Lynyrd Skynyrd stays loyal to its roots

Only one member from band's original incarnation remains

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If you go

What: Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert with Bad Company.

When: 7 p.m. June 21.nWhere: Sleep Country Amphitheater, 17200 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

Cost: $26 to $199.

Information: 360-816-7000 or Sleep Country Amphitheater

Today's Lynyrd Skynyrd includes only one musician — guitarist Gary Rossington — who was with the original band and played on all five studio albums that preceded the 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of singer and primary songwriter Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup singer (and Gaines' sister) Cassie Gaines.

Guitarist Ed King left Lynyrd Skynrd in 1996, nine years after the band reformed in 1987. Drummer Artimus Pyle left in 1991. And the other members who rejoined the reformed Skynyrd — guitarist Allen Collins, bassist Leon Wilkeson and keyboardist Billy Powell — have passed away.

So in a way, it's tempting to view today's Skynyrd as a band that is its own entity, and really can't be considered to have that much of a direct line back to the 1970s-era original.

But Rossington doesn't view today's band that way, and very much considers today's group a continuation of what the original band started. And with the current Skynyrd CD, "Last of a Dyin' Breed" (released last August), he can say today's band took another step to further that connection to the original group. In a word, Lynyrd Skynyrd went back to the way the band used to make records.

"We wanted to go back to the original roots of the old band: write a song and then figure it out; everybody have their own part to fill in and play it all together (in the studio) like we used to," Rossington said in a recent phone interview. "The only things we came back and overdubbed were some vocals and lead guitar here and there. Even the keyboards were live. We just went out and played it all together. It feels better that way, and it feels like the older records we did, and the older style of the songs."

Rossington said the last album Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded primarily live in the studio was "Street Survivors," the 1977 CD finished shortly before the tragic plane crash.

"It was stuff like we used to do, rehearse a little bit and then cut it," he said. "It was a great way to cut it. It was a fun album to do. Most of the time (making) albums isn't fun, but this one was."

What took the fun out of Lynyrd Skynyrd's previous album, the 2009 release "God & Guns," were the deaths during that project of Powell and Ean Evans, the band's bassist from 2001-2009.

"We were right in the middle of the record," Rossington said. "So it was really hard to keep it going and feel right about it and stuff."

"God & Guns" was a bit of a musical departure for Lynyrd Skynyrd. The album leaned more toward country and was intended to appeal to fans of current country music, the rocked-up sound of which isn't far afield from the music of Skynyrd.

"We thought they (country fans) might like to hear a little flavor of that, too," Rossington said. "Some of the songs (on "God & Guns") were really good, I thought, and people enjoyed it."

But for "Last of a Dyin' Breed," the band has returned to its rocking roots in a big way.

There are a couple of ballads ("Ready to Fly" and "Start Livin' Life Again"), but otherwise the rest of "Last of a Dyin' Breed" keeps things rocking, but with some nice variety. "One Day at a Time," for instance, is a solid bluesy track with a deliberate tempo. "Homegrown" and "Mississippi Blood" are thumpers, with big beats and stinging guitar lines. "Good Teacher" is a brisk, full-on rocker. The songs have plenty of melody to go with their edge, and "Last of a Dyin' Breed" stands as one of the better albums of the post-reunion era of Skynyrd.

Rossington said a couple of new tunes will be included in Lynyrd Skynyrd's live set most nights alongside the classics fans want to hear. And having found worthy replacements for Evans and Powell in bassist Johnny Colt (a former member of the Black Crowes) and keyboardist Peter Keys, Rossington said today's Skynyrd feels especially solid. (The other band members are singer Johnny Van Zant, guitarists Rickey Medlocke and Mark Matejka and drummer Michael Cartellone).

"Peter Keys is just great," Rossington said. "I've never heard or met anybody who can play Billy Powell's parts. His parts were so difficult, really hard, and he was classically trained, and that's why you can't really copy that or get that. You've got to have it in you. And Peter Keys seems to have it. He worked really hard learning all of Billy's parts exactly note for note, and I have a lot of respect for that. And he's just a great guy."

Colt is a similar find.

"He plays like Leon Wilkeson," Rossington said. "They were kind of from the same school and time, and he (Colt) just has the same feeling of playing these songs like Leon. It's pretty cool. So we love having them on board."