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Street survivors Lynyrd Skynyrd bring one more for the road

Lynyrd Skynyrd w/ The Marshall Tucker Band

March 7, 7 p.m. , Savannah Civic Center

SOUTHERN rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd have joined several other major rock acts, including Kiss, Elton John and Ozzy Osbourne, that have decided to retire from touring and are launching farewell tours to mark the occasion.

For the members of Skynyrd, the decision came down to wanting to go out on their terms, rather than having touring taken away from them.

“Well, the major reason, a lot of it, actually has to do with Gary’s health,” guitarist Rickey Medlocke explained in a recent phone interview. “He’s had a lot of ups and downs in the recent years, heart (disease), etc., you know. Basically, he’s not able to go out and do the real grind as such. And we’re all, we completely understand that.”

Gary, of course is Gary Rossington, the guitarist, singer and last remaining original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. In October 2015, Rossington was sidelined by a heart attack and has had complications since then. It’s clear from talking to Medlocke that health issues have taken a toll on Rossington and the band wanted to give fans a proper farewell tour rather than be abruptly forced off of the road by a health setback or some other problem.

Medlocke said the band is making sure the last time around the touring circuit will be memorable by assembling set lists that will go beyond the expected selection of hits and fan favorites and bringing out production that will be unique to this tour. The group has shows booked into August, and has not announced an end date for the farewell outing. In addition, the group in November released a concert DVD filmed in Jacksonville, Florida earlier on the tour, “Lynyrd Skynyrd: Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour Lyve!,” and the band is working on a new studio album.

“It’s a mixed bag of tricks,” Medlocke said of the set list, which will include some songs Lynyrd Skynyrd has not played live for some time. “It (the set list) changes, like one night on a Friday night we’ll do one set and on the next night we’ll do a different one. I think that’s one good way of kind of covering all the ground.

“The production part of it is going to be really spectacular. There are a lot of surprises in it, a lot of things that I think that will make even grown men weep,” he said.

So be prepared and bring the tissues to the show. They might come in handy.

After all, the story of Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of rock’s most triumphant and tragic tales. Some of the triumphs came early, as the group, based out of Jacksonville, Florida – not exactly known as a hotbed of promising acts at the time – overcame hardscrabble beginnings and several personnel changes to scrap their way to a record deal in the early 1970s with a hard-hitting but soulful brand of Southern rock.

With early hits like the epic “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” helping the group gain a foothold, Lynyrd Skynyrd appeared to be hitting a musical peak with their fifth album, the 1977 release “Street Survivors.” But the album had been out only three days when an October plane crash claimed the lives of singer/songwriter and band leader Ronnie Van Zant, as well as guitarist Steve Gaines and backing singer Cassie Gaines (Steve’s sister), among others.

It looked like Lynyrd Skynyrd had come to a sudden, premature and tragic end. But in 1987, surviving members Rossington, guitarist Allen Collins, bassist Leon Wilkeson, keyboardist Billy Powell and drummer Artimus Pyle decided to revive Skynyrd, bringing in guitarist Ed King (who was in Skynyrd from 1972 to 1975) and singer Johnny Van Zant to replace his late brother, Ronnie, in the new edition of the group.

Lynyrd Skynyrd has been together ever since, putting out eight studio albums and several live releases, while becoming a steady and successful presence on the touring circuit, even though the group has endured its share of detractors who never felt the latter-day version of the band measured up to the original model.  Today’s lineup includes Rossington, Van Zant, Medlocke (who was an early member of Skynyrd from 1971-1972 before he went on to form the band Blackfoot, which enjoyed a successful run, especially from 1979 and 1981, when that group notched three top 50 albums), Michael Cartellone (drums), Mark Matejka (guitar), Peter Keys (keyboards) and Keith Christopher (bass).

The history of Lynyrd Skynyrd is told in a documentary, “If I Leave Here Tomorrow,” which premiered in March 2018 at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX. Medlocke is pleased that the film gave Rossington a chance to tell the story of the band from his perspective and praised the film for capturing the brotherhood that existed during Skynyrd’s early years and not just the infamous conflicts and fights that have been highlighted in other documentaries on the band.

“It portrays the guys as a band of brothers that got together with an incredible writer named Ronnie Van Zandt, along with Gary (Rossington) and Allen (Collins) and came up with stuff that was from the heart, that really, really made history,” Medlocke said. “I believe that all of that is portrayed in there. There are happy moments, as well as there are sad moments. It’s a roller coaster ride through the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I’m very happy that Gary had a chance to get on film and tell his side of everything.”