LOVE, LIFE, AND DEATH, SOUTHERN STYLE
Join tour manager Ron Eckerman as he reveals the rigors of life on the road as Lynyrd Skynyrd takes the world by storm in 1976, and the ironic turn of events preceding the tragic plane crash in 1977. A crash survivor, Eckerman explores the personalities and characters of Ronnie Van Zant and company as they rip their way across the USA, and describes the horror of the crash itself.
I'm a huge fan of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd, I actually got see them perform over in Honolulu when I was over there doing time in the Navy. And I mean the original band, not the tribute band that tours under the name today. Don't get me wrong, I've seen the tribute band numerous times and they jam like a motherfucker but Johnny Van Zant is no Ronnie Van Zant even though he seems to think he is. And there is only one original member of the band left and that's Gary Rossington - and in several of the concerts I've seen the band old Gary seems pretty damn disinterested in the show going on. Everyone else from the band that that were fired or survived the crash are either dead or are stuck in some sort of rock and roll purgatory. Allen Collins is dead from booze, drugs, and a broken heart. Leon Wilkeson is dead from drugs. Billy Powell is dead from both drugs and a bad ticker. Ed King is alive but has had heart issues and a transplant. The drummers are alive but the first drummer, Bob Burns, went bugshit back in the 70s over in London after supposedly dropping acid and watching The Exorcist and Artimus Pyle and is not allowed on stage for various reasons but the main reason is for probably calling out Johnny Van Zant in several publications as a "Fucking Punk!" There is bad luck and karma being associated with this band, a fact that is detailed in a fantastic article written back in the 90s about the group in MOJO magazine. The article even claims that someone slit bass player Leon Wilkeson's throat when he was sleeping in the tour bus while touring with the current tribute band.
That being said I've read about every book written about the band and I have to tell you that majority of them have fucking sucked! Gene Odom, a friend of Ronnie Van Zant, and who worked security for the band has written several books about the group and the results have been books that you can read on the shitter for a morning or two and be done with - quick reads with little information other than how much he loved Ronnie. FREEBIRDS by Marley Brant is the worst. She fawns over the band with such gusto that it makes you want to fucking vomit! The book is virtually unreadable. The most entertaining but full of the most bullshit is THE UNSOLVED MURDER OF LEON WILKESON by Dale Bowman. Bowman is a dude who claims Leon lived in his basement and was killed because members of the current band wanted his cut of the concert take.
TURN IT UP! LOVE, LIFE, AND DEATH, SOUTHERN STYLE by Ron Eckerman is the exception here. Eckerman was the tour manager during the final days of the Skynyrd and he cranks out some pretty cool behind the scenes information here, the most notable being the background about the infamous plane that crashed (Eckerman was onboard the plane) in Mississippi that killed Van Zant along with Steve and Cassie Gaines and split the band apart for years before it eventually reformed. He also gives graphic detail about the flight itself (bone chilling actually) and the days after. Other than Van Zant, the character of the members of the band isn't really fleshed out in the book other than they were a bunch of hell raising southern boys with enormous tastes for booze, drugs, and pussy. No shit? Isn't that one being in a rock and roll band is all about? But where the book really stands out is the background information about how seedy the music business is. Skynyrd toured virtually non-stop from its inception until the plane crash - selling out arenas and stadiums and selling millions of albums yet family members of the band complained that they couldn't even pay their bills. Promoters, friends, hangers-on, groupies, drug dealers, managers, it seems that everyone had a share of the take. Eckerman does drone on quite a bit on how managing the band took a toll on his personal life but other than the book is informative and really quite enjoyable to read.
On a side note, since I've spent quite a bit of time in Pensacola I really enjoyed the part of the book where Allen Collins was busted with a shitload (I mean a Raiford prison amount) of speed while the band was in P-Cola for a concert. Eckerman contacted an attorney who made a few phone calls to the local constables and after greasing a few palms Collins was released with all charges dropped. Things never seem to change in the Florida panhandle.