frank. So my album sounds like Ronnie Van Zant and Frank Zappa got together and wrote about lawyers.
RTJ: I must say having seen the show, the Skynyrd songs and the Artimus songs blend beautifully like they belong together.
Artimus: Where did you see the show?
Artimus: I remember they tried to put us up a road that a golf cart wouldn’t fit, with our forty-five foot tour bus. Then they tried to put us up another road, which was the wrong road, and then they came around and told me to move the bus again and they brought us in the way we were supposed to come in. I said, “How come there wasn’t twenty-five guys, the twenty-five moron’s standing there pointing the wrong way. Why couldn’t have somebody gotten us in the right way?” You know. So we had to end up humping our equipment from the bus over to the… I didn’t have time to do anything except basically hump equipment! Then play the show because of the moron’s. Yeah that was a good show we had a good time.
RTJ: Storm Dog Records claims this is your “first ever” solo CD. Isn’t it the fourth because of APB, Nightcaller and APB: Live From Planet Earth?
Artimus: Yeah! Yeah! These were all albums that I gave away to everybody in the band. My thinking was, I’ve been in a successful band. I’ve played in a successful band and I’ve been there. I’ve been to the top; I was shown the way by Ronnie Van Zant. So in all of my prior projects I wanted other people to be featured. I’m a drummer, that’s what I like to do. I’m not a writer; I’m not a singer. I had to write and sing all of these songs or it wouldn’t have been correct. The other albums were projects that I would put together and bring in other people and try to let it be successful for them. This time, I had to do it myself. For instance the first song that I wrote was called, “Bloodsucking Weasel Attorneys.” I could ask no one to sing those words I had to do it. So I sang on albums with Ronnie Van Zant, I sang live with Ronnie. When we couldn’t afford a tour bus to carry the girls I would always sing backup vocals with Ronnie even in stadiums! I figured if it was good enough for Ronnie… All I have to do is go out and work real hard on my vocals and sing from the heart, which I did. I’m so proud of this album. It was only going to be a one shot deal but now, I had so much fun, I’m definitely going to do another album. Until the day I can’t do it, I’m going to record music until the day I go. Because it was a process that I enjoyed. It was such an incredible feeling to write a song, arrange it, pull the band together, play drums on the track, lay down a scratch vocal and then after it was all done stand in front of that microphone and sing the words that I believe in. It was such a great connection and feeling that I can’t let it go on just one album. I gotta’ do it some more.
RTJ: I beg to differ when you say you’re not a singer! I’ve heard you sing. You’re a singer Artimus!
Artimus: Well thanks Michelle, I appreciate that. I never allotted myself as a singer. I’m a drummer first. I do love to sing. As long as I can hear, my ear is pretty good. I sing in key most of the time. “What would you do if I sang out of key?” I always think about that. “Would you stand up and walk out on me?” Ronnie was a great inspiration. My other band Deep South, every band has to have a great lead singer and with Deep South we have Jimmy Hall who is a well-loved, well-respected musician from Nashville. He’s the lead singer for Wet Willie. He was a friend of Ronnie Van Zant’s. So all of these projects that I’m doing now, Artimus Venomus, Deep South, APB. Whatever I play, all of my different bands, it’s all a connection to Ronnie and Steve and Cassie and the music so it’s all good.
RTJ: Yes, Deep South! Can you tell us a bit about Deep South?
Artimus: Well it’s Robert Nix and Dean Daughtry from the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Jimmy Hall from Wet Willie, me from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Chris Hicks from Marshall Tucker; he’s been carrying the load with Marshall Tucker. Doug’s voice, after his surgery has never come back. They do the best they can. We all know that Marshall Tucker is Toy and Tommy Caldwell and Paul Riddle and George McCorkle. Chris has kept that alive for them and he sings and plays with us, he’s phenomenal. When Ed King, who wrote Sweet Home Alabama, when he’s able, when the doctor says that he can because of his heart transplant thing that he’s doing, when they say that he’s able to do it he’ll come out and play with us. We’re setting up Deep South as a core band. There are five of us. Tony Black on bass, Hal McCormack from Memphis, Tony’s from California and has played with a lot of different people, Hal’s from Memphis and has his Blues roots. We’re setting up a core band that any southern rocker that includes Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, anybody that wants to jam with us can. Charlie Daniels can come and jam with us. So Deep South will be a core band that any group can come and jam with and have a friendly port in the storm. That’s what Deep South is.
Artimus: Yeah but it’s not an all-star band. It’s a different concept. We’re not resting on our past. We’re going to do a brand new album. Everybody in Deep South is a songwriter except for me. Pristine songwriters. Robert Nix who played with Roy Orbison. We do Roy Orbison songs because a couple of guys in our band played with Roy Orbison. Robert Nix hung out with The Beatles and played all over the world with Orbison. We will be a core band and we’re putting this together solid with an LLC that will last so that the bloodsucking weasel attorneys and the back stabbing fuckin’ managers won’t end the band before we even get started! The worst part of the music business is the agents, the managers, the lawyers, and the accountants. We’re a deep south, deep rooted, deep six, deep shit, deep throat!
RTJ: Didn’t Deep South just release their first album?
Artimus: No. We have a little CD and a DVD that we put together with old material that was recorded at a live show we did in Nashville and there’s a little DVD that goes with it by our parent company Tenvera, they’re an electronics company out of Nashville and they have this fabulous facility, a rehearsal and recording facility. It’s unlike any facility I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s got state of the art recording, a place big enough for a symphony orchestra to set up and play with a beautiful stage. Over a thousand guitars on site. Five hundred amplifiers of every description on site. It’s an unbelievable place and that’s Tenvera. They paid for us to do a little DVD, just a little promotional thing. A promotional tool. But our real album, we’re starting on that soon. We’re going to write brand new material with Jimmy Hall singing, he’s one of the greatest singers. He goes to Japan and sings with Jeff Beck. He’s been Hank Williams Jr.’s musical director for probably fourteen years. He’s loved and respected, he’s a father, he’s a beautiful person. I love Jimmy and he was friends with Ronnie. And that just means so much for this to be happening the same year that we were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. I’m a jazz freak so when we were inducted in March I got to meet Herbie Hancock and some of my hero’s. I’m fifty-eight years old; I’m having more fun playing than I ever have. I have some plane crash injuries and leg injuries that make it difficult for me to do certain things but when I’m playing I push the pain aside and I kick it. You saw me play, you know how I play. I can hold my own with a twenty five year old… for a minute!
RTJ: Can you tell us about The Fenwicks?
Artimus: The Fenwicks is a group that I put together with my children. We have two albums out. It’s some of the most incredible music. When I was living in Jerusalem Israel I met a guy named Steve Schub and then I came back to America and I left Skynyrd because of their cocaine and drinking and the bad decisions that they were making. Gary and them were just making real bad decisions based on how much cocaine and alcohol they could consume. I was in the real Lynyrd Skynyrd, I didn’t want to be in something less. So I put the Fenwicks together with my sons and our first show, we opened up for Foreigner, we had ten thousand people in Metro Park in Jacksonville [Florida], eventually eighteen thousand ended up at the show that night. My daughters and I sang with Foreigner on “I Want To Know What Love Is”. That night we premiered The Fenwicks and there were fifteen of us onstage and I had five of my children onstage with me. Michelle, it was unbelievable. We got great reviews. The band is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Our lead singer Steve Schub, he’s an actor. I’m sure you’ve seen him. He does all kinds of acting, he does TV, and he’s been on NYPD Blue as a crazy killer. We just have this fabulous band. We get together, some of the guys live in New York, some of the guys live in L.A. but we do try to get together once a year and do a couple of shows. It’s pretty phenomenal.
RTJ: As you mentioned Lynyrd Skynyrd was finally inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Can you tell us what that night was like and what it meant to you?
Artimus: Well I can say it, I guess, this way that… well let me just explain how I felt. When my wife told me that I was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame we got a telegram from the foundation. The first thing I did was cry. Tears welled up in my eyes and the first thing out of my mouth was, “Thank you Ronnie.” And then I thought about the fans. I thought about how the fans had stuck behind us. How all the radio stations all over America and all over the world still play Skynyrd every single day. All of the movies from Forrest Gump to Joe Dirt to Blue Collar with Richard Pryor. We’ve had all these songs in these movies. I thought about all of the people that have kept our music alive because of how strong Ronnie’s vocals and words are. I cried like a baby! So, that’s how I felt. On VH1 when they asked me to say something, I just came out and said, “I’d like to thank our families, our friends and our fans. Thanks to the foundation, the Rock And Roll Hall OF Fame.” And I said, “We will play Freebird tonight.” I got a big round of applause for that. In the audience was Sting, all of Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and all of Black Sabbath, all of Blondie, all of the Se… The Sex Pistols didn’t go. They wrote a note saying, “Screw you guys.” Which is what everyone expected them to do. All of the people from Rolling Stone, the girl Shirley from the band Garbage, she inducted Blondie. All of these great people, Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert. They got a lifetime achievement award for A & M Records. It was just an incredible, incredible night. Paul Shaffer and his entire band. Anton Fig, one of my favorite drummers. Will Lee the bass player for the David Letterman show band. It was just phenomenal. They were coming up to me Michelle and saying, “Hey, I loved you playing on Freebird. That was incredible. You guys tore up the whole place. We were crying.” It was just unbelievable! Elvis Costello played after we all played; he played for the New Orleans Katrina disaster. They did a big street jam thing like they do at Mardi Gras with Elvis Costello on stage. I talked to Elvis and he was impressed with our little effort. All these great jazz players saying, “Yeah man! Cool! I was blown away!” And not to mention the whole cast from Saturday Night Live. Rachel Dratch, she came up and I looked at her like I knew her because she’s got that face, you know, I see her all the time. I thought, “Do I know you?” Then I realized it was Rachel Dratch from Saturday Night Live, one of my favorite people. I gave her a big hug. It was just amazing. Just amazing. Dean Kilpatrick, Alan Collins, Ronnie Van Zant, Leon Wilkeson, I wish they could have been there.
RTJ: Awesome! We’d like to thank you for talking with Road To Jacksonville today. With all your projects Artimus, I just don’t know how you do it.
Artimus: Well, you know what? It’s definitely a labor of love. I’m energized by millions of people and prayers. I mean I’m energized! Because there’s been so many people praying for us over the years and praying after the plane crash. Prayer works. The concentrated effort of the mind of mankind, that’s prayer. And it definitely does energize the subject. Call anytime if you need me. I’m here.
RTJ: Next time you’re in the area, you can count on seeing me!
Artimus: Well we’re playing in Sanford on Friday night. Deep South.
RTJ: Deep South!
Artimus: Deep South is playing for the city in Sanford Florida Friday night. Probably at the Civic Arena, some big venue, I don’t think it’s a club. If you and the gang want to come over just track me down and you’ll see our tour bus there.
RTJ: You were saying Dean Daughtry’s in the band. I’m good friends with ARS (Atlanta Rhythm Section).
Artimus: We want Dean to be there! He’s had to have some Doctor stuff.
RTJ: Yes he did. I was talking to Andy Anderson who said Dean is doing great! Feeling better than ever.
Artimus: Yeah! He’s back. He’s getting back. He might even be at this one in Sanford. He knows I want him to be there. He’s a fourth owner of our LLC. We started a Limited Liability Corporation. He’s a fourth owner in that corporation. All right. Well, I’ll see you later and hopefully I’ll see you at the gig.
RTJ: Thank you so much Artimus. We really appreciate it.