Honoring 'Ringo Starr Of Southern Rock'
Artimus Pyle and Pals Rock and Remember Bob Burns

By Lee Valentine Smith

Drummer Artimus Pyle is one of the most famous names in southern rock. He's forever tied to the music and legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd but a lesser-known - yet equally influential - musician paved the way for his fame.

Bob Burns was the first drummer of the band and played on their first two albums, Pronounced 'Leh-'nerd 'Skin-'nerd and Second Helping. And yes, he's the drummer on the earliest classic hits, including "Freebird."

In April of 2015, Burns died in a car crash near his home in Cartersville.

This month, a number of his friends - including Pyle - will gather at the Action Building in Canton to honor his legacy and play an evening of southern-fried rock'n'roll, presented by Protocol Entertainment and RockEvents. Kindred spirits Chris Jericho, Rich Ward, Phil May, Ben Powell, Andrew Evans, Randy Drake, Terry Chism, Eric Hogan, Chris Chappell and surprise guests will join organizer Tracey (Angel) Wade onstage as part of an all-star jam.
Pyle spoke with INsite by phone from his home in North Carolina.

Looking at your itinerary, The Artimus Pyle Band is all over the place, taking the music to the people.

Well, it's my job to keep the Lynyrd Skynyrd music legacy alive, the way it should be kept. Back in the '70s when we toured, we wore holey blue jeans and flannel shirts. We dressed like everybody we played for, everybody that came to see us. Now, you see bands and they're wearing leather and gold chains and jumpin' all over the stage like frogs and stickin' out their tongues. Ronnie Van Zant stood stalwartly behind that microphone and didn't hootchie-coo around, just singing the words he wrote and believed in. The rest of the band did the best they could do to play the music the way we rehearsed it and the way Ronnie wanted it. That's what my band does now. They look like FBI agents, but they play the music they way it should be played: with honor, respect, accuracy and love.

We've all seen bands that are just going through the motions because it's a job.

Yeah, playing for the money. That's not the way I roll. I play music - and especially the Lynyrd Skynyrd music - because that's just who I am. I'm motivated by music. Case in point, I also play music with my son, Christopher Chappell Pyle, he's my oldest son.

So that's the origin of the band nameĀ Chappell.

Yes and when we were living in Israel, he started writing songs and putting down some great lyrics. Now those songs have come to fruition in a CD we've released and I'm really proud of it. It's called Southern Friend Tribal Boogie and it's some of the best new southern rock that I've heard. It just happens to be by my son.

Obviously music is in the bloodline.

Both of my sons, Chris and Marshall, are good songwriters. Ronnie Van Zant held Chris in his arms when he was just a baby. Ronnie didn't have a son and he loved my boy. And I guess something rubbed off because they're both doing great work. Chris is a singer-songwriter-guitar-player and now I'm playing drums in his band because I believe in it. I play the music of my son with the exact same ferocity that I play Skynyrd music. The great thing about Chappell is we don't have any strings attached. There's nobody tellin' us what we can or can't do.

You have a built-in fanbase for the Artimus Pyle Band, but how's the crowd reaction to Chappell?

We just played on a ship on the Rock Legends Cruise. We played one show against some stiff competition but we had a good crowd. We tuned up in the Virgin Islands and got on that ship ready to play brand-new music that no one had ever heard before. One of the songs is gonna be on the soundtrack to a movie that I wrote the screenplay for, called "Street Survivors: The True Story Of The Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash."

Told from the perspective of a real survivor.

I'm a pilot, all my friends were killed in plane crashes, I've been in three crashes, my father was killed in a crash. I've been flying my whole life so I do feel qualified to tell the story.

That's still a painful moment of music history. Was it difficult to relive it?

I sat for 22 hours with the director and wrote it. It was very painful, but I finally got the story told. The director made it into a script and now the movie is finished and should be out this summer. Chris' song on the soundtrack called "Black Creek" and it's about a place in Jacksonville where Skynyrd is from, of course.

The crash touched a lot of lives and continues to enthrall music fans to this day.

It is my honor and it is my duty to meet with people who love Skynyrd. And I do, after every show. I hear stories of where they were the plane crashed and what all of the music still means to them. And I always talk about Bob Burns when I talk to the fans. Because without him, I don't know if the path of Lynyrd Skynyrd would have been the same. I think Ronnie would have made it happen but I think it was important that Bob was there at the very beginning, naming the band and being the personality and the drummer that he was. He played beautifully on Pronounced and that set the stage, right there. Ed King, too. He was so important and an amazing person, as well. That iconic guitar lick on "Sweet Home Alabama," that was Ed. So Bob and Ed were extremely central to the development of the band. I think Ronnie would say that if he were here now.

You had big shoes to fill when you came in for the third album.

Bob and I were friends to the end, man.

It's good to give him some recognition because people may recognize your name more than his at this point.

He doesn't get enough credit. He had joined my band so my guys, who grew up with the music, were tickled pink to have the two real drummers of the real Lynyrd Skynyrd. Both of us were inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same night. Bob played "Sweet Home Alabama" and I played "Freebird" because Bob asked me to. And I cried! Lookin' over at him, just thinkin' about this kid, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But we lost Bob a while back and that's why we are doing this concert. I'm so excited for people to know him and appreciate him as much as I do.

It's rare that the person you replaced would become such a dear friend.

I loved him. And when he was in my band, I'd give him such an introduction. I'd say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, when you first fell in love with Lynyrd Skynyrd music, this is the man that was playing drums. Please welcome the Ringo Starr of southern rock drummers.' Bob loved it and the crowd loved it. So we're coming together to play some music, have some fun, talk about Bob and raise some money for Songs For Kids. I think it's going to be an incredible night of music.

Now I must ask you, since Lynyrd Skynyrd has endured through so much physical and emotional pain over the years, how do you separate the art from the business? You seem to still love the music. Does all the negative energy disappear when you sit down to play?

When I'm behind the drums, I push everything away. I push away the physical pain from crashes, from being shot, from being stabbed. I push all of the business stuff and all of the troubles of the day away. I focus 100 percent on those songs and how they should be played. But as I'm playing them, I'm thinking about my friends. I'm thinking about my father. I'm thinking about the fact that Ronnie Van Zant tells me, the brand new guy in the band, to write the liner notes for the album. Then I write the liner notes, he says, 'Go ahead and dedicate it to your father.' This is how Ronnie felt about me. He trusted me. So I can't let anything change that. All I can do is tend to my little world and play my shows. This month I'm coming down to honor my friend and brother, Robert Burns. That's forever.

Artimus Pyle and Friends pay tribute to Bob Burns at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 9 at the Action Building, 271 Marietta Road, Canton. Visit rockeventsonline.com for tickets and more information. Net proceeds benefit Songs For Kids Foundation.

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