Legendary rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd returns with a fiery slice of Southern style guitar rock heaven in Last of a Dyin’ Breed, their newest release on Roadrunner/Loud & Proud Records due August 21, 2012.This is the kind of record guaranteed to feed the needs of the multi-generational Skynyrd Nation, and continue the renewed vigor the band exhibited with their last album, 2009’sGod & Guns. For the passionate, longtime fans of the band, this is Skynyrd at the top of their game, complete with instantly memorable songs, more hooks than a tackle box, and a blistering three-guitar attack at full power. From the raging guitars of the title track and the pounding, funky homage to local talent in “Home Grown” to the mind-blowing “Honey Hole,” Lynyrd Skynyrd sound like young bucks having one hell of a good time, which, regarding the latter, founding member Gary Rossington says is very much the case. “For me this is one of the happiest and most fun albums I’ve ever done,” says Rossington. “We didn’t have a lot of problems goin’ on;it was just fun goin’ to work every day.”Having survived enough tragedy and just plain hard miles for 10 bands, Skynyrd is, remarkably at this stage of their career, on a roll. God & Guns debuted at #18 on the Billboard Top 200, giving the band their highest debut since 1977.Last Of A Dyin’ Breedre-ignites the in-studio alchemy the band found with Gunsproducer Bob Marlette, and the sound is traditional Skynyrd blended to perfection with the edge of immediacy. In short, it’s rock ‘n roll for the times.Led by core members Gary Rossington(guitar), Johnny Van Zant(vocals) and Rickey Medlock(guitar), Skynyrd has recorded an album that continues to build on the legacy that began over 35 years ago in Jacksonville, Florida. Joining them in the studio and on the road are new bassist Johnny Colt(Black Crowes, Train) guitarist Mark “Sparky” Matejka(a “Nashville cat, just a pickin’ fool,” according to Rossington), and keyboardist Peter Keys, who replaced Powell on the God & Guns tour. In a tragic tale oft-told, the Skynyrd story could have ended in a Mississippi swamp with the 1977 plane crash that killed three band members, including Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines. Since then, the band has lost vital players in Billy Powell, Ean Evans, AllenCollins, Leon Wilkeson and HughieThomasson, yet here they are again with a hard-rocking, stirring album that can sit proudly alongside any recording that bears the Skynyrd name. The breedmay be nearing extinction but Skynyrd is very much aliveand ready to throw down. Van Zant, now in his 25thyear standing where his brother once stoodagrees with Rossington about the making of Breed. “Weworked with Bob Marlette againwho’s a great guy we just love as a producer,” he says. “During the recording of the last album we were going through Billy and Ean passing away, and with this album we were able to laugh and joke a lot.”Medlocksays that after the hard touring behind God & Gunshe and the other primary writers Van Zant and Rossington took their time writing the songs. But the actual recording came together quickly, aided by
the band’s in-studio chemistry. “This time what we wanted to do was go back to doin’ stuff old school,” he says. “A lot of the album was done with all of us in the recording studio, playing all at one time, the way we used to do it when we’d go into the studio to make records.”With a catalog of over 60 albums, sales beyond 30 million worldwide and their beloved classic American rock anthem “Sweet Home Alabama” having sold over two million ringtones, Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Lynyrd Skynyrd remains a cultural icon that appeals to multiple generations. But far from resting on their laurels, any illusions that this may be a band at anything less than the height of its powers are quickly lost with the distorted fury of the fiery guitar licks that open the album’s title trackand further put to rest with the gritty triumphs that follow.They could easily continue cranking out old songs to rapturous audiences around the world but the fact isthey’ve got plenty left to saymusically, personally and as social commentary. “Every once in a while the record label will ask us if we want to put a new album out and we always say yes, because, althoughwe love playing all the classic stuff, it’s fun to do new stuff too,” says Rossington, “for our own heads, our own peace of mind.”Lynyrd Skynyrd is a band of today, carrying a steely mantle forged in the sweaty confines of the Hell House in Jacksonvilledecades earlier. And this is a bandalbum, to be even more specific, a guitar drivenband album. The triple guitar assault has never sounded more on point, with passionate musicality, expert harmonics andof course, plenty of attitude to burn. There’s a reason this is one of the most beloved bands of all time.“We tried to go back to the old sound, doin’ it as a band, goin’ in all together and layin’ it down,” says Rossington. “On the last album, we leaned a little more country, back to our roots, but this time we just tried to be our old selves and write some Southern rock. Just good ol’ songs, get in and get out, say what they say, do a little bit of pickin’ and tap your feet.”Those searching for traditional Skynyrd solos and fierce instrumental breakswill have plenty to love on Breed, with every song featuring ample fretwork from one, two or even all three guitarists. “We love to do the harmonies and stuff with lead guitars,” says Medlock. “That’s a Skynyrd staple, and we embellished on it quite a bitthis time around. We wanted to make a guitar driven record and have the vocals sit really good in the saddle there with all the guitars, just have it more rockin’ and a lot more powerful.”Mission accomplished, with plenty of fireworks and rock-solid rhythms from all players. “Sparky has just fit in great with Rickey and Gary, everybody knows their place now,” says Van Zant. “Sparky’s a strat guy, Gary’s a slide guy with the Les Paul sound and all those great fills, and Rickey’s the ‘all-around’ guy that does a little bit of everything.”But the guitars and other instruments—Keys’ organ, for example, playa vital role in the soundscape. Van Zant’s vocal chops and way with a lyric have never been in finer form, breathing life into these songs and taking onsome serious vocal challenges. “I quit smokin’ a year and a half ago, so that helped out quite a bit,” he says with a characteristic laugh. “Workin’ with Bob is greattoo. We cut the vocals right in the control room itself, which is real cool to me, because me and Bob go back and forth right there, so you’re not waiting for a button to be pushed. It’s just a real cool vibe. We’ve got a good thing goin’ here.”They’ve got a good thing going in terms of material, too. The primary Skynyrd writing team of Rossington, Medlockand Van Zant worked with some of their favorite songwriters to pen the songs that populate Breed, including Tom Hambridge, Blair Daly, John 5, Donnie Van Zant, and Marlette, along with contributions from the bands Matejka, as well as Marlon Young, Audley Freed, Shaun Morgan from Seether, Cadillac Black’s Jaren Johnston, and label matesBlack Stone Cherry’s Chris Robertson and Jon Lawhon. The blend of writers from within and outside the band concocts a hard-hitting cadre of songs that fitperfectly into the Skynyrd canon. These songs are of the 100-proof variety. “We like bringing in outside influences and I love feeding off other people,” says Van Zant. “I’ve had people ask me, ‘how could Gary
create another ‘Free Bird?’ We don’t even trythat. Those are legendary songs. We just write what we write. It’s more about us just hangin’ out and being together and enjoying life and writin’ songs. My theory is like Ricky Nelson’s, ‘you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.’ If you’re happy with it at the end of the day, so be it.”Not as overtly political as its predecessor God & Guns, Breedfocuses more on the struggles of the working class, though the band make their thoughts on the direction of this country crystal clear on songs like the reverb-drenched “Poor Man’s Dream” and the blue-collar powerhouse “One Day at a Time.” “When we go in to record, we don’t go in with one certain mindset,” says Medlock. “We just go in and write about stuff we believe in, our experiences.”The band is tuned in to the tough times many Americans are going through, and they sing songs that might well help on that journey, or at least help let off some steam. “Skynyrd really thinks about how people are struggling and what’s goin’ on out here,” says Medlock. “We see it a lot, because we’re a working man and working woman’s band. We’ve got three generations under our belts, we know people have a tough time out there, and we share in that.”Gary Rossington won’t typically volunteer for political talk but he is an astute observer, and what he sees sticks in his craw. “I don’t like to talk politics,” he admits “I just don’t trust a lot of politicians. I think the country’s way off track, but we’ll get it back on, it’s too good of a thing to lose. We travel all around the country, there’s too many good people and good Americans who all want the same thing, just to get back on track the way we used to be.”Like it or not, with a title like God & Guns, the previous album was bound to be a lightning rod out of the box. “I couldn’t believe how well God & Gunswas accepted when it came out, in Europe, Australia, South America, here in the States; everybody we talked to, 99% of it was positive feedback,” says Medlock. “My whole thing was, we’ve got to go in the studio this time and step up, we’ve got to do at least what God & Gunsdid, or one better. And, in my opinion, I think we accomplished that. I’m looking forward to going out and playing some of this record live, along with our classic material, and taking it to the people and letting the people make their decision.”Odds are, the “people,” specifically, the aforementioned Skynyrd Nation, will loveLast of a Dyin’ Breed, and anyone who hasn’t checked into what this band has been up to for a while will likely be blown away. As for their part, Skynyrd will, per usual, indeed be taking their music to the people, as fans in Europe and North America will have a chance to catch the band on tour through the end of 2012 and beyond.
Lynyrd Skynyrd is:Gary Rossington-GuitarJohnny Van Zant-VocalsRickey Medlock-GuitarMark "Sparky" Matejka-GuitarMichael Cartellone-DrumsJohnny Colt -BassPeter Keys -KeyboardsDale Krantz Rossington-Honkettes Backing VocalsCarol Chase-Honkettes Backing Vocals
ZZ TOP a/k/a “That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” lay undisputed claim to being the longest running major rock band with original personnel intact and, in 2004, the Texas trio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course, there are only three of them – Billy F Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard -- but it’s still a remarkable achievement that they’re still very much together after almost 45 years of rock, blues, and boogie on the road and in the studio. “Yeah,” says Billy, guitarist extraordinaire, “we’re the same three guys, bashing out the same three chords.” With the release of each of their albums the band has explored new ground in terms of both their sonic approach and the material they’ve recorded. ZZ TOP is the same but always changing.
It was in Houston in the waning days of 1969 that ZZ TOP coalesced from the core of two rival bands, Billy’s Moving Sidewalks and Frank and Dusty’s American Blues. The new group went on to record the appropriately titled ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud that reflected their strong blues roots. Their third, 1973’s Tres Hombres, catapulted them to national attention with the hit “La Grange,” still one of the band’s signature pieces today. The song is unabashed elemental boogie, celebrating the institution that came to be known as “the best little whorehouse in Texas.” Their next hit was “Tush,” a song about, well, let’s just say the pursuit of “the good life” that was featured on their Fandango! album, released in 1975. The band’s momentum and success built during its first decade, culminating in the legendary “World Wide Texas Tour,” a production that included a longhorn steer, a buffalo, buzzards, rattlesnakes and a Texas-shaped stage. As a touring unit, they’ve been without peer over the years, having performed before millions of fans through North America on numerous epochal tours as well as overseas where they’ve enthralled audiences from Slovenia to Argentina, from Australia to Sweden, from Russia to Japan and most points in between. Their iconography – beards, cars, girls and that magic keychain – seems to transcend all bounds of geography and language.
Following a lengthy hiatus during which the individual members of the band traveled the world, they switched labels (from British Decca’s London label to Warner Bros.) and returned with two amazingly provocative albums, Deguello and El Loco. Their next release, Eliminator, was something of a paradigm shift for ZZ TOP. Their roots blues skew was intact but added to the mix were tech-age trappings that soon found a visual outlet with the nascent MTV. Suddenly, Billy, Dusty and Frank were video icons, playing a kind of Greek chorus in videos that highlighted the album’s three smash singles: “Gimme All Your Lovin’, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.” The melding of grungy guitar-based blues with synth-pop was seamless and continued with the follow-up album Afterburner as they continued their chart juggernaut. ZZ TOP had accomplished the impossible; they had moved with the times while simultaneously bucking ephemeral trends that crossed their path. They had become more popular and more iconic without ever having to be “flavor of the week.” They had become a certified rock institution, contemporary in every way, yet still completely connected to the founding fathers of the genre.
They stayed with Warner for one more album, Recycler, released in 1990 and switched to RCA where they debuted with Antenna and followed with Rhythmeen, XXX and Mescalero. Beyond that, both a lavish four CD box set compilation, Chrome, Smoke & B.B.Q. and a two-CD distillation of that package, Rancho Texicano, were released by Warner prior to The Complete Studio Albums set.
In 2012, ZZ TOP unveiled LA FUTURA, their first studio album in nine years. Produced by Rick Rubin and Billy F Gibbons, and released on American Recordings, it reflected the solid blues inspiration that has powered the band since the very beginning with a contemporary approach that underscored the group’s inclination to experiment and explore new sonic vistas. The album included the widely lauded “I Gotsta Get Paid” that has become both a video and in-concert sensation. ZZ Top’s rich history became the subject of a box set release the following year. ZZ Top: The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990 offered no fewer than 10 of the band’s most lauded albums all with the original mixes restored.
ZZ TOP’s brand new career retrospective The Very Baddest spans the entire course of their London, Warner Bros. and RCA years. Listeners can follow the evolution of the band’s sound from the early 70s into the 00s on either a 40 track double CD or a 20 track single CD. Live at Montreux 2013, just released on Eagle Rock Entertainment on both Blu-ray and DVD formats, showcases their live act, leaving no doubt as to why they have been such a huge concert draw for the last several decades. When it comes to the live experience, they’ve still got it.
The elements that keep ZZ TOP fresh, enduring and above the transitory fray can be summed up in the three words of the band’s internal mantra: “Tone, Taste and Tenacity.” Of course, the three members of the band have done their utmost to do their part in assuring that ZZ TOP prevails. As genuine roots musicians, the members of the band have few peers. Billy is widely regarded as one of American finest blues guitarists working in the rock idiom. His influences are both the originators of the form – Muddy Waters, B.B. King, et al – as well as the British blues rockers who emerged the generation before ZZ’s ascendance. In his early days of playing, no less an idol that Jimi Hendrix singled him out for praise. Part mad scientist, part prankster, he’s a musical innovator of the highest order and a certified “guitar god.” He’s a recurring small screen presence in the hit TV series Bones in which he plays a bearded, gruff, rock guitarist. No type casting problems for Billy.
Dusty has long had an affinity for rock’s origins; his earliest performances as a child included Elvis songs convincingly performed. Not only is he a bass virtuoso in his own right, his vocal prowess is awe-inspiring. He’s the lead voice you hear on “Tush” and his ferocious vocals are heard, to great effect, on his idol Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock,” these days, often a concert encore number and recorded by the band on Fandango! Good natured and diligent, Dusty is the rock solid bottom of ZZ TOP.
Frank has also been keeping the beat in that great tradition. As both a roots and progressive drummer, he has been acknowledged as key to the band’s powerful on-stage and in-studio presence. He and Dusty, in their early years together, served as Lightnin’ Hopkins’ rhythm section which, as Frank tells it, was a life changing experience. Frank, despite his last name, is the guy in the band without a beard. But when you’re with him, you’re with a Beard. He’s a rockin’ paradox who provides the pulse of ZZ TOP.
ZZ TOP’s music is always instantly recognizable, eminently powerful, profoundly soulful and 100% Texas American in derivation. The band’s support for the blues is unwavering both as interpreters of the music and preservers of its legacy. It was ZZ TOP that celebrated “founding father” Muddy Waters by turning a piece of scrap timber than had fallen from his sharecropper’s shack into a beautiful guitar, dubbed the “Muddywood.” This totem was sent on tour as a fundraising focus for The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, site of Robert Johnson’s famed “Crossroads” encounter with the devil. ZZ TOP’s support and link to the blues remains as rock solid as the music they continue to play. They have sold millions of records over the course of their career, have been officially designated as Heroes of The State of Texas, have been referenced in countless cartoons and sitcoms and are true rock icons but, against all odds, they’re really just doing what they’ve always done. They’re real and they’re surreal and they’re ZZ TOP.