Sweet Home Caledonia
Here is my article that appeared in the Sunday Herald a couple of days before Skynyrd played in Glasgow on April 22. It’s based on my interview with Skynyrd guitarist, Rickey Medlocke. Hope you enjoy it.
They are a band that have experienced adoration and adversity in equal measure, but now, one of rock and roll’s most enduring acts is preparing for a return to their “spiritual” home of Glasgow.
Although they are revered as the definitive US southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd say their fan base in Scotland’s biggest city is the most “incredible” anywhere in the world.
The group, formed in 1970, said it was fitting that they had chosen Glasgow for the first stop of their upcoming European tour.
The band’s affinity with Glasgow saw them donate rare memorabilia in honour of the Apollo, one of the city’s most famed live music venues.
In an interview with the Sunday Herald, lead guitarist Rickey Medlocke, whose grandfather was Scottish, said history was repeating itself.
“I have often said that the Glasgow fans, throughout my experience, through all the years, have just been the most incredible fans to play for. And I will stand by that!”
“Not saying that the fans all throughout the world are not, but especially over there, they are just incredible.”
Few, if any, bands can match Skynyrd’s story, arguably the most dramatic and sad tale in rock history. Emerging from the impoverished west side of Jacksonville, Florida, in the late 60’s, they mixed R&B, country music and Brit-flavoured rock to become the 70’s most commercially successful southern rock band.
Storming across the America, their distinctive triple-lead guitar attack made their songs “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” staples of FM radio.
Propelled by the brilliance of lead singer and songwriter Ronnie Van Zant, the lyrics about whisky, women, guns and bar room brawls struck a chord with America’s disaffected youth, gathering a legion of devoted fans.
And as their frequent visits during the 1970’s to the Glasgow Apollo proved, Skynyrd’s raucous, rowdy attitude also hit the spot for rebellious, west of Scotland, youth. In Medlocke’s view that loyalty has endured over the decades.
“From my experiences, from coming over there many times, I know that once a fan, they are always a fan. They give it their all. The hard core fans, the older fans, will turn the younger fans onto the music.”
“Once the loyalty sets in, the loyalty will continue throughout the band’s career. Sometimes over here, it’s kind of up and down.”
The Steve Gibbons Band supported Skynyrd at the Apollo in 1976. Gibbons recalls the effect Skynyrd had on the Glaswegians, whipping the audience into a frenzy.
“When I watched them on the first gig, well, it was just phenomenal what they had going.”
“Ronnie would whip them into frenzy where it would get bigger and bigger, but not just volume, the playing was just so brilliant. It wasn’t volume for the sake of it, they were loud, but it was stunning, the playing was so great.”
Destined for superstardom, the Skynyrd dream was shattered on October 20, 1977, when the plane carrying the band crashed killing Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie. The survivors suffered serious physical injuries and were left to cope with traumatic emotional scars.
The remaining members reformed in 1987 with Johnny Van Zant given the task of singing his late brother’s songs. The band have made Glasgow an automatic stop ever since when touring Europe.
“I still get mail from people, still writing to me, telling me they were loyal fans. We are not over there as much as we should be. “
I suggested to Medlocke that the bond with Glasgow has much to do with Skynyrd’s down-to-earth songs, as they speak plainly and honestly from a working-class perspective.
“First of all, the most important bond is the music“, he said. “If you can say anything about the bond between us and Glasgow I think it would be the music.”
“The Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy has carried over three generations of fans that we have. I believe that is all because of the songs themselves. They have stood the test of time, they are great songs, people love to get next to them.”
Scott McArthur, founder of the Glasgow Apollo website that celebrates the iconic venue’s ‘Apollo Memories’ website, recalls his first-hand experience of Skynyrd’s affection for the city.
“When we launched the Apollo website, ten years ago, I received a large parcel in the post and it was from Lynyrd Skynyrd, wishing me all the best with the website. There was a t-shirt, various pieces of memorabilia and a massive cigar! It came completely out of the blue, it was amazing. There is definitely something genuine about them.”
“The other thing is that magic chorus of three lead guitars and when you hear it live, it’s absolutely amazing. It appeals to rock fans, country fans, people who want to dance, people who like to headbang.”
Medlocke believes that next week’s show, the first stop on the band’s European tour, justifies Scotland being designated as Skynyrd’s spiritual home in Europe.
“It’s kind of historic thing all of a sudden. Since this schedule came up, to come back over to you guys in Scotland, we have been so looking forward to it.”
“This is the first stop on our European tour, coming to Glasgow, and so maybe it is a spiritual thing. Time has replayed itself. We are going to be at the top of our game coming over there. We are looking so forward to this, I think it’s going be one of the best.”
Aside from the musical ties, Medlocke considers himself a fully paid up member of the worldwide Scottish diaspora.
“My grandfather, Shorty Medlocke was Scots/Irish. I got Scottish blood in me from the Medlocke side. We traced it back to Shorty. His dad’s folks came over from Scotland. They are my great, great grandparents.”
I suggest that for him Skynyrd’s visit to Glasgow would see him ‘coming home’. “Pretty well much! I love it. It’s a place I hold very dear to my heart.”
According to Medlocke, the band has a few surprises for its Scottish fans up its sleeve.
“We are going to play stuff that the band has not really played in a very long time for the fans, some really off-the-wall stuff. We have to wait and see in rehearsals what we come up with.
“The message to Glasgow is we are very much looking forward to seeing everybody’s faces in the audience, looking forward to playing great music for them, and that everyone comes out to visit with us on a great occasion.”
“I get to see old friends, visit with people, and just come over and play the music and have a great time.”
Next week, as the strains of Freebird roll across the River Clyde, Skynyrd will reconnect with the people of Glasgow, the fans who have loved them and stuck with them through the good times and the bad.