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art theplaceIt never ceases to amaze me the incredible people, places and things I cross paths with here in Western North Carolina. From craft artisans to world-class musicians, stealthy moonshiners to stoic veterans, backwoods folks and cosmopolitan socialites — they’re all here in Southern Appalachia.

 

And so, it was nothing shy of mesmerizing when Artimus Pyle came to Haywood County last week. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer for southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pyle and his tribute band took the stage at Haywood Appliance in Clyde. 

Yes, I said Haywood Appliance. 

You see, as a resident of Western North Carolina, Pyle has befriended some of the good folks with the Haywood Home Builders Association. And at their latest association meet-and-greet networking event, it was decided to kick it up a notch, bring in a little firepower from behind the drum kit.

Pyle and company launched right into the Skynyrd hit “Workin’ for MCA” and never let go of the gas pedal. Just when one tune would end with a Pyle percussive solo, another would pop up, rock-n-roll staples like “Simple Man,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe,” and more rearing their melodic tones.

It was all there, every song we know and love, with each sparking a cherish memory of the past, when times and responsibilities perhaps seemed simpler. As I looked around the older crowd, the atmosphere felt like a time warp, where well-earned wrinkles and grey hair (or no hair) disappeared, where all that remained was a bunch of teenagers cheering on the beloved sounds of their youth. And yet, none of the songs ever sounded stale. If anything, they sound just as alive and vibrant as ever, with Pyle truly offering the listener an unforgettable experience. 

What Pyle does isn’t a nostalgia act, far from. It’s rock-n-roll in its purest form, which is rebellious and eternal. He is the real deal, through and through. He’s a straight shooter in a world full of smoke and mirrors. To watch a legend of his caliber perform live was a moment that will forever be talked about by those who bared witness.

Just another day in Western North Carolina — another glorious day.

(Oh, and yeah they did play “Free Bird,” and yes, it was everything I hoped it would be.)

Smoky Mountain News: You’re 66 years old. What does that number means to you?

Artimus Pyle: Nothing. It’s just a number. You know, when I’m playing I’m in the moment. It’s ageless, timeless, effortless. It just comes perfect when I’m playing. I’ve had three airplane crashes, eight motorcycle wrecks and 12 car crashes, so I feel my age sometimes because of the injuries to my body. But, in my mind, I’m Peter Pan. The music of Lynyrd Skynyrd has kept me going — I feel like I’ll never grow old because of the music.

SMN: Do you think the crowd feels that way too?

AP: I do. I think so. Once they realize we’re serious with what we do, that the guys play the music with respect and accuracy, my band plays Lynyrd Skynyrd music better than any band in the world. My vocalists are second to none, so there’s no problem. These huge crowds we play for they respond. They might not be able to see the band [from far away], but they hear the music, they feel it, and their responding to the lush sound of the music. And I love that. I’m not trying to fool anybody. This isn’t Lynyrd Skynyrd, this is a tribute band to Ronnie Van Zant (late lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd), his band and his music, and we do it better than anybody in the world.

SMN: Why is the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd still vital just as much as it was in the mid-1970s?

AP: Well, people bury their friends to “Free Bird.” “Simple Man,” Ronnie wrote about his mother. So, it’s all about the American family. It’s about real good stuff.

SMN: “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe” says a lot about the South.

AP: And Ronnie says, “Curtis Lowe was a black man with white curly hair.” So, Ronnie was talking abut showing that if a person is a good person, it doesn’t matter what color, what gender, what race — if they’re good, they’re good, if they’re bad, they’re bad. “Sweet Home Alabama” is saying don’t blame every Southern man. Neil Young had “Southern Man,” you know with the line, “bull whips cracking.” Ronnie was saying don’t blame all of us for the racism of the few because Ronnie wasn’t like that, he loved people for the way they were. 

SMN: What’s the biggest misconception of Lynyrd Skynyrd?

AP: The stars and bars. That we automatically are against black people. Ronnie felt if you were a good guy, you’re a good guy, if you’re a bad girl, you’re a bad girl.

SMN: What does it mean to you to still play these songs?

AP: It keeps me alive. Blood sucking weasel attorneys, managers and all those people that make music bad, they have not been able to take away from me my ability to play drums. I still kick ass. I’m still going to play drums when I’m 100, then I’m going to switch to standup comedy. 

 

 

Hot picks

1 Bestselling Appalachian author Ron Rash will hold a reading at 11 a.m. Nov. 8 at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville.

2 Soldier’s Heart (Americana/rock) will perform at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 31 at Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City. 

3 Renowned storyteller Donald Davis will be performing at 3 p.m. Nov. 9 at HART in Waynesville.

4 Opposite Box (funk/experimental) will perform at 9:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.

5 The Eastern Boundary Quartet (jazz) will perform at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 in the Coulter Building at Western Carolina University.

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