“He’s still got a lot of life ahead of him.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s latest CD/DVD set — the just-released Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd & Second Helping — Live From Jacksonville at the Florida Theatre — captures the band live on stage. And the Southern rockers expect to be back there soon, even as guitarist and sole surviving founding member Gary Rossington recovers from a heart attack and subsequent surgery.
“Gary’s doing good,” frontman Johnny Van Zant tells Billboard, explaining that Rossington’s “slight heart attack” came as he was in the hospital for another procedure for which doctors took him off his blood-thinning medication, which caused a clot that led to the episode. “I talked to him the other day, and we’ve got just a few shows left this year and I said, ‘Man, let’s just cancel ’em. Get your health straight and everything.’ And he was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ He goes, ‘Man, I’ve been going out by my lake and doing a little bit of meditating, and I was thinking about what’s important to me and that’s my family, my grandkids and playing the guitar. If I can get all of this right, I want to finish up these shows and this year.’
“That really impressed me, and he sounded great. It was a scare, you know, and any time anything happens like that it’s a scare. But he’s lived through a lot of stuff in his lifetime, so, yeah he’s gonna be OK here. He’s still got a lot of life ahead of him.”
Skynyrd has three shows left on its 2015 itinerary, starting at the Alabama National Fair in Montgomery. A full slate of touring is being put together for 2016, including what Van Zant says is “something going on in the amphitheaters…with some friends of ours, and if it all works out we’re gonna hook up and go out and play a bunch of shows.” Meanwhile, the Live From Jacksonville set captures a show earlier this year during which Skynyrd played its first two albums in their entirety, something the group has been wanting to do for quite some time and finally found both the time and venue to make it happen.
“That was a great time, man,” Van Zant recalls. “We did ‘I Need You,’ and they had never done that [live], and I think they did ‘Poison Whiskey’ maybe one or two times, according to Gary. So doing those songs and going back and looking at the arrangements and doing them like they did ’em originally instead of how we’ve taken to doing them over the years was a lot of fun, and a great challenge. We had a blast.”
And the experience was certainly good enough to have the band thinking about giving the same concert treatment to its other albums. “We’re waiting to see what the fans think,” Van Zant says. “People live and breathe this music, so we hope they like it and if they do, man, I would go straight on up and do Nuthin’ Fancy, Gimme Back My Bullets and just go from there. Gimme Back My Bullets is my favorite Skynyrd record of all time, and it was the least successful of all the records at the time, which really surprised me. I love every song off that record, so I’d look forward to doing that, definitely.”
Skynyrd is planning to bring some new music to fans too. It’s already starting to assemble material for a follow-up to 2012’s Last of a Dyin’ Breed, with writing set to begin in earnest before the end of the year. The group is also planning to produce itself this time and record the album in short chunks rather than one long session, and it’s even considering releasing new songs individually or in small clusters prior to a full album.
“Y’know, who knows us best? We know us best, so we’re gonna really try to go in and rehearse stuff and go in a studio and kind of cut it as us,” Van Zant says. “Sometimes you get away from that and try to make them too perfect and too slick and be all like, ‘You might be a little flat here, a little sharp there’ or ‘Oh, let’s tune that.’ That’s not really where Skynyrd is from. So we’re going in and we’ll see what the heck happens.”