He strokes the strings of his Gibson Explorer with surgical precision, working the neck with blinding fury as he leads the guitar assault of rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd
. With his chiseled features and long white hair blowing in the wind, Rickey Medlocke is an imposing figure on the stage of the Sturgis Buffalo Chip
as he delivers the power chords of the band’s most famous songs. The crowd roars its approval with sonic blasts from the motorcycles parked right below the stage and throughout the Wolfman Jack Amphitheater, people singing along with every song, the words wringing out long lost memories while bringing out the flood of emotions that go along with them. Skynyrd plays into the night, filling the South Dakota plains with a fever of songs and melodies to the crowd afflicted with adulation. Bikers love Skynyrd, and Skynyrd loves them back.
Best part is, this scene we had the pleasure of being a part of last year will soon repeat itself. Lynyrd Skynyrd will rock the Sturgis
Buffalo Chip once again on Thursday, Aug. 8, during this year’s Black Hills Rally. With a staple of anthems including “Sweet Home Alabama,””Simple Man” and of course “Freebird,” the band’s music is a long-standing favorite amongst motorcyclists. Hearing one of their tunes on the radio is like running across a long lost friend.
Thanks to our friends at The Chip, we recently had a chance to talk to Skynyrd’s lead guitarist, Rickey Medlocke. Medlocke has done two stints with the band. He grew up with the guys in the same musical arena of Jacksonville, Florida, and pounded drums for them when they first hit the scene in 1970. Medlocke can remember when “Simple Man” was written and played “Freebird” before it even made it to recording. He would strike out on his own to form Blackfoot the following year, but returned in 1996 at the request of founding member Gary Rossington and hasn’t looked back since.
Medlocke grew up in a musical background. His grandfather was Delta blues musician, Shorty Medlocke, who taught him how to play a miniature banjo by age three. No sooner had he learned to play than he started appearing on a local TV show called “The Toby Dowdy Show,” playing music with his grandpa Shorty. He would later honor his grandfather by recording a song Shorty wrote with his band Blackfoot, “Train Train” becoming a hit in its own right. Music is in Medlocke’s blood and watching him play you can see that his guitar is an extension of his soul. Here’s what he had to say about the band’s upcoming gig at the Buffalo Chip and about his illustrious career.
Motorcycle USA: Are you excited about Skynyrd’s upcoming gig at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip?
Of course, man. You know what, we always enjoy that. Actually, we did it last year and here we are again. Usually we do it about every two to three years but it’s exciting to know we’re doing it a second year in a row. Just looking forward to it, I love coming here and looking at all
Lynyrd Skynyrd will rock the Legendary Buffalo Chip at the 2013 Sturgis Rally on Thursday, Aug. 8.
the motorcycles and hearing all the rhetoric going on and stuff, man it’s great.
Is there any place you play that is quite like The Chip? (the crowd, the motorcycles parked right next to the stage, people revving their engines in appreciation)
Well, it pretty well stands on its own, that’s for damn sure. You’re in with people who love the music that’s there to celebrate something in their life. You know what man, it’s an enjoyable time and we always look forward to being there. We’ve played it a bunch. Actually we’ve watched the Buffalo Chip develop from the early days right up to now. It’s been an amazing ride. We remember when the stage was an old wooden stage when they were first getting started up to right now. So it’s pretty amazing to think about it.
Why do you think the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd appeals so much to bikers?
Well, I think that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music reeks of freedom. I mean, we got a “Freebird” and I think the songs speak to everybody in a different way. If people get their own meaning out of the songs, the songs are timeless. They’re going to be here a lot longer after I’m gone, that’s for sure. We feel very blessed and fortunate that it touches people in so many different ways, especially on the biker side of fans. It’s like, hey, Lynyrd Skynyrd and motorcycles, it don’t get no better than that, you know what I mean? Pop a cold one man, sit back, listen to it, then sit on your bike and blast off.
When so many other bands come and go, what makes Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music so timeless?
I think it’s the music. Like I just said, I think the music has everything to do with it because all the songs touch people’s hearts in a certain way for themselves. I’ve heard stories about how the songs affect people and about what they mean to them, I mean, there’s tons of stories about that. It’s amazing, especially when you’re talking about songs like “Simple Man” and “Freebird” and stuff like that. People just, they freak out over it because it touches them in such an incredible way.
How did you choose the path of a musician as your profession?
It was pretty well laid out for me. I was raised in a big music family. My grandfather, Shorty Medlocke, wrote one of the hit songs in a band that I was in called Blackfoot, wrote a song called “Train Train,” and we redid it and it was a hit for us. But my grandfather Shorty played in and out of traveling bands out of Nashville, a lot of the old country music people. And my mother sang, my uncles all played, so I was around bands. I started playing banjo when I was three years old, so it was pretty well laid out for me what I was probably going to do in life, and I never questioned it. To supplement my living and try to make it in music I’ve been everything from clipping and pickin’
Johnny Van Zant belts out the vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd as it runs through a long list of its popular hits.
watermelons and cotton and tobacco all the way to fueling fighter jets, until I was able to make it. Music has always been very, very, very good to me and I couldn’t have thought about doing anything else.
Do you have memories of playing with your Grandpa Shorty on The Toby Dowdy Show?
A lot of them. It’s funny man, everybody freaks at who I met, because on that show they would have different special guests. They had Roy Rogers and Trigger one time, they had Lassie on there, and they had the original Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore. Clayton Moore gave me one of his silver bullets and I’ve still got it to this day. It’s pretty cool. Anyways, I just remember being raised in that environment and in that kind of family, there was always music going on and hey, it just came naturally to me.
Before you rejoined the band, it seemed like Skynyrd was leaning toward a country & western direction. Do you think you helped steer them back onto the path of rock & roll?
Well, I think that I had something to do with it. I mean, Gary told me he wanted to put me back in the band because he didn’t have his Allen Collins and I was the closest thing to Allen you could probably get because our styles are similar. We ironically play the same kind of guitars and stuff like that, so it was kind of a natural progression for me to slot right in. I told him, you know, I said the band’s kind of been trying to do the country thing for a long time. “Naw,” he goes, “That’s not for us, I want to make it rock again.” And I said well, if you want that, then you got me. And that’s what I came in doing and I’ve been doing it ever since.
You’ve been able to play with one of the most iconic bands in Rock & Roll history. Twice. Do you think you’ve come full circle with the band?
It feels natural. It feels like family. I mean, I feel like I’ve been there all along. The Blackfoot thing was great, I had some great years in that and good times. But this feels like I actually have come full circle and more than likely, barring any unforeseen stuff, I’ll finish out my career in this band.
What would you like your legacy to be? What do you want to be remembered for most?
Oh, I don’t know man. I guess, that’s a hard thing, I guess that I brought some joy and some happiness to
Medlocke (right) and Mark Matejka lay down the licks hot and heavy during a concert in Seattle last year.
Gary Rossington has been with Lynyrd Skynyrd since Day One and continues to be a driving force of the band.
people. As far as like music, I gave my life to this art and to this life and I gave my whole self to it and I have never questioned that and have never second-guessed it. And I love it. And I guess I’d like to be remembered for being a musician, a musician that brought a lot of happiness and joy to people.
Have you banged any drums recently?
No, man, I don’t. There’s a lot better drummers than me, that’s why I continued playing guitar. (Big laugh!)
If you could jam out with anybody, alive or dead, who would it be?
Well, it would either be, there’s a tie when it goes to that. Hendrix, Clapton or Beck. That’s it.
Do you ride?
You know what, I have, and all through these years I’ve been threatening to get another bike. But at this point and time, living down in Florida, it’s kind of a dangerous situation, so I’ve got to think about my band first, know what I mean? If anything ever happened to my hands, or legs or whatever, I’d be kind of screwed. But I love motorcycles. At some point probably in my life, at some point I want to get a custom Indian and at some point I will.