LYNYRD SKYNYRD “WISH YOU WERE THERE” (PART 1 of 4)

Allen Collins of Lynyrd Skynyrd performing at Winterland on 3-6-76. Photo by Ben Upham, who has taken many fantastic Lynyrd Skynyrd photos.
ALLEN COLLINS PERFORMING AT WINTERLAND ON 3-6-76. PHOTO BY BEN UPHAM.

CLICK ON LINKS BELOW TO SEE MORE LYNYRD SKYNYRD PHOTOS & ARTWORK:
WINTERLAND 4-27-75
and
OAKLAND, CA. 9-20-75
and
WINTERLAND 3-6-76
and
SPOKANE, WA. 10-7-76
and
SPOKANE SOUNDCHECK 10-7-76
and
LYNYRD SKYNYRD ARTWORK by BEN UPHAM III

LYNYRD SKYNYRD-
“WISH YOU WERE THERE”
(PART 1)
BY BEN UPHAM III
SEPTEMBER 9, 2011

It’s easy for me to remember the very first time I ever heard Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was in January of 1974, and I was in the middle of my Junior year at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California. I had been practicing hard for 3 months to make the school baseball team, and it was the day that I saw the list of who had made the team. My name was not on the list, which was a crime…I was a better player than at least 4 or 5 of the players that survived the cut. I knew in my mind that politics had come into play and I had been dealt a bad hand…

The news was devastating because baseball was my life at that time. This was a serious lesson about injustice. I remember coming home from school that day feeling like the world wasn’t such a great place. I ignored my Mothers attempts to cheer me up with milk & cookies and I closed myself in my bedroom where I could sulk in privacy. After about 10-15 minutes of lying on my bed cursing the coaches who had caused my misery I decided to see if the radio on my nightstand could help ease my troubled mind.

I turned it on to my favorite F.M. station and they were playing a song that I’d never heard before, that sounded really good. The lyrics seemed as if the singer was singing about what I was thinking. The lines “If I leave here tomorrow would you still remember me” felt like something I would have wanted to say to the coaches that cut me. Then I heard the line, “There’s too many places I’ve got to see”, which made me think about all of the time I’d spent practicing for the team, missing out on so many of the other things I could have been doing, had I known I would be cut. All of a sudden I began to realize that there was a positive aspect to this otherwise negative situation…I was Free…and just as I’m having that thought the singer says, “I’m as Free as a Bird now”, which really was perfect and very “In the Moment” for me.

I reached over and turned the volume up on the radio, as this song was reaching deep inside of me at this point. The songs tempo was changing and I could feel the energy building musically. At that point the singer says, “Oh won’t you fly high, oh Free Birds yeah”, and this otherworldly lead guitar literally jumps out of the radio at me! I was starting to feel better and my Spirit began to smile as the music started to take off. This song was GREAT! The guitars kept reaching out at me and I listened in amazement as the song seemed to keep building and building in intensity. I remember thinking, “My God, who is this Band?”… My question was answered after the song had reached its final notes when the D.J. came on and said, “That was ‘Free Bird’ by Leonard Skinner”.

I shut off the radio and ran out to my car to head down to “Village Music”, the Mill Valley record store. As I walked in I was greeted by the owner, my friend John Goddard. I said hello back but headed right over to the “S” section of albums so I could find this record by Leonard Skinner! I found nothing! So I asked John about it. He said, “Oh, you must mean Lynyrd Skynyrd”, and he calmly walked me over to the “L” section and produced the album “Lynyrd Skynyrd- Pronounced” for me. I loved what I saw, made sure that it had “Free Bird” on it and then paid John for the record.

When I got back home I was so anxious to hear “Free Bird” again that I played it first…I totally relived the experience I’d just had, only this time being able to gaze at the album jacket as it was playing. I now had photos of the band which helped me to visualize the band that was creating this Magical Music. I was able to put all of the frustrations of my bad day behind me and become completely absorbed into the energy of this fine new music. It felt really good!

At that point I decided that before I would listen to the rest of the album I would step outside and smoke a joint first. As I was getting high the words and music I’d just heard kept going through my head, and I was pretty well convinced that “Free Bird” had just replaced “25 or 6 to 4” (by Chicago) as my favorite song. I went back inside, told Mom I’d gladly take the Milk & Cookies now, and then headed back to my room.

I wondered what the rest of the record would sound like as I cued up the first track, “I Ain’t the One”. My jaw dropped, my spirit soared and Lynyrd Skynyrd were now totally in my life! The album was (and still is) spectacular from start to finish…A true Masterpiece in Rock Music History…I played the entire album 3 times and was totally Rocked by the Music I was hearing. The back cover of the record stated “Lynyrd Skynyrd Smokes” and that is the Truth!

The arrangement of the music seemed to blend perfectly with the sentiments and philosophies of vocalist Ronnie Van Zants lyrics. If you check out the lyrics on that first Skynyrd album you’ll see how diverse of a writer Ronnie was. He would blend his personal experiences with his acquired wisdom to create stories in musical form. I had just turned 16 a couple of months earlier and honestly feel that the lyrics on that record wound up shaping many of my opinions and feelings about life, values, and goals. My favorite lyric from the album came from the song “Simple Man” where Ronnie sings, “Be a Simple kind of Man, be Something You Love and Understand”. I’ve taken that to heart and tried my best to keep things in my life as simple and understandable as possible, good advice, and shared in a beautiful piece of music.

“Pronounced Lynyrd Skynyrd” introduced me to a band that I would follow intensely for many years, and although they produced many fine albums, that will always be my favorite of theirs.
CLICK HERE TO SEE PART TWO OF MY “WISH YOU WERE THERE” STORY

LYNYRD SKYNYRD DISCOGRAPHY:
1973 Pounounced Lynyrd Skynyrd
1974 Second Helping
1975 Nuthin’ Fancy
1976 Gimme Back My Bullets
1976 One More From the Road (Live)
1977 Street Survivors
1978 First and Last
1982 Best of the Rest
1987 Legend
1991 Box Set
1998 Skynyrds First (Complete Muscle Shoals)
2000 Collectybles
2009 Live at Winterland 3-7-76
2009 Live at Cardiff 11-4-75

CLICK ON LINKS BELOW TO SEE MORE LYNYRD SKYNYRD PHOTOS & ARTWORK:
WINTERLAND 4-27-75
and
OAKLAND, CA. 9-20-75
and
WINTERLAND 3-6-76
and
SPOKANE, WA. 10-7-76
and
SPOKANE SOUNDCHECK 10-7-76
and
LYNYRD SKYNYRD ARTWORK by BEN UPHAM III



One thought on “LYNYRD SKYNYRD “WISH YOU WERE THERE” (PART 1 of 4)”

  1. Here is another great story!
    Remembering Ronnie Van Zant: Taylor Corse, Rick Doeschler, Jimmy Parker & Steve Rosenbloom

    In 1964 we were all in the 8th grade at Lakeshore Junior High School, and had formed a band called The Squires. Rick Doeschler played lead guitar, Taylor Corse played rhythm, Jimmy Parker was on bass and Steve Rosenbloom on drums. Our manager was the late Dave Shelly, whose daughter’s party we had played at one time.

    The band had been together for almost a year, primarily playing private parties. At school Rick had become friends with a 9th grade girl named Nadine Inscoe, who told him about her boyfriend. He was a junior at Robert E. Lee High School, he wanted to sing in a band, and his name was Ronnie Van Zant. Nadine actually married Ronnie a year later.

    Fortunately, none of us were very proficient singers and we encouraged Ronnie to come to one of our practices, and we agreed to meet him after school one day at Carter’s Pharmacy in Ortega, close to where we all lived. At that time our repertoire consisted of British Invasion songs – Beatles, Rolling Stones, Hollies, Kinks – and some Byrds, Paul Revere and the Raiders, etc.

    From the moment we met Ronnie we all liked him, and agreed that he should join the band. He was older, drove a red Mustang, and always wore faded jeans and a white t-shirt. It was Ronnie’s first band, and though he had never sang professionally, Ronnie had immediate stage presence, he knew exactly the types of songs he wanted to sing, and he had a great singing voice. As one might suspect, he instantly and radically changed our band’s direction, and we renamed the band US.

    We began playing less Beatles and more songs by the Stones and other blues groups. Ronnie could growl and howl like a bluesman, croon like a baritone, and sing loud or soft or in between. But mainly his voice was authentic; it was the real thing. His brothers would later come close, but only Ronnie had this unique energy level and voice, packed into a small frame, that somehow made it all work. He also had an uncanny ability to talk to the crowd. His addition was a great boon to US because we could now concentrate on just playing, and let someone else be the front man and lead the band.

    When Ronnie joined our band it was long before Southern Rock was its own music genre, and US basically emerged as a cover band doing versions of songs that appealed to Van Zant. He especially enjoyed the bluesy Stones songs like “Little Red Rooster,” “Round ‘n’ Round,” “Heart of Stone,” “The Last Time” and their harder rock songs like “Paint It Black,” “Satisfaction,” and “19th Nervous Breakdown.” We also played “We’ve Got to Get out of This Place” by the Animals, “All Day and All of the Night” by the Kinks, and “For Your Love” by the Yardbirds.

    There was a considerable age and socio-economic difference between us. The four of us were young teenagers, around 14 years old, whereas Ronnie was 17 or 18, driving, and under very little parental control. Though he was small in frame, Van Zant had a reputation for being a tough street fighter. At first his reputation sort of intimidated us, but as we got to know him, Ronnie was not this rough “hood” as we used to call this type.

    Instead, he was this soft-spoken and courteous individual, whom our parents liked, but someone who was driven and serious about one thing in life: making music.

    Under his influence, our practice sessions took on a new intensity and purpose. He truly became a student of a newly defined type of rock, and would constantly bring to our sessions new songs and different ways to play our repertoire of current songs. As we began to play more publicly (mainly at teen clubs on the Westside of Jacksonville), we started sounding like a tight and cohesive group. Ronnie would also drink a glass of milk before we would start playing saying it coated his throat, and allowed him to sing better.

    Many Saturday morning’s Ronnie would come pick us up and we would go to the music stores downtown, typically Fred Paulus’ store and Marvin Kay’s, and look at new equipment. Ronnie would like to try out the new microphones or get some new piece of equipment that would give our group a different sound. And then we would all have lunch together, and listen to Ronnie’s stories, which were always exciting and colorful.

    Though we played together, we didn’t really socialize much outside of our music. There was the age gap. But more important, though we didn’t fully realize it at the time, there was a strong social and cultural divide that was almost impossible to cross. We were fairly privileged middle-class kids, we were starting to date, our parents belonged to country clubs, and we knew the plan was to graduate from high school and go on to college. Ronnie came from a blue-collar working class background, with little parental control, and I don’t believe he ever graduated from high school. And though music was his passion, it was also his ticket out.

    Consequently Ronnie had his world, and we had ours. But for this very brief moment in time, we all shared this wonderful music connection. Relatively speaking we were all so young and innocent, nobody ever talked about what it meant to be “southern,” none of us were politically motivated, and we were totally unaware of the looming civil rights issues. At that time both Lakeshore and Lee were all-white public schools. We just wanted to play rock music, and had stumbled across a high energy, motivating force who was rapidly taking us to the next level.

    Ironically at this time we were completely enthralled with the British invasion, and paid little attention to American pop music, with one exception. We all liked and listened to soul music. We used to go to the old Veterans Coliseum and listen to the soul groups when they came to town. Our band never got around to doing any original work with Van Zant, which we all regret because he became such a prolific songwriter.

    About nine months after Ronnie joined us, our band disbanded. And as luck would have it, and he went on to play with four other talented rock & roll classmates of ours at Lakeshore: Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Larry Junstrom and Bob Burns. They were all great guys, and the rest is pretty much history.

    For the next several years we all stayed in touch. The four of us went on to Lee High School. Due to homerooms being in alphabetical order back then, Steve Rosenbloom sat next to Gary Rossington for three years, and we all remained friends.

    We have all read with great interest the articles that have been written about Lynryrd Skynyrd and whether they belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. There is no telling where Ronnie and his band would be today if the plane had not gone down in Louisiana in 1977. The band was on a meteoric rise, and their songs were rapidly becoming big hits with staying power. Even today Free Bird is shouted at concerts of all kinds, and was recently parodied in a country music song. To many it is considered the greatest rock and roll song of all time, with unquestionably one of the most phenomenal guitar breaks ever recorded, confirming the talent of both Allen Collins and Gary Rossington.

    As for their legacy, much has been said about the whiskey drinking songs, the Confederate flag, and racial overtones (a George Wallace comment in “Sweet Home Alabama”), etc. While all of this is undeniably the Lynryrd Skynyrd image, neither Ronnie nor the other band members were racist or bigots in any way. From the time we first met him, it was clear that Van Zant had a real affection for blacks (he wrote “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe” about his friend black friend Curtis Lowe), and he enjoyed telling stories about blacks he knew and/or had worked with.

    But above all the Southerness and political rhetoric, and more than anything else, Ronnie Van Zant stood as a symbol for the hard working, blue collar person. He emphatically understood this lifestyle because he grew up in it and freely associated with it. And for many blue collar, lower income families, guns were used more freely when an altercation arose, and thus many of Lynryrd Skynyrd’s songs spoke to this.

    He knew about getting off work, going to some honky-tonk, drinking beer, and listening to the juke box until the wee hours of the morning. Ronnie had lived the trials and tribulations of getting drunk and wrecking a car (“That Smell”) or being caught at gunpoint with someone else’s woman (“Gimme Three Steps”). But probably the most sentimental of all his writing and singing, and unquestionably their biggest hit, was the song he and Allen Collins penned about a man who just couldn’t commit to settling down with his girl (“Freebird”), and had to be traveling on.

    Most of us have all experienced some version of these songs at some point in our lives, particularly growing up in the South. But for Ronnie Van Zant the words he so many times would sing in Freebird, “And this bird you cannot change; Lord knows I can’t change” rang true. Living with and singing about these experiences, from the first time we met him, was what he was all about.

    To us, at such an early age, it was an unbelievably exciting experience, and one we will never forget. We learned a lot from being associated with Ronnie Van Zant. In many respects he and Lynryrd Skynyrd may have succumbed somewhat to the downside of early age success and fame, which is certainly understandable considering their background. But even after the untimely plane crash in 1977, the band continues to write and sing about the blue collar life, their colorful personal experiences, and entertain people all over the country with their high energy, Southern Rock music style.

    Without question Lynryrd Skynyrd belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and should have been voted in years ago. And for that, Ronnie would be proud.

    Taylor Corse

    Rick Doeschler

    Jimmy Parker (In Memory)

    Steve Rosenbloom

    Tom: Today Taylor Corse teaches 17th Century English literature at Arizona State; Rick Doeschler lives in Jacksonville and still plays guitar; Jimmy Parker tragically died in a car wreck in high school (and Jimmy’s sister is married to Mike Hightower), Steve Rosenbloom owns Sheldrick, McGehee & Kohler, LLC, a business appraisal firm.

    Edited July 14, 2008

    As I continue to remember story’s of the past, two more additions come to mind.

    By the time Us broke up, Lee High period, Ronnie, Gary and Allen had formed their new band. They were having difficulties learning some of guitar parts of songs we played with Ronnie. They wanted to continue performing some of the harder edged songs that we use to do. Ronnie asked me if he could bring Gary and Allen over so I could show them how I played several of the songs they were having trouble mastering. We were all sitting around late in the afternoon and my father, bank President, came home and saw my friends, with their hair getting much longer by then, discussing songs. He said hello and then went into the kitchen where he asked mom, who are those guys? Mom said you remember Rick’s friends from the band. He made a classic statement; Oh, you better keep your eyes on the silver.

    Another tidbit; This was probably into the early 70’s when I called Gary and asked if he would like to come over and Jam at a house in Avondale. Several friends were babysitting a house and it was perfect for music. Gary said he could come by and indicated he would call Ronnie to see if he was available. We started out with Rog Ingram on drums, Duncan Ennis on guitar and me on the other guitar. It was about 9:00 p.m. and we heard a knock on the door. Gary had arrived by himself and came to check the situation out. He said Ronnie had plans and couldn’t make it. Steve, Duncan and I played one song and Gary said, I’ll will be right back, and left. We weren’t sure what happened. About a half hour later Gary retuned and said he was ready to play. I asked him where he went and he said he took his date home so he could play with us. Duncan was kind enough to give up his guitar to Gary and we played for hours. He was very good by that time and showed me a neat trick Duane Allman showed him. I still remember it.


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