Lynyrd Skynyrd

30 Years Strong
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Gary Rossington with his signature Gibson SG. Photo by Rick Gould.

Gary Rossington leads the charge against the challenge that has always come with being a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The band and its musical patriarch have defined resilience in their march forward, keeping the music fresh and vibrant with longtime friends/co-guitarists Rickey Medlocke and Hughie Thomasson, regular album releases, and diligent touring.
And the fates have given Rossington no breaks. In early 2003 he underwent triple-bypass heart surgery. But the guitarist, far from being the type to complain, was soon back at it, recording and prepping a world tour.
We recently caught up with Rossington, Medlocke, and Thomasson as they set out on the road to support their latest offering, Viscious Cycle, and soak up some of the rewards that come with being veterans – like having Gibson/Epiphone issue no fewer than three guitars in their honor!

Photo by Michael Wilson

Gary Rossington

Vintage Guitar: What inspired you to become a musician, and how did the guitar become your main instrument?
Gary Rossington: It was actually Elvis, way back when. I used to take a broom and play it in front of a mirror, like him on guitar.
Then, when the Beatles, Stones, and all of the British groups came out, that’s what got me going. I was 13 or 14 when the Beatles came out and Allen, Ronnie, and me saw those guys [and] thought they were so cool. We wanted to be like them, and I wanted to play guitar! I thought guitar was the neatest thing. We taught ourselves and went for it.

What was your first guitar?
I still got it, believe it or not – an early-’60s Silvertone from Sears I bought with money from doing a paper route. They had an acoustic for eight bucks. Then they had this electric with a case and a speaker in it. I got that one and I still own it – and it still works.

What’s the story about how you got your 1959 Les Paul? 
The first time we were ever in Nashville, playing a club called the Briar Patch, a girl said she had a Gibson Les Paul in her closet. That’s all she knew.
So we went to her house and it was a nice Les Paul. It was in great shape, but you could see it hadn’t been picked up for a long time. They didn’t know what they had and they wanted to sell it for $1,000. So I went back with $1,000 and they said, “No.” Somebody told them it was worth $2,000 to $3,000. I told them not to sell it.
A few weekends went by and we were playing that club again, so I went over and got it.

Why did you name it after your mother, Bernice?
My father died when I was 10, so my mother raised me. She helped us get the band going, and helped me buy guitars. I had a paper route, but she put money in even though we didn’t have much. I just loved her a lot and missed her a lot when I was on the road, so I called it Bernice.

When did Gibson approach you about the Rossington signature Les Paul and SG guitars?
A year or so ago, a guy from Gibson called and asked if he could copy mine to do a signature model. I thought it was the neatest thing since sliced bread, because I love Gibson guitars. I’ve always played Les Pauls, and bought a lot of them. But they wanted to do this in honor of me, and it is such an honor!
They had Bernice for about a week. They drew it out and re-created the scars, nicks, and scratches, then put the same pickups, knobs, electronics, and hardware on it. It looks just like my original. They did the same with the ’61 SG I played “Freebird” on.
I’ve had a few other guitars throughout the years, but I’ve still got both originals. I use one [of the signature models] onstage now because I don’t want to take the originals out. I’ve used both for “Freebird” and one of the signature Les Pauls for the whole set. It’s real nice. It sounds great and stays in tune. I love it!

What gauge of strings do you typically use?
I use .010, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046 Dean Markleys. They’re great.

What amps are you using live and in the studio?
In the studio, I’ve always used the same Peavey Mace. It’s 25 or 30 years old. I put new tubes in it every year, as well as new wires and fuses when it needs it. It sounds really good.
We got a deal with Peavey long ago; Hartley Peavey gave us a couple of amps, and we been using ’em ever since. I think they sound great.
We used to use Marshalls, and Rickey still uses Marshalls. We also used Line 6 Amp Farm [software] in the studio, which sound like just about any kind of amp.

Talk about Vicious Cycle. What was the inspiration for the material?
I’m proud of that album because we worked so hard on it. We put our hearts and souls into it to show people that [although] there are new faces, we’re the same band and the same spirit. We had to prove we’re more than just an old band playing old songs. We got a couple new writers, and some of the songs were taken from real stories. We tried to write about things that are going on today, and about the way we felt.
We try to keep our style and sound – be the real deal, and not use a bunch of effects, so we can play ’em live!
Everything we write or put on a record, we want to be able to play live, if people like it. So we did all that on this record.
I believe this year we had something to prove, what with the new faces in the band. There was a lot of talk about why we were still going on. When you’re involved with something like this, it’s bigger than all of us. People want to hear the old songs and the new. We’re gonna play a bunch of ’em this summer along with the old, and it’s going to be fun. When we play the old songs, I feel Ronnie, Allen, Steve, and Leon – all of them – onstage with us. It’s spiritual.

Gary Rossington with his Les Paul Standard, onstage with Skynyrd in the 1970s. Photo by Rick Gould.

What inspires your songwriting?
I think it comes through you. Any guitar player can come up with a few riffs. [Once I come up with a riff], I add to it and Rickey, Hughie, and Johnny will expand on my idea. With lyrics, once we get an idea, we sit around and throw lyrics back and forth.
Most of the songs are true stories. “Hell Or Heaven” is about people I see every day; they’re in hell because of their life, what they got themselves into, or the way they think about everything. But they can make heaven on Earth if they just appreciate the good things in life.
“Lucky Man” is about why we all feel so lucky. We’ve been through a lot of tragedy and a lot of hard times. But you know it’s just life. And if you look at some places around the world, you think about how bad those people have it… they don’t even have food or water. It makes you think about how lucky you are.
We’ve had a lot of bad luck and bad accidents, but we’re so lucky to be able to be playing music and to be in America. We have fans come every night, and families who love us. What more do you need? We’re lucky to be able to play music and do something we love. Skynyrd lives on. The name, the music, and all the guys.
As long as we can play the music they helped create, they’re still alive and people will remember them. It’s a big thing and I feel lucky to be a part of it.

“Red, White and Blue” has been embraced as a patriotic anthem. How did that song come about?
That was written by Johnny, Donnie [Van Zandt], and the Warren brothers [Brett and Brad]. The first time I heard it, I loved it. I hate to say it, but it’s totally us. You know, our hair is turning white and we’ve always been red-blooded Americans, and rednecks.
It’s such a pretty song and such a great song to play. I always use a Gibson Les Paul or a Gibson SG. But on that song, I used Rickey’s Stratocaster because it just happened to be plugged in. It’s the only song I think I’ve ever played on a Strat.

Is that you playing the bird call at the end?
Yeah, at the very end, that’s me. I did that with a slide. I did it for “Freebird,” too. I turn the slide upside down and sort of hit the string with the side of the bottle and it just makes it sing.

What kind of slide do you use?
I use a Coricidan bottle I got from Duane Allman. He was one of my big inspirations. I just love him and I got to meet him and know him.
I always use glass because it has the best sound, more sustain, and it gets that true “scratchy” sound. I’ve got about a hundred of them.

What tuning did you use on the new record?
We play in standard tuning and Rickey uses dropped-D tuning. But on “Dead Man Walkin’,” we all tuned to open G. We wrote it on an old Dobro blues guitar, and that’s Rickey playing it.

With three guitar players in the band, how do you construct parts?
We think about it, and play off of each other. Once you’ve got one part, you don’t want somebody doing what you’re doing, so you’ve got to write a counterpart. We’ve been playing together so long that we know each other and what we’re going to do.
I’ll play my part then show it to Rickey or vice versa. Then he’ll come up with a counterpart to it that’s a little different. On “Lucky Man” there was enough rhythm going, so I just played slide. Same with “Red, White and Blue.”
You have to listen and write your own part. Then somebody else writes their part to you. In days before, I’ve written or thought of parts to go with my part. I’d show Allen or Ed King or one of those guys, but usually they all do it themselves. That’s why it’s a band.
When you get a band together instead of just studio cats or certain people, if you write a part or a song and then you go and present it to the band, everybody puts their parts to it. It just grows and grows. Sometimes it becomes a great song.

You must be really proud to be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the band.
Yes, I’m very proud of being a part of Skynyrd, from the old guys to the new. I know we’ve had a lot of tragedy and misfortune, but that’s just life.

What goals do you have for the future for both yourself and Lynyrd Skynyrd?
My plans and dreams are to keep going with Skynyrd – to tour every year and do a new album every couple of years, to show people we’ve still got it.
And I don’t ever want to do a farewell tour, where we say, “This is the last time,” and then we go back out again another time like a lot of groups do. There are a lot of groups that have “final toured” 10 times.
With Lynyrd Skynyrd, I want us to just not be there one day. I would like to tour for 10 or 20 more years, writing songs and getting on like the Rolling Stones, B.B. King, or Clapton. All the blues guys just keep on going, and I think we’ll do that. – Arlene R. Weiss

Photo by Michael Wilson.

Rickey Medlocke

Vintage Guitar: Many people are surprised to learn you were originally a drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd in the early ’70s.
Rickey Medlocke: Yes, I joined the band as a drummer and played for about three years. I’ve been back now since ’96, playing guitar. I knew in my heart that I would probably never achieve greatness as a drummer and that my talents lied within guitar and singing. I left Skynyrd so that I could play guitar, and as fate would have it, it’s all kind of worked out. The vicious cycle came around and here I am, back with them again!

Which players influenced you as a guitarist?
I was raised in a musical environment. My grandad, Shorty Medlocke, had his own bands and toured with musicians from Nashville and the southeast. He was even on a television show out of Jacksonville from 1953 through ’58. It was a cool schtick with a grandfather and grandson.
At the time I was playing banjo, which was my very first instrument. I had a miniature five-string and I played and sang with him until I was about eight years old. I started playing guitar when I was about five years old and guitar has always been my real love.
As a kid, I listened to records galore and radio stations back in the ’50s. I started listening to a lot of the early stuff like Elvis Presley when I was five or six years old. Of course, Carl Perkins played on some of the old Elvis Presley sessions, and I enjoyed him. He also played on a lot of sessions for Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and people from the Sun Records label. My grandfather listened to a lot of old Mississippi Delta blues stuff, so I ended up listening to a lot of the old black players like Sun House, Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, and Leadbelly. It was like a Mississippi Delta blues/bluegrass/country environment. The blues was really my biggest influence getting into rock and roll, and I still love the blues.
By the mid ’60s I’d started listening to the Beatles. I loved them. Then I happened to hear a Jimi Hendrix record on a local radio station and I was just in awe of what was going on with the guitar and what he was playing.
After that I followed Eric Clapton with Cream, then Jeff Beck with the Jeff Beck Group, and then Jimmy Page. In my teenage years, when I was learning how to play leads, my three favorite guitar players were definitely Hendrix, Clapton, and Beck. I still listen to those guys today. I’ve got some incredible footage of Beck playing live in Japan. His style and technique are just unbelievable. His tone is just… ahhh. You wonder what planet he came from.
I’ve always said that you bake the cake with Hendrix, Clapton, and Beck, but the icing is Billy Gibbons’ hands stuck on top. He’s always been a hero, as well as one of my dearest friends.
One of my best experiences was when we did the tour several years ago when ZZ Top and Skynyrd hooked up. My biggest thrill was getting to eat dinner at catering with Billy Gibbons and talk about cars, guitars, and music. I had the time of my life on that tour. I got to hang with Dusty, too, and he and I would take trips together. We went to the wrestling matches several times. It was just great camaraderie.
I’m also a huge Eric Johnson fanatic. He is a virtuoso. Sometimes when he’s playing guitar it’s like someone playing a violin. He’s just incredible. There are a lot of wonderful guitar players walking around – too numerous to mention. The world is full of talent, but to me those five guys are the cream of the crop.

Which players motivated your choices in gear?
Without a doubt, it was Clapton, Hendrix, and Beck. The combination of Gibson and Marshall together has always been my favorite. I’m still using an old Explorer and old Les Pauls. I do use a Stratocaster once in a while for certain songs, like “Sweet Home Alabama.” I like a Strat for the cleanliness and I use it for slide a lot of times.

Rickey Medlocke with his Ibanez Destroyer. Photo by Rick Gould.

Describe your live rig.
I’ve got an arsenal of guitars from the late ’50s right up through the late ’60s.
I love old guitars, and I don’t spare nothing being able to use them. I’ve taken some of my old guitars off the road, but Gibson has been wonderful enough to recreate a lot of my guitars in their Custom Shop.
I guess I’m a purist when it comes down to it, because I just love playing those old ones. I’ve still got my old Les Paul Black Beauty on the road with me and I just can’t turn it loose. I still love old Gibson PAF pickups and that’s what I love about the Seymour Duncan stuff. Seymour Duncan is the real deal. I have some ancient Seymour Duncan pickups loaded in a couple of my oldest guitars. I’ve never changed them out because they’ve never gone bad and as long as they’re still working, I’m gonna keep them there. In fact, the pickups in my black Les Paul are vintage JB models. They’re great. I basically use a lot of JBs, but I started using some other ones. I’ve got a couple of Pearly Gates in another Les Paul because for the density of the wood, they fit pretty well perfect.
For strings, I’m using a standard set of GHS .010s on most guitars. For guitars with dropped tuning, I’ll use a set of .011s. My picks are brass and they’re custom made for me by a guy named Len Milheim in Michigan. He’s got a die to cut them and he polishes and refines them like a teardrop. That’s how I get that metallic “squank” out of my strings. I’ll hold my pick with my thumb and forefinger and I’ll play with my index finger right next to it. This year I’m also using some transparent red heavy-gauge plastic picks by Dunlop that have my signature on them.
For the Vicious Cycle tour, I’ve got several old amps – hot-rodded ’70 and ’71 100-watt heads that I’ve been using for many years and an early JCM 800 head Jim Marshall gave to me when I was in Blackfoot. Skynyrd is sponsored by Peavey and I am using a Peavey straight cabinet. For effects, I use a Boss chorus and a Crybaby wah that was beefed up so it keeps the signal very steady so I don’t lose any volume.

How do you set the tone controls on your Marshall amps?
Usually, I like more beefiness and bass. I like running my bass at around 6 or 7 and I like running the mids at about 3. If you’re looking at it like a clock, I like running the bass at around 2 o’clock, dropping the mids back at about 10 o’clock, the presence is straight up between 12 and 1 o’clock, and the treble is at about 11 o’clock. The volume is another story. There aren’t enough numbers up there for me! But I’ll usually run the preamp at about 2 o’clock and the master volume at about 2 o’clock.

How does your live rig differ from the setup you used in the studio?
Well, actually it doesn’t differ a whole lot. I mean, 90 percent of the time what I play live is what I played in the studio. I love being able to recreate what I do live. I use Marshall amps, Gibson guitars, and once in a while a Stratocaster. I used a Stratocaster quite a bit on Vicious Cycle. But for the beefiness of the rhythm and a lot of the leads, I’m still a Gibson guy.

Do you take older guitars into the studio that you wouldn’t take on the road?
Absolutely. We fight with them a lot of times for tuning, but I’m just too much of a purist.
Not too long ago, I worked with a producer who was really a stickler on the tuning thing. I am, too, but he hated us having old guitars because they just didn’t tune properly. Get over it! I’m gonna use these freakin’ old guitars because they sound like nothing else in the world!

As a three-guitar band, how does Skynyrd separate things sonically and technically?
Well, each one of us has our own style, our own sound, our own tone. I have a real low-endy, beefy kind of tone, whereas Hughie has the single-coil Stratocaster sound, and Gary has a real nice smooth midrangey tone. You put it all together and it just blends great.
That’s the beauty of this band; we never fight over who’s going to play what leads in what songs because we just go with whoever’s style of lead playing fits whatever style of song it is. Actually, while we’re writing the songs, we start figuring out parts and who’s going to play where. Everything just comes together naturally.

Do you all work together when writing?
Oh, yeah. Gary, Johnny, Hughie and myself, we come in with ideas and then everybody starts adding their input. That’s how we come up it, lyrics and all.

How do you document the ideas?
There are usually one or two tape machines running, and we’re also jotting down notes and lyrics so we can review everything. We keep it all recorded and cataloged.

Do you ever demo the songs before making the record?
We have before, and we did demo some this time around to see how the basics would work out. But on other ones, we just went in and cut the basic tracks without making demos first.

Was the recording process for Vicious Cycle different in any way from previous studio experiences with Skynyrd?
Not really. It was approached the same way. Although for some of the songs, we recorded some of the tracks live and then went back and overdubbed our parts. We typically cut the basics and then go back and listen to everybody’s parts, then decide what should be replaced.
In general, we try to keep a natural feel to it. It’s really just standard procedure.
There are two tracks on the new CD now with Leon [Wilkeson] still on them. He played bass on “Lucky Man” and “The Way,” which we had started recording several years ago, before he died, and we were able to save the tracks. They made it onto the record, so we were able to put Leon on the CD one last time. It was very cool.

Where do you see the most change in yourself as a player?
I’ve been playing guitar for 48 years and I’ve become more seasoned. It’s just like good whiskey – it gets better over time.
I also find that I approach things nowadays from a slightly different side. I listen to the song. When you’re young, the song plays to you and you play your part. You want it to be great and you want to shine. As time goes on, you realize that the song doesn’t make you, you make the song. It’s what you put into it. My grandaddy Shorty always used to say you have to “kiss” it, which means “keep it simple, stupid!” Simplicity is the best policy. Honestly, that’s what the average person understands. They don’t understand that in four bars you played 25 notes. They just want to hear something that moves them and gives them chills – something they can relate to.
That’s what I believe, and I’d pass that advice onto everybody. – Lisa Sharken

Hughie Thomasson with his built-to-taste Fender Stratocaster. Photo by Rick Gould.

Hughie Thomasson

Vintage Guitar: Who were your main influences in style and tone? How have those influences changed from early on to now?
Hughie Thomasson: Well, they’re constantly changing…
I started playing guitar when I was eight years old and first saw the Beatles not long after that. Of course, that influenced me and I started playing in a band when I was 12. We realized early on that we could work and do a lot more shows if we learned Beatles songs. Everyone loved the Beatles and a lot of the bands in the Tampa area, where I grew up, didn’t play Beatles songs. We did, so we got a lot more gigs than they did because of that.
We also learned that we could do three cover songs then put in one of our original songs, and get away with it. However, if you tried to play all of your originals, people wouldn’t like that very much.
In my teenage years, I went through a number of different bands. Dave & The Diamonds, was the first band I was in. Then we were the Rogues, then the Four Letter Words, and then finally the Outlaws.
Then from the Outlaws, I came to Skynyrd. So I’ve had quite the long playing career, you might say, and I’ve been very blessed to be a part of all of this.
A lot of the influences I’ve picked up on along the way were from Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, and a lot of people of the late ’60s, like the Byrds. We loved all kinds of music, so we played all kinds of music. I guess I’m kind of a hybrid guitar player. I love everything from classical to bluegrass. I actually grew up playing bluegrass with my family. So I’ve had many influences since I started.

Was guitar your first instrument?
Yes. Actually, I play steel guitar and banjo as well, but guitar is my main instrument.

Which players influenced your gear preferences?
Well, that’s Hendrix. I always liked the tone of his guitar – a Fender guitar. That’s what I use and that’s what I’ve always used. It’s my main guitar. I have other guitars, but I play a Fender. I do customize them to get the sound I want – I’ll change the tone pots, or add preamps, or change pickups. I have Seymour Duncan pickups in some of my guitars, EMGs in some, and Fender Noiseless pickups in others. I also have humbucking pickups in some.
There are lots of things you can do to change the tone of a guitar right down to moving your tone knob just one number and it changes everything. The amp settings affect the sound, as well.
So it’s a combination of things, and not just the guitar. I like a clean tone with a lot of sustain, and that’s what I’ve always tried to stick with. It seems to work with my style of playing and fits well with Gary and Rickey, who play Gibson guitars. My Fender is like the meat in the sandwich.

Tell us about your current live rig.
I’m using Fender guitars – mostly Stratocasters – and I have Teles, as well.
I carry a number of guitars with me, but I do have one Gibson, a Les Paul. As far as amps go, I use a Fender Super Twin and a Cyber-Twin, and a Peavey 100-watt Classic. I change the speakers in my cabinets, but I can’t tell you what those, are or I’d have to kill you!
I also have a couple of pedals by Boss – a Distortion and a tuner. I also have a wireless by Nady, and that’s about the extent of it. We keep it pretty simple when it comes to the gear. I think you get a better sound when you use less electronics. Less is more. You get a truer sound and a clearer signal. When you start putting other stuff inline, it weakens your signal from the guitar and it ends up changing before it gets to the amp.

Photo: Lisa Sharken.

How do you set the tone controls on your amplifiers?
It depends on the hall we’re in. We make minor adjustments according to each venue, so it’s always different. We try to maintain the same sound, but you do have to make adjustments to get back that sound from one building to another. We go in and do soundchecks, and my guitar tech has the basic settings down that we start from every day. We adjust from there until we get the sound that I’m used to having. I like a cleaner tone, so we use the preamp a little bit lower and the master a little bit higher. But everything is pretty much adjusted from 12 o’clock. We’ll go from there until we tune it into the room.

How are your guitars set up?
My guitars are set up with a .010 to .052 set and they’re set up pretty normal. I use Fender strings on some guitars and I use Dean Markley strings on other guitars. We just make sure that the guitar is in tune with itself, so that the intonation is correct on the guitar. We spend a lot of time checking that because if the guitar isn’t in tune with itself as you go up the neck, it will go out of tune on you and a lot of people don’t realize that. That’s why it sounds good when you’re playing down low on the neck, but as you travel up the neck, the guitar goes out of tune, and there’s nothing you can do about it once you’re playing.
So we’re very meticulous in making sure intonation is correct.

What type of picks do you prefer?
I use a standard medium plastic pick. One thing I do is I do sharpen the edges of the picks a little bit which gives the pick a little more bite. It allows you to turn the pick sideways and to attack the string with a different edge. Some people use sandpaper to sharpen it, but I take a knife and scrape it until it becomes almost serrated. I do it on all three sides. You have to be careful because it will actually cut you. I call them “sharpened” picks. That allows me to get a lot of the “pop” overtones and the overtones that you wouldn’t normally get from a rounded smooth pick. So that’s a little secret I just gave away!

Does your live rig differ from your setup on Vicious Cycle?
It doesn’t very much. However, because of all the advances in technology, in the studio we now have the option of using things like Line 6 Amp Farm for amp sounds. We did use that, but we mainly used the Cyber-Twin on a whole lot of the Vicious Cycle record. In fact, everybody in the band played through it at one time or another. We used whatever sounds best. You know, sometimes a smaller amp works better in the studio than your big rig that you use onstage. So we had a number of different rigs that we used – everything from a 15-watt Yamaha tube amp that I’ve had for about 20 years, all the way up to the Cyber-Twin, and everything in between. So it just depends on what you’re looking for that song, and the combination of the guitar and the amp to get the tone, sustain, and all the little things you’re looking for. Sometimes we would use a combination of Amp Farm and a mic’ed amp together to get the sound we were looking for. It’s tedious work sometimes. It’s really fine tuning. That’s the hard part. You get close, but you’re not there and you have to take the time to really dial it in. And you’ve got to have good ears. One thing that I found out in the studio is if you spend too much time listening to yourself or listening to the work that you’re doing too loud, you will burn your ears out and you will not hear good. So therefore, you’re never going to hear what you’re looking for – your true tone. So it’s a combination of whatever sounds best.

Do you have a preference for older or newer gear?
I prefer the newer gear. I have some older guitars like my ’72 Strat that I used on the Outlaws (Arista, 1975) record. I recorded “Green Grass and High Tides” and all those songs with it. Other than that, I don’t have many vintage guitars. I kind of go through them. I play them so hard that I end up having to re-fret them a lot.
Every year or so I have to re-fret all my guitars. I’m pretty hard on them. I have a light touch, but when you play the same songs during a show like we do, and you play over and over in the same position, it has a tendency to wear those frets down in the same place. When that happens, the guitar doesn’t play well in other places down the neck. So we’re constantly working on them, keeping them fresh and ready to rock.
Nobody wants to mess with an old vintage guitar. I think if you change a saddle or pot, or anything on it, that’s going to change the sound of the guitar. And when it comes time to working on them, I don’t know. That’s why I prefer new guitars. I have guitars going back, six, eight or 10 years, but those aren’t vintage guitars in my book. I have a tendency to stay with the newer stuff and go with the modifications that I need to make them sound the way I like them to sound.
I don’t have many older guitars. I just seem to wear them out, then refurbish them and keep them. I’ve got some nice Gibson acoustics that are vintage. I couldn’t even tell you the model number on the oldest one because there’s not one on it. There’s a stamp on the inside, but I don’t recall what it is. It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of about 35 years old. I also have a rare, very old Emmons pedal steel guitar that was given to me by Toy Caldwell of the Marshall Tucker Band.
I do have quite a collection of amps. I’ve got everything from a ’65 Fender Bassman all the way up the Cyber-Twin. I have a bunch of different Fender amps including a ’65 Super Twin, two Peavey 100-watt Classics, and a 15-watt Yamaha. I did part of the Ghost Riders… (Outlaws, 1980) record with that amp. We just put a very expensive microphone on it and it sounded like a million dollars.

What advice would you give to other players on developing their tone?
Just keep searching and playing and trying new things, and when you hear it, you’ll know it.

But you shouldn’t be satisfied with it being just okay. It’s got to be you – you’ve got to feel it, you’ve got to know it, and it’s got to work for you. When you hit that note and it sustains just right, then you know you’re there. Sometimes guys never find that and sometimes they find it straight away. Everybody’s different and it depends on how much time you’re willing to put into it.

Like I’ve always said, you get out of it what you put into it. If you spend a lot of time working on it, then you’re going to end up getting the sound you want.

One of my favorite guitar players is Eric Johnson. He has an enormous amount of tones and sounds, and I know for a fact he spends a tremendous amount of time meticulously going through every aspect of his equipment. That’s what you have to do if you want to develop your own sound. You really have to spend the time.

What advice would you give on playing in a multi-guitar band?
It’s difficult with three guitars, like we have with Lynyrd Skynyrd and did with the Outlaws, as well.

It’s extremely difficult to hear each guitar while the whole band is playing and know who is playing what. It’s something we are constantly aware of and working on, and it’s not an easy task.

If you have the right combination of people willing to work together and compromise, then you can get there. The three guitar players in this band work together very well, as does the whole band. We all have an opinion, but we don’t force it on each other. We wait and we try to help each other, and do what’s best for the band – what makes it sound like Skynyrd the most. – Lisa Sharken

This article originally appeared in VG‘s October 2003 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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