Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle took the stage Friday at the Rockingham Dragway on U.S. Highway 1, just north of Rockingham, for an event that raises funds for the Lucas Cole Nixon Foundation and Dungeon Boxing Club, and honors veterans.
Pyle said he relates to veterans.
“I was in the Marine Corps from 1967 until 1971,” said Pyle on Friday, during an exclusive interview with the Daily Journal. “I was a sergeant. I wanted to go to Officers Candidate School and fly jets but my dad was killed in midair during a plane crash so that changed things for me. Instead I joined a rock and roll band, and the rest is history.”
In a strong, deep voice, Pyle recounts the moment that changed Lynyrd Skynyrd history forever.
“In 1977 on October 20 our plane crashed in Mississippi, and our lead singer Ronni Van Zant was killed,” he said. “Ronnie Van Zant was Lynyrd Skynyrd. He wrote the songs and sang the songs and led the band. In 2006 I was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, something I never dreamed of, and it was because of Ronnie’s incredible, prolific song writing. I was in that plane crash, and walked a mile to a farm house, where a guy shot me in the left shoulder. I was still in shock from the crash. I was never mad at him; he was protecting his family. I was covered in blood, looking like Charles Manson. He was a chicken farmer … .”
Pyle said he knows he is part of rock legend, and said he often hears songs of the American icon of a band being played in movies, on TV and on the radio.
“Just the other day they were talking about Lynyrd Skynyrd on the ‘Colbert Report,’” said Pyle. “We have two songs in ‘Forrest Gump,’ ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Free Bird.’ So we are part of the daily fabric of America. We went everywhere. I’m still singing the songs. I will play the drums until I’m 100. I’m 63 now and I’m still playing like I’m 20. I never want to retire.”
Pyle spoke about how the music has affected people over time, and how they in turn affect him.
“People always love to hear a Lynyrd Skynyrd song,” he said. “I meet a lot of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq who say they take our songs into combat, and I don’t take that lightly. It moves me. I’ve met guys, bikers, that have buried a friend to ‘Free Bird.’ I’ve met guys who were in jail and said ‘Simple Man’ got them through. I’ve been in jail with guys that came up to me like, ‘Are you the drummer from Lynyrd Skynyrd?’ The music is what I’m all about.”
After performing ‘Free Bird’ at his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, where he was inducted with Black Sabbath, Blondie and the Sex Pistols, he showed his true love for music. He admitted he was “a jazz freak” and when he saw Miles Davis, he began acting like a fan and saying “Oh, man, I just love your music so much, I’m your biggest fan,” while Davis was still marveling at Pyle’s performance.
His real name is Thomas Delmer Pyle, and he said he got his nickname while he was at Tennessee State University. He didn’t like it to begin with, but it stuck.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.