It’s not often that Artimus Pyle performs on the West Coast. Based in North Carolina, the former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer plies a thriving trade along the eastern seaboard with his astonishingly adept and clean-cut band. The last time I saw him play in southern California was in September 2013, and that may well have been his last gig in the state. Until January, 2019, when the Artimus Pyle Band (APB) ventured out West for five shows—a tour opener in Las Vegas, and four in California.
I drove out to Las Vegas for the first show, where I also facilitated a reunion between Artimus and Dave Evans, the engineer on Nuthin’ Fancy. They had not seen each other since the late ‘70s, when they worked on an album with Leo LaBranche. Dave has kindly contributed his lucid reminiscences on the fraught Nuthin’ Fancy sessions to Artimus’ upcoming memoir; they are a welcome antidote to the venomous recollections spouted in producer Al Kooper’s book.
After the summit at the hotel bar, it was off to Stoney’s Rockin’ Country—which touts itself as the place “where country LIVES in Las Vegas.” The venue, based in a large shopping mall across from an Abercrombie & Fitch and an Old Navy, looks disturbingly corporate from the outside. But inside, it’s a parallel universe of beautiful people of all races in cowboy hats and denim finery, the obligatory mechanical bull, girls gyrating in cages, and line-dancing. I didn’t know where to look, but quickly fixated on the latter activity, which I knew solely from a Billy Ray Cyrus video. It is now my life’s ambition to master this curious craft.
APB hit the stage, whose similarly curious backdrop was a prairie cottage, about 10:30 p.m. with “The Needle and the Spoon,” a track from Second Helping. It was quickly followed by That Smell, “Comin’ Home,” Saturday Night Special, Workin’ for MCA, and my personal fave, the lurid On the Hunt.
You don’t get “On the Hunt” or “Comin’ Home” if you go to see Gary’s band, nor do you get the same level of expert musicianship. Artimus’ guys are journeymen from the Asheville area with extensive pedigrees. Per Artimus’ decree, they play Skynyrd with accuracy and respect—no showboating or impromptu jams. What you’ve heard on the records for more than four decades is exactly what you get live. Most of the lead vocals are handled by keyboardist Brad Durden, straight from the Georgia woods. Guitarist Scott Raines also does lead vocals, as well as the Allen Collins solo on “Free Bird.” Jerry Lyda, a music-store owner in Asheville, complements Scott on guitar. APB is rounded out by the latest addition, Dave Fowler on bass. Note his nifty ax.
Four days later, APB was in beautiful, downtown Tarzana—15 miles northwest of Hollywood—for a semi-private barroom gig at Petie’s Place. It was a celebration organized at the last minute by Cleopatra Records, the company behind an upcoming movie about the Skynyrd plane crash. The set list was the same, 15 songs spanning the Skynyrd canon, and notably included the tunes co-written by Leon (Travellin’ Man) and Billy (Whiskey Rock-a-Roller). We all sang along to Simple Man, boogied hard to Call Me the Breeze, and stood in wide-eyed wonderment as Free Bird soared over the San Fernando Valley. And then we hung out afterwards as Artimus worked the room.
The only downer was the weather. Even Los Angeles has a little bit of a winter, and APB chose a soggy couple of days to spend in town. Well hopefully it won’t be too long before we get another helping of the most authentic Skynyrd you’ll ever hear until Elon Musk unveils his time machine.###
Copyright © 2019 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING