how hard is the free bird solo

After Gregg Allman died earlier this year at his Savannah, Ga. home, the chances of the Allman Brothers Band ever reuniting again died with him.

His passing left Jacksonville, Fla.’s Lynyrd Skynyrd and Houstons ZZ Top as the last truly great southern-rock bands standing. (With all due to respect to later groups like Gov’t Mule, they’re following in the aforementioned originators’ whiskey-soaked, slide-guitar-playing, boot-shaped footsteps.)

Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington is the lone member remaining from band’s classic era. Still, the group, since 1987 fronted by deceased singer Ronnie Van Zant’s brother Johnny Van Zant, carries on in authentic Skynyrd spirit – the pasts intraband fisticuffs, car crashes, booze and coke devouring and deadly 1977 plane crash notwithstanding. The current Skynyrd lineup also features: guitarists Rickey Medlocke and Mark Matejka, drummer Michael Cartellone, bassist Johnny Colt (formerly of the Black Crowes), keyboardist Peter Keys and backing singers Dale Krantz Rossington (Gary’s wife) and Carol Chase.

They have that timeless Skynyrd catalog to draw from. Which certainly helps. The band’s recent Syracuse, N.Y. setlist was loaded with guitar-radio bullets: “Whats Your Name,” “Saturday Night Special,” “Simple Man,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.” Just to name a few. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut album “(Pronounced Leh-nérd Skin-nérd)” was released in 1973. The current ensemble’s most recent studio album is 2012’s aptly titled “Last of a Dyin’ Breed.”

On a recent morning, Skynyrd’s management connects me on a call with Medlocke, also known for his time with ’70s southern rockers “Blackfoot,” of “Train, Train” fame. Medlocke is married to Kid Rock backing vocalist Stacy Michelle and when not touring splits his time between Fort Myers, Fla., and Mississippi residences.

Rickey, you’ve been playing guitar with the band since 1996 so you’ve played these great songs so many times. But what’s the most challenging Lynyrd Skynyrd tune for you to play?

Well, seeing as how Allen Collins [deceased, classic-era Skynyrd guitarist] and my style were very similar you know, I was able to work up any and every song, really, that the band decides to do. Everybody always expected that “Free Bird” was the most challenging. But actually “Free Bird” was the simplest tune to put together, the reason being that when you listen to the song, the song is done in sections. So, I knew the licks that Allen was playing, just by hearing: “I know what that lick is. OK, I know what that lick is.” And then put it into the rhythm, into the section of the lead and just go with it and just memorize it. It fell together fairly simple. And then all I had to do was get together with the band and play it with the band.

So I would say probably sometimes some of the most challenging things to play have been [the era] when Steve Gaines [deceased Skynyrd guitarist] came into the band. Like we were doing “Honky Tonk Night Time Man” [from 1977 “Street Survivors” album”] and I was playing the slide to that. And even though Steve didn’t play slide on that, I had to adapt it to my style and play the slide the way I had learned from my grandfather to play slide and that was pretty challenging. But for the most part man the Skynyrd songs have been very natural. I’ve been able to adapt to them fairly easy, because it was my kind of style of playing.Dont Edit

In addition to being a talented guitarist, you’re a very energetic and physical live performer. Who are some artists who inspired you in that way?

Things come naturally to me. Everybody always thinks I do these things out of theatrics but I don’t. I don’t think about what I’m doing at the time. But the one guy I really enjoyed watching was [Jimi] Hendrix. Because Hendrix took it very far beyond just standing there playing, but whatever he was doing I believe he truly felt and it came natural to him.

Even going back as far as Elvis Presley … I got to see Elvis at a very, very early age when Elvis had really burst onto the scene and was really The King. My parents went to see him at the Florida Theatre in 1956 right before I turned 7 years old and I saw him at the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville. I remember my parents taking me home that night and I remember my grandfather who was the musician in our family, he was a road guy that played with a lot of different Nashville musicians, he asked me, “What did you think of that?” And I said, “That’s what I want to do.”

Even as a young kid, I just wanted to play music and entertain and make a living playing music. Back then when you’re young you never really think about being a “rock star.” I think everybody, Gary and Ronnie and Allen and myself, I think we just got into because we loved the art of playing music, in order to make a living at it, and to have people hear the song we wrote or recorded. And all of a sudden it happened.

I have a lot of energy still and I just let the energy take over and let my playing take over. And I just follow what comes naturally.Dont Edit

You play lead guitar in a quintessential southern rock band. What are some artists, albums or genres you enjoy outside of rock that might surprise people?

At a very early age I became enthralled with Spanish flamenco guitar and I still am today. I used to go to Seville in Spain and listen to some of the Spanish flamenco guitarists and watch the dancers and stuff like that. I still listen to it today. I have a big library of it and actually when I was 21 and was in Skynyrd, the first time around with those guys, this artist came around to Jacksonville and it was Carolos Montoya and I got to see him at the Jacksonville Civic Auditorium and he was brilliant. He was just an amazing flamenco guitarist. I love that kind of music.Dont Edit

For fans who aren’t familiar with your first stint in Skynyrd, as a drummer in the early-70s, what’s that story? I’ve read a few different versions of it.

Yeah what happened, I was with the original Blackfoot, back in ’69 going into ’70 and I became really disenchanted and unhappy being where I was. Things weren’t moving along nicely and there were some problems in management, so I said I got to have a change. I had Allen Collins’ number and I called him up and we had a short conversation and he said, “You really need to call Ronnie.” And I called Ronnie and Ronnie said “What’s up man” Because we were all familiar with each other being from the same area in Jacksonville on the west side, in the neighborhoods and playing the same juke joints in the early days, in our late teens going into adulthood. I told Ronnie I was really unhappy where I was and asked did the band need a roadie or a guy to set up equipment, drive a truck or whatever, that I wanted to come home to Jacksonville and get out of the situation I was in.

He goes, “Well, as it happens do you still play drums?” And I go, “Yeah, I still play drums” because I played drums for a band right before Blackfoot got together and then two bands merged together and I stopped playing drums and just went to lead-singing. And Ronnie and those guys were familiar with that. He said, “Were losing Bob [Burns, original Skynyrd drummer] and we are supposed to start our first record in two weeks in Muscle, Shoals Alabama. [Note: These sessions were unreleased until the 1978 posthumous collection “Skynyrds First and…Last.”] Bob is leaving and were looking for a drummer.”

I said, “I’m your guy.” I sold some amps that I had – kept my guitars – from up in Jersey. They sent me a ticket, I flew down to Jacksonville, Florida and started recording with those guys in ’71 and it lasted right into ’73. What happened was that I felt like I was a good drummer but not a great drummer and someone that would put those guys over the top, with the rest of the musicians to get them where they needed to go. Coupled with the fact that I only have one lung and kind of a weak respiratory system, I didn’t have the stamina, capacity for what they did. But I did good with them playing on the album and the live shows because I really pushed myself. And so I opted out and went back with Blackfoot and the rest is history.Dont EditDont Edit

I’ll be honest with you. Gary developed a very distinctive tone and style of playing back then that was a signature to the band. And that’s not to say that Allen didn’t develop his thing because he was the signature thing on “Free Bird.” Gary and I have been friends probably for about 50 years.Dont Edit

When your other band Blackfoot started to have hits like “Train, Train” in the late-70s, what’s the first thing you bought with your first big royalty check?

Well, I got my first record royalty and publishing at the same time and it flipped me out so bad because I had never seen that much money. I called my grandfather up who raised me, Shorty, who wrote “Train, Train,” I called him up and said, “Pop, what am I supposed to do here?” He said, “What you need to do is go down to the bank, ask them what’s the best way to put it into the bank and make money on it and go from there.” So I did that. And believe it or not I still have those same two accounts today.Dont Edit

Lynyrd Skynyrd will play an 8 p.m. Sept. 7 show at Huntsvilles Von Braun Center Propst Arena, address 700 Monroe St. Country duo The Swon Brothers as the supporting act. Tickets are $36 – $76 (plus applicable fees) and available via, VBC Box Office or by phone at 800-745-3000. More info at Edit

I was ecstatic to receive my first record royalties and publishing at the same time because I had never seen that much money before. “Pop, what am I supposed to do here?” I asked my grandfather, Shorty, who raised me and wrote the song “Train, Train.” He replied, “What you need to do is go down to the bank, ask them what’s the best way to put it into the bank and make money on it, and go from there.” ” So I did that. And I still have those two accounts today, believe it or not. Dont Edit.

Even further back in time, I had the opportunity to see Elvis Presley when he had just really come of age and was truly The King. In 1956, just before I turned seven, my parents saw him at the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville, and I also saw him there. My grandfather, the family musician who traveled and performed with numerous Nashville artists, asked me, “What did you think of that?” and I replied, “That’s what I want to do.” I remember my parents driving me home that evening. ”.

He asks, “So, as it happens, do you still play drums?” and I respond, “Yes, I do,” since I used to play drums for a band before Blackfoot formed. After those two bands merged, I quit playing drums and switched to lead singing. And Ronnie and those guys were familiar with that. He declared, “We are losing Bob [Burns, the original drummer for Skynyrd], and in two weeks we are supposed to begin recording our first record in Muscle, Shoals, Alabama.” [Note: The recordings from these sessions were not made public until the 1978 posthumous album “Skynyrds First and Last. “] Bob is leaving and were looking for a drummer. “.

What was the first thing you purchased with your first large royalty check when your other band, Blackfoot, began to have hits like “Train, Train” in the late 1970s?

I always wanted to perform music, entertain people, and earn a living doing it, even as a small child. Being a “rock star” wasn’t something you really thought about when you were younger. To earn a living and get people to hear the song we wrote or recorded, I believe that Gary, Ronnie, Allen, and I all got into music simply because we loved the art of performing it. And all of a sudden it happened.


Is the solo in Free Bird hard?

The only thing that makes it hard is having to learn slide guitar. The solos can be easily learned as they are mostly repetitive. Learn a few licks and you’re good.

Why is the guitar solo in Free Bird so long?

The song was simply the bouncer on the debut album – with a four-minute guitar solo by Allen Collins at the end. (The original idea of this instrumental track was to give the singer a breather for once during live performances). Collins’ solo is through-composed, perfectly rehearsed and partially overdubbed.

What scale is the Free Bird solo?

Based almost entirely on the G minor pentatonic scale (with a bit of G major pentatonic thrown in), the solo never fully resolves.