The real thing

Guitarist goes back to origins of Lynyrd Skynyrd

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

FAIRFIELD - Since birth, Rickey Medlocke has been living inside a musical realm.

The legendary guitarist and original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd casually admits he wouldn't know how to live life any other way. "I've been in music all my life," he says.

"From the time I could walk, I was raised by my uncle (bluegrass legend) Shorty Medlocke out in Nashville, and we toured up and down the road with him. I even played in his band when I got older," he confesses. "Really, I've been doing this since I was a child."

So it's no surprise that Medlocke, with country music in his soul, became a member of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band, who celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2003, has sold more than 25 million albums and has become an American staple with such hits as "Freebird," "Sweet Home Alabama," and "Gimme Three Steps."

With music and vocals in the background during a rehearsal in Gulfport, Miss., Medlocke takes a break to do a phone interview. And as if chatting with a friend, filled with heartfelt laughs, Medlocke discusses Lynyrd Skynyrd, his old band, Blackfoot, and, believe it or not, his acting career.

As an original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, how do you feel when you hear critics say that today's Lynyrd Skynyrd is a tribute band?

(Laughs). I've had so many confrontations with journalists about this. The thing is you've got the original singer's youngest brother in it, since 1987, and it's been an overwhelming success. You've got Gary (Rossington), Billy (Powell) and me. You've got three original members, so if they don't know their history and that's what they want to believe, then believe it. It's not a tribute band.

The band has endured some pretty hard times throughout the years. Do these experiences make it harder or does that thrust the band forward?

Personally, I think what happens as a band, you go through tragedies and you kind of have to pull it together because music is important. Music is going to be around a lot longer than we will. We lost Leon (Wilkeson) about three years ago and we were questioning what we should do. And there was Gary with open heart surgery. . . (Pause) . . . We all voted it was best to continue and carry the legacy from the guys before us.

What do you think of today's Southern rock?

I don't know if you can say there is Southern rock on today's radio. There are bands that came from the south and I know there are some young bands out there right now. But I listen and I think it sounds like everything else.

So, are we losing that culture?

I gotta tell you, rock and country have kind of merged in a way. A lot of young music Mafia bands from Nashville . . .

Hang on, Mafia bands?

(Laughs) Yeah, Big & Rich. If you listen to Big & Rich, take the banjo out of the mix, you'd have straight rock 'n' roll. In my opinion, country took a left turn and landed right on our feet. We just had a guy from a country radio station who told us of the top 50 songs requested in country music, "Sweet Home Alabama" was one of them, as well as "Freebird," which is one of the top 10 requested tunes.

Ah, "Freebird," that's a classic.

You like that? It sounds good, doesn't it? (Hearty laugh)

In your opinion, what song defines Lynyrd Skynyrd?

Wow, if you put all the songs into one bag and poured it out onto the table, each song at one time or another represents where we've been, are and where we'll be. They all represent us in one way or another.

Can you give me a quick fact about Lynyrd Skynyrd?

We were originally called One Percent. But, Gary and Ronnie (Van Zant) had a gym coach named Leonard Skinner, who always hassled them. One day at a gig, they told the crowd they were called Leonard Skinner and it has stayed ever since.

How did it feel coming back to Lynyrd Skynyrd, especially after your success with Blackfoot?

It was a real high for me. I was having some pretty low years around that time. I was really battling what to do and where to go, where would my career end up and I was really in a crossroad. They had the world premier of "Freebird" and I got invited to an all-star jam. The audience stood up, the whole bit. And Gary had talked for years for me to come back.

In March 1996, I got a call, they said they wanted me to cover all the albums, that I was the one closest to Allen (who died in 1990) because we played the same guitar. And I went to the task of doing that.

Any reunion plans with Blackfoot?

Well, they're out playing right now. But this went to court and I retained ownership of the name. I'm letting them go out and make their living. But no plans at this time. I put that all behind.

How's your acting career going?

(Note: Medlocke has appeared in William Shatner's "Groom Lake," "Sweet Deadly Dreams," and in an episode in "Nash Bridges.") Real good. I've got a new movie coming out and I'm working on two other projects that will get done this year. Hopefully, one of the two projects will be with an Academy Award winner, but I can't give out those details. To date, I've done five independent films and several television appearances.

How do you find a balance between acting and performing in the group?

Yeah, I guess if that's what you want to call it, a balance. (Laughs) It keeps me jumping. Well, I don't have too much of a personal life anyway.

No personal life?

It's a pretty tough thing and you get tired of the road. It's not for everybody. But I've been in this all my life. And I love entertaining and meeting people. I love to see people have a great time.

Any message for your fans in Dixon?

I'm looking forward to meeting all of them and that we'll be playing for them. It will be a great show. I promise them.