Artist Series: Rickey Medlocke

 

The music business is filled with over night sensations that are on top of the world today and left without a trace later that day. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke is a music legend who has stood the test of time for many decades. Rickey formed the band Blackfoot right out of High School. Before that band found success, Rickey was part of Skynyrd as their drummer from 1971- ‘73 and can be heard on the classic “Skynyrd’s First and …Last” album. He can be heard drumming and/or singing lead vocals on such songs as White Dove, One More Time and Preacher’s Daughter. Taking his guitar and vocals front and center, he then reformed the band Blackfoot with members Jakson Spires, Charlie Hargrett and Greg Walker. The band brilliantly mixed hard rock with blues and country and rode a wave of success for several years. In the mid 90’s his old friend Gary Rossington called Medlocke and Rickey has been a part of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Guitar Army for over 23 years now. When we spoke, Rickey was at his Florida home, taking a short break from Skynyrd’s current “The Last of the Street Survivors Tour.” It was an honor for me to interview Rickey. He’s as great as they come-  super down to Earth and has an excellent ability to share amazing stories and make you feel like you were right there as they happened. He has a great passion for the Blues and reveres the music’s legends. He also has a deep love for his fans and specifically sends a message out to all of them in this interview:

Todd Beebe: Hey Rickey, thanks so much for talking with me today!

Rickey Medlocke: Hey Todd! Yeah you got it man- I’m glad we’re talkin’!

TB: What were your very first memories of music? I know your grandfather Shorty Medlocke was a Delta Blues player am I correct about that?

RM: Yeah, well my grandparents raised me and my grandfather, Shorty, played with a lot of different people -road guys. He was a road guy you know. He played with quite a few of the old country players in and out of Nashville and had his own bands and played all around the Southeast of course and just had a pretty good career. I grew up around all this like delta blues, bluegrass, countryish kind of stuff. And that’s where I got my learning from the blues section of it. He was really big into things like Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson, Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), a lot of the delta blues guys. I grew up listening to a lot of that stuff,  I cut my teeth listening to all of that and I still do. I mean I love going back and listening to and selecting different old blues artists and stuff and listening to it. So when I got up in my teenage years you know I was into playing rock and when Hendrix came around I just flipped! And it was interesting because my father, one day I was sitting in my bedroom, and I have my guitar turned up and I was learning licks and just different things like that and I remember my old man came in and I had on Hendrix’ The Wind Cries Mary.  And my old man poked his head in the door and said “What’s that you’re listening to boy?” And I said “It’s a new artist, Jimi Hendrix.”  And you know he just listened to what was going on in the music and he said “yeah there’s the blues right there for you.” So he recognized those things right away you know what I mean?

TB: That’s interesting, I was going to ask you what his take on Jimi and those guys was? Was it a little too out there for him or was he cool with it?

RM: He was always cool with stuff if he felt it, if he knew it was the real deal and it had the real deal inside of it. He was very, very, open and very, very, cool with all that stuff. One of the big things that he really took a shine to of course, when I first played with Skynyrd and I was in the band, they would come over to the house and be on the front porch you know with my old man and he would play Dobro on his lap and he played all these old blues tunes and stuff. Ronnie Van Zant really took a shine to my old man because of the blues influence and all the delta stuff and Gary and Allen right there with him. So later on my Dad was the inspiration for Curtis Loew, as a matter of fact Ronnie even dedicated the “Nuthin’ Fancy” record to my old man and wrote a song for him called Made In The Shade. Cause my old man used to tell us all the time “you boys keep doing what you’re doing, one of these days you’ll have it made in the shade!” And the one thing I can say about my old man was he not only played every stringed instrument like guitar, fiddle and banjo but I mean all the instruments he would pick up he killed them!

TB: Wow! So it sounds like he was a real natural! He seemed very open to all things Music too!

RM: I guess back in the day that’s the way they had to be because I think you had to be a very well-rounded musician to get certain gigs. And so, to me, he was way more talented than I ever would be. Even playing fiddle man, he had this like Cajun Blues-iness about him when he played. And it was so cool! Guitar, dobro, harmonica or whatever! I used to just be so thrilled about all that and I guess for the most part, a little bit of it rubbed off on me I don’t know!

TB: So how old were you when you first picked up a guitar?

RM: I picked a guitar when I was like 5 years old man and started playing on his old J-45. We still have it in our family and it’s still playable! My wife plays it all the time and she claims that the mojo on that thing is unreal! Every time she picks it up she writes a song! So I started playing on that guitar, that’s what I first learned on. And he showed me G, C and D and I’ll never forget once I got those down he said “okay there you go, now the rest is up to you. You learn the rest on your own.” And I would watch guitar players that were in his bands that would always come to our house rehearsing. And I mean killer bands! I mean these guys would start and it was like nothing to them. That’s what is amazing to me: how players back then played so well that they could just get together and they knew all these songs! Somebody would call out one, like my old man would call out a song and they would play it and maybe they wanted to change the arrangement to it you know what I mean? So they would change the arrangement to it and BOOM it was done! And that used to just…. I was horrified over that! (laughs) I was just really like, amazed over that, and when I got to be a teenager watching them I was like “wow how in the hell are they doing this!?” You know? But they were old enough guys and old-school enough to where they’d been around all these songs and all this music and stuff like that, so they knew the songs completely. So I love that stuff! I even think about it nowadays, I think about my old man and them playing and it’s amazing to me. I’m glad I lived when I did and I’m glad I was raised by him and my mom, because they allowed me the opportunity to express myself as far as music. They pretty well knew that’s all that I was going to do in my life. And they let me express that, and here we are today you know?!

TB: That’s very cool to hear! I have a lot of similarities to you Rickey – my Grandfather did the same thing, he played in country and western bands and I grew up around that too. My grandmother was Cherokee Indian so I think that’s great how you always carry the torch on that as well! I know you’re proud of your Indian Heritage.

RM: Oh wow that’s great! Yeah I mean I’m real heavy into that- my biological father was full Indian and my mother was half and I just have always had a lot of pride in that and, as you say, carry the torch for it even more so today, you know, but always have man and that’s very reverent to me.

TB: I know you saw Elvis perform when you were a kid. That had to have been mind-blowing, can you talk about that and other musical moments that really impacted you growing up?

RM: Well you got to realize- when you’re 6 almost 7 years old and your Dad’s into music and he plays with all these guys that know people and those people know people, you know, the whole bit- it was great! At that young age I already had a transistor radio listening to the local radio station that was playing rock and roll all over the place. Elvis was the big thing and I was just bananas over that! So you know what happened was we went to the Florida Theatre on his second night and got in to see it and I was sitting center probably about 5 or so rows back and there was the King! When the King was really the King! And it was just like, freakin’ amazing! I remember on the way home, I’m in between my parents in the front seat of the car and I remember my Dad looking at me and saying “so what’d you think about that son?” and I said “that’s what I want to do! I want to do that!”

TB: And you did!

RM: Yeah! So fast forward, I’m living in Jacksonville. The trip about Jacksonville was you’ve got two of the major highways that ran through Jacksonville which is Interstate 95 and Interstate 10. So you had bands coming down to Florida going to Miami or going to Orlando or going to Tampa or whatever, and there was a promoter in Jacksonville named Sidney Drashin and he owned Jetset Enterprises. And he would bring every band known to man in the 60’s and into the 70’s to Jacksonville. So for all of us guys that grew up in Jacksonville I mean, we saw everybody! The radio station was called the Big Ape – 95.1 WAPE and I mean I got to see Hendrix with the Monkees, the very last show that he basically did with them. I got to see Zeppelin in Jacksonville. I got to see Deep Purple. I got to see all these great bands from over in England and so forth, and all the American bands. There wasn’t hardly any band that all of us musicians in Jacksonville: myself and Ronnie, Gary, Allen, Jak, Craig and all of us- very few that we didn’t get to see!

TB: Did you see The Beatles?

RM: Todd I got to tell you-  it’s interesting because in 1964-  I’m 14 years old and we have a major hurricane in ‘64 called Hurricane Dora. You can look on the Beatles Documentary “Eight days a week”, they talk about the Civil Rights unrest that was in Alabama that was going on at the time in Mississippi. Well The Beatles were in Miami and they thought, in their mind, that must be happening in Jacksonville, because it’s the South. So they were going to cancel Jacksonville at the Gator Bowl and then we had a major hurricane hit Jacksonville. It was upper category 4 – it just basically destroyed the town, and they were going to cancel. Well the way the story goes is that the Mayor of Jacksonville got to The Beatles and asked them to please not cancel. This will devastate the city. They’ve been counting on you guys to come and we’re already going through enough, and we don’t have the civil unrest here that you keep reading about or seeing. And so they agreed to come and let me tell you, in September of ‘64 I’m at the Gator Bowl watching the freakin’ Beatles!

TB: That’s awesome, what a story!

RM: Yeah! So you know things like that, growing up, all those kinds of things were so heavy to me and made such huge impressions and impact on my life. The thing for all of us guys in the band then: we never really thought about quote/unquote being “rock stars.” We just wanted to play music for a living. Write songs and if people really liked them, get them out there somehow and let people enjoy them. If they loved them, let us know and the whole bit. Little did we know, as a garage band, what was going to happen!  I mean I still stop to think about it today. It just blows my mind! To think about- we were sitting in a little rehearsal place called “Hell House” and then all of a sudden the band is huge! And then I think about what happened with me and Blackfoot: We’re out playing and we’re oblivious to the fact that we just cut a record for Atlantic and the freakin’ record is on the radio, all over the country, and radio stations are playing it like crazy and we didn’t even know it! I mean we were young, we didn’t know! The next thing I know a record I cut with the guys in Skynyrd in Muscle Shoals called “Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first and last” hits and I’ve got a triple platinum record to my credit! Then right after that the Blackfoot “Strikes” record comes out and I’ve got a Double Platinum record to my credit! And I’m a young guy that never had more than you know, $50 or whatever in his pocket. And I’m looking at this, I’m going “holy crap! I’m in bands that together sold 5 million records!”  And all of a sudden, right then, it all came home to me. It was weird! And I am still amazed looking back on it today! I’ve got a wall at home with all my Gold and Platinum awards on it. My wife calls it my “Wall of Pride!”  She looks at it and says “look at what you’ve done!” You know? And it blows my mind Brother! It really does! I mean I was a skinny little musician with a lot of hair that started out in Jacksonville, Florida and had no idea what was going to happen and then BOOM you know!?

TB: That’s so great! So now when you put Blackfoot together, obviously that was an extension of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Music that came out of that whole movement which you were a part of. Blackfoot had a lot more drive and kick to it. They were a heavier band than the rest. I loved it! Did you intentionally go that direction or did it just kind of happen?

RM: No, we did! I mean we decided early on you know: The Allman Brothers did their thing, Skynyrd did their thing, and we were very British influenced. We decided we were going to mix the combination of being really Blues influenced Southern Blues with Heavy Rock. Jak and I figured the way we would write would show our love of heavy guitars you know?! I’ve been a big fan of Clapton and Hendrix and Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page and all these guys. To me that’s it- you’re really heavy guitar players, they took a Gibson or Fender guitar, plugged it into a Marshall, cranked it up and went right to it like a bat out of hell you know?! And that’s what I love! And even in Lynyrd Skynyrd today, that’s what I love! You know some people say “well that’s old school – why don’t you use this great big pedal board or smaller amp now?” I don’t want to do that! I want to use an amp where the tubes heat up so hot with the transformer that it gives you that tone you know what I mean!? When I grab that string and put a little bit of vibrato in it I want it to sing on its own without any pedals or anything, you know what I mean?

TB: I think that’s great,  I mean you’re certainly one of the guys that influenced me in that sense. I just plug directly in. You see some of these guys rigs, I wouldn’t even know what to do with it! There are so many pedals and what not between the guitar and the amp.

RM: Man I got to tell you-  I got to be honest with you, you know what? I can’t dance anyway and having to dance over a pedal board man I’d be screwed! You know!? (Laughs) I understand Hendrix using a Fuzz Face cause he had the Fender Strat and he adopted that and it was a big part of him. And like the wah-wah pedal for me- I was very influenced by Hendrix using a wah wah pedal. I’ve had people hear us play and say they can close their eyes and swear it sounds a lot like Hendrix playing. That’s a huge compliment for me!

TB: Oh yeah! You do sound great on the wah, very Hendrix like, and I agree- nothing against some pedals if they’re used the right way!

RM: You’re probably going to laugh but I still have my original Crybaby!

TB: Really!?

RM: Yeah from way back in the 70’s!! Ha ha!! Yeah you know what man I was using it up until a couple years ago. My Guitar Tech Chris Rugulo kept rebuilding it and having to fix it and it just got so old man, we just had to retire it. Maybe it should go in the Rock Hall of Fame or something sometime I don’t know!

TB: I’ve seen your guitar collection Rickey- it’s beautiful! All your guitars are to die for! You take all of your vintage gear on the road?

RM: Yeah it’s funny, my old man would always say to me “why you going to buy it just to have it sit in the closet?” If you’re going to buy it, take it out and play it you know!? Now, he didn’t understand that some of the stuff now is worth your first-born! You know what I mean!? (laughs) But you know what man, I got no problem taking them out. As a matter of fact I love seeing guitar players in the audience and they’ll see you walk out with a certain one of your guitars and they’re like “Oh my God!” That’s what they end up staring at you know what I mean!?

TB: Yeah I think that’s great, and yeah we love seeing them definitely! Going back to the blues for a minute – who’s your main man if you had to pick one guy?

RM: If I had to pick it would be two guys, split with me: I love Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins you know what I mean? And then real traditional, all the way back is the old guys of course, all the guys I was naming a while ago. I just love listening to that stuff! When you listen to their voice, the way they’re sitting there playing the guitar and they’re delivering their voice along with it. It was so heartfelt and so off the cuff! I look at some of these guys like Buddy Guy. In my opinion he’s the do all to end all! Even today! I mean I was thrilled to be able to shake his hand at one time! Because he’s influenced so many people you know what I mean? So it’s so good that some of these guys like Buddy are still alive! I hope that he continues to roll as long as he can man!

TB: Now is Skynyrd doing more American dates in 2019?

RM: Well yes we are! Here’s the thing: when we announced the farewell tour, really, it’s a farewell to a lot of heavy touring. Next year we’re doing the Southern Rock Cruise. In March we officially start all over again with a swing all the way through Canada. I think it’s 10 shows and we’re going from East to West. Then we take a break and then I think we do some American dates until the end of June. We do quite a few American dates in between that and going to Europe at the end of June and then come back and so forth and so on. We still are looking to go of course to South America, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and maybe even another swing through Europe you know? But it’s going to take us a while. Then after its quote/unquote “officially over”, there’s been talk about us doing a residency in Vegas several times a year. I think Aerosmith is getting ready to do that. We’re talking about doing special events, charitable stuff, and we’re even going to record some more! So you know, the band’s going to be busy, but we’re just not going to be doing any more of the 80 – 100 shows a year you know?

TB: Well you guys have certainly earned that right!

RM: Well I noticed how the Rolling Stones, now they go out and do maybe 30 shows a year you know what I mean? And maybe that’ll be what Skynyrd does.

TB: I know you’ve been asked this question a million times Rickey but are we getting a Rickey Medlocke book anytime?

RM: Well according to my publicist, she did a survey asking if I had a book out would you buy it? And it all came back 100% YES we would! But I really don’t want to do the typical Rock and Roll book. You know: you are poor and you grew up and you know, you got your ass beat and then you got the band and you made it and you went through the drug era and you were messed up and got yourself out of it and here you are today, you know what I mean? My wife will tell you, verbatim, what you need to do is sit with Rickey and have him tell you stories. She claims I am a great storyteller!

TB: Well you are!

RM: Well she says that what I should do is a book of stories by Rickey Medlocke. From the very beginning, as far back as I can remember. Because I can tell you chapter after chapter of stories about my old man. I mean he was amazing! You know I could tell you story after story about my teenage years, Blackfoot years, Skynyrd years, touring..so maybe! There’s some other things I want to get accomplished before I do that. I will tell you I got signed by William Shatner’s production company. He’s signed me to a deal called “Legends and Legacies” That’s pretty much all I can say about it right now. So we’re developing the show. Hopefully a 15 episode show and we’ll see what happens. I’m continuing to produce. I’ve got these young guys that have got the band named “Blackfoot.” I’m producing those guys. We’ve got a brand new record that’s about ready, so I’ve just got to have the time. But right now man things are really good! I mean my gal, she’s one of the singers for Kid Rock and she just got off the road. Both of us are off the road and we’re just enjoying some downtime together you know what I mean? And I don’t know man, right now, talking to you I guess that’s why I’m just spending a lot of time, because I feel really relaxed at home down here in Florida talking with you and man it’s just good to kind of let down for a minute you know what I mean?

TB: Oh sure! Well man I’m really enjoying talking with you too Rickey! So is there a possibility of the traditional Blackfoot, from the old days getting back together?

RM: Well to be honest with you and I’ll just be quite frank – I doubt it. Because first of all, as you know Jak passed away over 10 years ago, you know and in order to do a real reunion, first of all if I would even consider it he would have to be alive. And second of all I think that some of these bands that try to do reunions, I don’t know…sometimes when you’re young, you’ve got this spirit about you and this magic that happens. And then when you try to recapture it a lot of times it just is not there. And to be honest with you my heart is just not there you know what I mean? Without Jak? And nothing against the other guys, Greg and Charlie, but I’m afraid it just wouldn’t sit well with me you know what I mean?

TB: That’s great to hear Rickey, cause you’re absolutely right. I think a lot of guys just get offered a certain amount of cash and they jump right on the bandwagon and there’s no thought about what’s right or wrong or if their hearts in it or anything. There’s definitely bands that shouldn’t be out there doing it right now that’s for sure!

RM: Yeah I think if you’re not going to capture the magic again then let it alone you know what I mean? Fortunately Skynyrd has been able to capture an essence and a magic within ourselves, mainly probably because we did have Billy, we did have Leon, we have Gary now and Johnny and myself, and knowing that I was a part of it, Gary of course was a founding member, you know Johnny, being the youngest brother of the original guy and all! So for us to be there at such a time we’ve captured a certain magic and a certain essence you know what I mean? To carry on the tradition and the music and so forth and so on.

TB: Absolutely! I’m sure this is a hard question to answer Rickey, but if you had to pick one musical moment or song, or something that you’re most proud of what would it be?

RM: Well….I guess if there is one moment in time, not only with Blackfoot but with Skynyrd: I remember how I had always wanted to play The Royal Albert Hall because look who all got to play there! And when Skynyrd went over and we got to play Royal Albert Hall I was just in awe! And it was like, I could cross it off my bucket list you know what I mean!? But I got to tell you Todd, before we go: the real magical moment is for the last 23 years of being with Lynyrd Skynyrd. It has been one magical moment. Every night, playing for all those thousands of people and seeing how the music effects them is just unbelievable to me! I don’t even know how to describe it it’s so surreal. You know? So for all who read this I really want you to know I appreciate everybody and thank the fans. Really-  from the bottom of my heart! And so does the rest of the guys in Skynyrd. Thank you for all the years of support: supporting the music and coming out to see the band-  we thank you! Here’s what I’d like everyone reading this to know: here’s the deal: myself or anyone else wouldn’t be where they are today if it wasn’t for the fans buying the records, buying the tickets, buying the merchandise you know what I mean? So again- thank you! That’s why I never have a problem stopping in airports or restaurants, or on the street or at a gas station or wherever and taking the time to talk to somebody. I love to talk to people and hear what they’ve got to say.

TB: What an awesome answer Rickey! You’re a great guy. This interview’s been great and I know people will love reading what you have to say. Thank you so much for talking to me today. It’s been great and I really appreciate it!

RM: You got it man!  It’s been great talking to you today Todd! Have a great 2019 Brother!

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Todd Beebe

Todd Beebe

Todd Beebe is a full time musician/teacher in the Chicago area and a staff writer at BG: Blues And Music News. His first exposure to music was hearing his Grandfather's bands playing Traditional Country music by the likes of Hank Williams Sr., The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Tracing the roots of that music lead him to his love of the Blues. Todd is available for private guitar instruction at All About Music, Inc. in Mokena, IL. 708-479-0440 www.AllAboutMusicMokena.com For more info contact him @ 708-214-6459 or visit www.ToddBeebeMusic.com.

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