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Interview: Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd Reflects on a Lifetime Dedicated to Music

For Rickey Medlocke, music has always coursed through his veins, a passion he knew he would pursue relentlessly.

Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, the 74-year-old guitarist of Lynyrd Skynyrd has a deep-rooted connection to music.

Originally emerging as My Backyard, Lynyrd Skynyrd took shape with the lineup of Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, and Gary Rossington. Over time, the ensemble evolved with the inclusion of Allen Collins, Larry Junstrom, Leon Wilkenson, Billy Powell, and Ed King, undergoing several name changes before officially becoming Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969. Subsequently, Artimus Pyle and Steve Gaines joined the ranks, replacing Burns and King.

During its pinnacle, the band produced chart-toppers like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.” In his initial stint with the group, Medlocke contributed to hits such as “One More Time” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Pray” in the 1970s.

Tragedy struck on October 20, 1977, when a plane crash claimed the lives of Van Zant, Steve and Cassie Gaines, as well as the pilots, leaving the remaining band members severely injured.

In 1996, Rossington reached out to Medlocke, inviting him to rejoin Lynyrd Skynyrd as the lead guitarist, marking a significant chapter in the band’s history.

Presently, the lineup comprises Rickey Medlocke, Johnny Van Zant, Michael Cartellone, Mark Matejka, Peter Keys, Keith Christopher, and Damon Johnson.

The convergence of ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd materialized in the Sharp Dressed Simple Man tour, gracing Tallahassee’s Donald L. Tucker Civic Center on the evening of April 6, 2024.

In anticipation of the Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top concert at 7 p.m. at Ford Center, The Courier & Press engaged in a conversation with Medlocke.

What inspired your musical journey?

Born and raised in a musical family, music has been the sole pursuit of my life. My grandfather, a professional musician, played a pivotal role in igniting my passion for music. Growing up under the influence of my musically inclined mother and uncles further solidified this connection.

At a tender age of 3, my grandfather introduced me to the five-string banjo, and by 5, I had already embarked on learning the guitar. Subsequently, I delved into drumming at 8 and explored various other instruments along the way.

Music encapsulates my being—it’s not just a vocation but a lifeline. The process of creating music, from composition to realization, resonates deeply with me. It has been a constant companion, a source of solace, and a profound expression of self.

How does your Native American heritage influence your musical narrative?

Identifying as predominantly Native American, with traces of Scottish and English lineage, I embrace my diverse heritage. My Native roots hold immense significance, shaping my worldview and inspiring me to advocate for indigenous causes.

Recently, I embarked on a project dedicated to raising awareness about the missing and murdered indigenous women’s movement. Through initiatives like the song “Never Run Out of Road,” I endeavor to contribute to this cause by supporting relevant charities.

Reflecting on your upbringing in Jacksonville, Florida, how did the local culture impact your musical evolution and artistic identity?

Growing up in the Southern milieu of Jacksonville, I was immersed in a musical landscape dominated by blues and country influences. While each member of Lynyrd Skynyrd drew inspiration from English artists, my personal inclinations gravitated towards iconic figures like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and a myriad of English musicians.

This amalgamation of influences, blending Southern roots with English flair, culminated in our distinctive sound. Drawing inspiration from a diverse array of artists such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Jimmy Page, we crafted original compositions that encapsulated our unique musical journey.

How do you perceive the evolution of music since your inception into the industry?

Reflecting on the evolution of music, one recognizes the finite spectrum of musical chords—yet the realm of creativity remains boundless. In our formative years, the musical landscape was uncharted territory, allowing for unprecedented originality and innovation.

In contrast, contemporary artists often draw inspiration from existing works, resulting in a fusion of influences across genres. Whether in pop, hip-hop, country, or rock, echoes of past melodies resonate within modern compositions, underscoring the cyclical nature of musical inspiration.

Recalling your extensive career, what standout moments from touring and performances resonate with you?

Embarking on a musical journey marked by milestones, certain moments linger as indelible memories. The fulfillment of playing at the Royal Albert Hall in London stands out as a cherished achievement—a culmination of a lifelong aspiration.

Returning to Lynyrd Skynyrd and experiencing the camaraderie of the band on stage evoked a profound sense of belonging and familial bond. Each performance is infused with unwavering energy and passion, reciprocated by the audience—an exchange that fuels my unwavering commitment to music.

What guidance would you offer aspiring rock musicians or young enthusiasts entering the realm of rock music?

To aspiring rock musicians, I impart the wisdom of crafting timeless, iconic songs that transcend generations. Collaborate with fellow musicians, channel creativity into compositions that endure the test of time. Great songs possess an enduring quality, resonating with audiences across eras and leaving an indelible mark on musical history.