Artimus Pyle makes no claims of being a rock star.
Artimus Pyle makes no claims of being a rock star.
“I am more like a worker bee,” he said. “But I was in a band with rock stars.”
Nobody would dispute that. Pyle was drummer with the Lynyrd Skynyrd band and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the band in 2006.
At 63, he’s still drumming and will be playing three shows in the area.
“I live in Asheville, N.C., but I love coming to this beautiful part of the country,” Pyle said Thursday during an interview at a southeast Kansas home. “I call this the big sky country.”
The local shows have been organized by Sean Hall, second drummer of Six Guns South and owner of Bella Productions. The first show was Thursday at Guitars in Joplin, with other shows at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Holmtown Pub in Fort Scott and 7 p.m. Sunday at Downstream Casino.
Ticket information for the pub is available at 1-620-223-1477. Those interested in the Sunday show may call 1-888-DWNSTRM (1-888-396-7876).
With Pyle will be Steve Grisham, Pittsburg native and guitarist with the rock bands the Outlaws and Ghost Riders, and the Six Guns South Band, including John Moss, guitar and vocals, and Marc Marcano, keyboard; Rusty Knight, guitar and vocals; Mark Lockhart, bass; and Justin McDugle, drums and vocals.
“Our common denominator is that we’re the extended family of Steve and Cassie Gaines, who were from Miami, Okla., ” Pyle said.
Steve Gaines and older sister, Cassie were killed in the 1977 plane crash that also killed Ronnie Van Zant, Lynryd Skynyrd road manager Dean Kilpatrick and both pilots.
“Cassie was sitting in the seat in front of me,” said Pyle, who suffered several broken ribs in the crash. “If Steve and Cassie were here, they’d be gigging with us. But they’re in the room, and I feel them all the time. I feel like Steve, if he hadn’t been cut short, would have gone on to be as big as any name you know now.”
He also mourns Van Zant, who led the Lynyrd Skynyrd band before his death.
“I had found some land in South Carolina where I wanted to build a home for my family and I called Ronnie about it,” Pyle said. “He asked, ‘How much do you need?’ and I said $25,000, and I got it. That’s the kind of relationship we had.”
He added that Van Zant seemed to have a premonition about his death.
“Ronnie told me that he would never see 30 and that he’d go out with his boots on,” Pyle said. “He was 29 when he died.”
Sometimes Pyle is even a little surprised that he himself is still alive.
“I’ve been in three plane crashes; I was in the U.S. Marines and saw combat; I’ve been shot and stabbed,” he said.
His life started in 1948 in Kentucky.
“That’s when I started drumming, when the doctor pulled me out,” Pyle said.
He served in the Marines from 1967 to 1971. Boot camp was a miserable experience because of the popular TV comedy “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” Jim Nabors, as simpleminded Gomer, was known for such exclamations as “Gollee!”, “Shazam!” and “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!”
Pyle was required to go through a daily recital of those sayings for his drill sergeants.
“And if I didn’t do it country enough, they’d make me do it again,” he said. “But I spit-shined my boots better than anybody else and ran faster than anybody else, all to get them off my back.”
It proved a blessing in disguise, because Pyle was given the rank of PFC and dress blues at the end of boot camp.
“I was the guide arm of the platoon,” he said. “Some of those guys couldn’t march left-right, left-right, but I could because I was a drummer and had rhythm. I was on a fast track to sergeant and they were going to sent me to Quantico. I was going to fly jets.”
Instead, he was granted early dismissal after his beloved father, Clarence Pyle, was killed in a mid-air collision.
“He was in a Cessna that was hit by a B-57,” Pyle said. “After my father was killed, I kind of lost my spirit.”
After a brief attempt at college, he went back to drumming in bands. He got into Lynryd Skynyrd through Charlie Daniels.
“Charlie asked me to come to New Orleans to audition for second drummer in is band, so I drove down there,” Pyle said. “Then Charlie told me that the drummer who said he was going to quit didn’t quit.”
He said that Daniels, unbeknownst to him, slipped a $50 bill into his pocket, and invited him to jam with him in Atlanta. He also told Pyle that he knew of a band that needed a drummer, the Lynryd Skynyrd Band, and suggested Pyle to Ronnie Van Zant.
“I was in Spartanburg, S.C., when I got a call from Ronnie asking me to come to Jacksonville to audition,” Pyle said. “Then I got another call asking me to scratch that and go to Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom in Atlanta. I went in my Volkswagon minibus, which got vapor lock two blocks from the ballroom. I had to carry my drums in two trips to the ballroom, and my minibus sat in traffic for three hours.”
But he made the band. After the plane crash he took part in a Skynyrd Tribute Tour and joined the reformed Lynryd Skynyrd in recording “Lynryd Skynyrd 1991.” He later toured with the band Deep South and his own band, the Artimus Pyle Band.
“I’m part of a group of people who will get in an old van and drive 500 miles to play for six people,” Pyle said. “The next show will always be the best show ever. I like getting a paycheck as much as anybody, but I feel just as much joy playing a benefit. None of us are about the money. It’s about the music.”