JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The members of Lynyrd Skynyrd have spent years making music and performing around the world, while also overcoming tragedy.
As Jacksonville’s own iconic Southern Rock band travels the world on an international farewell tour, the band members shared insights into their lives, their past and their future with News4Jax anchor Tom Wills.
Lynyrd Skynyrd played its last hometown show Sunday at TIAA Bank Field before taking a short break from the tour.
The band's three hometown stars -- Johnny Van Zant, Gary Rossington and Rickey Medlocke -- sat down with Wills for a wide-ranging conversation.
Below are some of the highlights of their interview:
Tom Wills: You know, all those people out there waiting to hear you guys tonight -- they have this idea about rock stars, that you guys have it made, that you have fame and you have fortune. I have gotten to know you guys. I know you've been through...
Rickey Medlocke: Hell and high water.
Wills: The plane crash, Ronnie, other people on the plane. You've lost Billy, Allen, Leon, and now Ed King. And now, earlier this year, you've lost a daughter. How have you endured all of this?
Johnny Van Zant: I think music has helped us get through it. You know, I'm glad I'm very busy right now, and I think if you stay busy, and you believe in God, Tom -- that's the most important thing right there (points to tattoo of Christ). He gets you through things. When you lose a child you either go one way or the other. Thank God for my pastor, Pastor P. Mike, over there in High Point Church in Middleburg. I go over there.
Gary Rossington: She’s with Jesus, man.
Van Zant: You have to believe that. I know one day I will see her again. I got her with me every day. That's her handwriting on me. [On Van Zant’s forearm is a tattoo with words his daughter Lindsay wrote for him, “May the angels watch over you.”]
Wills: Did you have a burning bush experience or has this been an educational experience, your faith?
Van Zant: No, you know, we've always believed in our Lord, Jesus Christ. Our dad should have been a preacher. He knew the Bible back and forth. He would set us all down. I know Gary heard Lacy all the time preach.
Rossington: He was a preacher, man.
Van Zant: He would preach to us. He told us what not to do and what to do.
Medlocke: He could actually quote scripture just like that. (snaps)
Van Zant: Yea, just like that.
Wills: The pre-1977 Lynyrd Skynyrd, to put it mildly, had kind of a reputation for, shall we say, being rowdy.
Van Zant: (Laughs)
Wills: In case you haven't read any of that stuff. You guys don't have a reputation for being rowdy. What happened?
Van Zant: (Laughs) What happened?
Wills: But you’re a bunch of clean livers?
Van Zant: Yeah, yeah. You know, you have to be. You can't do what the heck we do and party like that. I had a friend who said, “I want some after-show party passes.” I said, “After show? When we are down here in Jacksonville, we're going to bed.”
Medlocke: It’s funny. People ask you, “After the show, what do you all do, raise cane, you all drink?” I go, “Ah, Oreo cookies and milk.”
Van Zant: You see, we are on the bus. I've got a bunk back there with my name on it. (laughs) Wills: I just have one more question. After this is over -- New Zealand, Latin America -- when the touring finally stops, what are you going to do?
Van Zant: Probably go in the studio.
Rossington: Write some records and go do a reunion tour.
Medlocke: I think everybody once they stop doing, they still keep themselves involved in what they love to do.
Van Zant: Yeah.
Medlocke: And so will we -- except I'll get a lot more opportunity to go fishing.
Van Zant: Yeah.
Medlocke: We're going to take some time off with kids and grandkids.
Van Zant: I had a boat, about, I don’t know how many years ago, but I had it for four years. I took it out four times in four years. We were on the road.
Wills: Might be time to buy another boat?
Van Zant: Yeah. (laughs)
Rossington: Actually, I think what we'll do, we write -- whether you want to or not -- if you're a writer, it comes through, you want to write. So we've been writing some tunes, and we might record a few albums like the Beatles do when they quit touring.
Van Zant: We'll miss each other and go, “Hey, meet at the lobby of some hotel. Showtime.”
Medlocke: You know, one of the special things I love is where you are sitting right now, is like at the end of the night when the show is over we are one family sitting here. And I think, I was telling the guys not too long ago, the one thing I'm going to miss is those special nights, and we finish, everybody is sitting right here. I'm going to miss that the most.
Reflections on childhood and the band's beginnings
The day before the concert, Wills visited the Westside home where Johnny Van Zant grew up with his brother, Ronnie, and their other siblings.
The home is now a Florida historic landmark, and fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd were also visiting at the time. He met with Gene Odom, Ronnie's boyhood friend who went on to become the band's security manager and who was among the survivors of the 1977 plane crash in Mississippi.
The time Van Zant spent growing up in that home was discussed in the band's interview:
Wills: I wanted to talk with you about your childhood because I was over in your house yesterday with Gene Odom, walking around in that house, you had 3 sisters, and you had these two older brothers and you were the baby boy of the family. I want to know, how did that work for you?
Van Zant: How did that work for you!! (Laughs)
Rossington: Look at him!
Medlocke: We could tell you stories!
Van Zant: You better not tell none! (Laughs) You know what, it was great. It was great. You know, my dad built that whole place himself. When they first got it, it was a little two-room shack, I guess you would say. Daddy built onto it and built onto it. It’s pretty cool that the guy’s got it now as a historical so it can never be torn down. It’s cool. It really is.
Wills: When Gary and your brother were out there becoming big rock stars and they were making a lot of money and you were going to high school over there on the westside and your last name was…
Van Zant: I really didn't go to high school… (laughs)
Wills: And you were a teenager hanging out and you had this last name Van Zant… did it cross your mind that Ronnie is going to be showering us with all these riches and we are going to be moving to Ponte Vedra?
Van Zant: (Laughs) Moving to Ponte Vedra. I'm a Middleburg boy. No, you know what, he wrote a lot of great songs along with Gary and Allen and Ed King, the late great Ed King, Stevie Gaines. It amazes me every night how we go out there and see what happens, you know, because there really is 3 to 4 generations. Now we are working on 4 generations.
Wills: But you didn't think we are going to be rich?
Van Zant: No, no. We were rich, Tom. We were rich in family. We were rich in family. Medlocke: It was one of those things that when you got together you were like a garage band. You just play your music. You want people to hear it and appreciate it, but you don't know where it’s headed. Nobody ever knew that.
Van Zant: Who would have ever thought we'd be here in September.
Rossington: That's rich. Money don't make you rich.
Van Zant: No, no.
Rossington: Stuff like that and dreams coming true. That's when you are rich.
Van Zant: You know, that's what I think is the good thing about Skynyrd ... everybody who's ever been in here is common people. We're just common people.
Rossington: I want to say one thing. We love Jacksonville.
Van Zant: Yes!
Rossington: We're from here and tonight is a great honor for us to be here.
Rossington: And, man, thank you all and not just you, but everybody involved, our management…
Van Zant: I'm thanking Tom!