Lynyrd Skynyrd's Rickey Medlocke on Flying the Confederate Flag: "It's Not About Hatred. We Don't Preach That"

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Even though Skynyrd has seen a lot of its members come and go over the years, you've still managed to maintain that high bar that was set way back in the beginning. It doesn't seem to matter so much about those individual members as much as it does about the Skynyrd branding and the band itself. Why do you think that is?

Gary is one of the founding members that's still left. It was rumored early on that Johnny was going to come on board and produce and write songs and take Ronnie's place anyway. I was with the band early on, then I left to form my band Blackfoot, and I've been back with the band almost 17 years. When you look at that, there's the nucleus and the core of the group. With Gary, Johnny and myself there at the center, to us, it is Lynyrd Skynyrd.

We also got great players in the band, Johnny Colt, the original bassist from the Black Crowes, he's also from Train and Tommy Lee's Super Nova. Michael Cartellone was from Damn Yankees and had great success with that. We got a great piano player in Peter Keys and another great guitar player, Mark Meteika. All these guys are pros, along with the two girls. Gary's wife Dale is still a backing vocalist and so is Carol Chase. The band members themselves are consistent and we go out there and give it 110 percent. I think the audience feels that and they keeping come back for more.

Is it a challenge to avoid repeating yourself? And do you sometimes feel intimidated about having to come up with new songs that rise to the level of the early classics?

Well, it's really not an easy thing to do. First of all, we do realize we're always going to be compared to our past history. We also feel that every song that could possibly be written has been written. There are only seven chords, and so many licks and so many ways to write songs. Everything now is either borrowed from, stolen from, assimilated from, whatever. It's to the point where you look at it and go, "Wow, how the hell are you going to come up with any original riffs?" When we think about it, we think, let's just write, and whatever way it comes out, it comes out. We can't sit there and worry and analyze constantly all the time. We just go in and write what we feel. Write about real substance and try to have fun with it.

What are your thoughts about the current state of Southern rock?

All of a sudden, there seems to be a lot of bands who are trying to stake a claim in that genre. I think people like Blackberry Smoke, Black Stone Cherry... There's a couple of bands up and coming that people haven't heard of yet, but they're bad asses. There's this group called Cadillac Black. You got the Drive By Truckers.

Still, the days of arena rock bands, no matter what the genre, have come and gone. I think these days it's more about packaging bands together so they go out and make money for promoters. When we did this latest record, we knew we were doing it old school, but we also knew that we were kind of the last of our kind, along with people like the Allmans and the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith and ZZ Top and AC/DC, bands from the old arena rock days. So we titled the record appropriately, Last of a Dyin' Breed, because we feel we are that.

Part of the Skynyrd legacy has sadly involved the series of tragedies that the band has been forced to undergo, and here we are on the 35th anniversary of that horrible plane crash that took so many of the original band members. Do you guys have plans to mark that in any special way?

No, you know what, man. For Gary, who survived it, and Johnny's brother, who perished in it, we just kind of like try to forget about it. There's a lot of heartbreak involved in that, a lot of pain and agony, and even today, a lot of times when people come up and start asking me about it, I basically say, that was a bad time in the band's life and people lost loved ones, and so I just try to ease on out of it, you know what I mean? It's a hard thing, it really is. I'm actually glad we're not playing on that day.

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Lee Zimmerman