Storm Dog Records
Artimus Pyle never dreamed he’d have his own album, but with enough built up to vent about and even some anger, he did just that.
Thus, he has released “Artimus Venomus,” an album that covers all genres from country music — albeit a spoof of a country musician’s lifestyle in “Million Dollar Farm” — to alternative to good old Southern rock from Deadline Music on the Storm Dog Records label. It’s a tribute to his friends — even the ones who no longer consider Pyle a friend.
Pyle was involved in the famous 1977 plane crash that killed Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup vocalist Cassie Gaines and road manager Dean Kilpatrick. At the time, the former Marine was the band’s drummer and had earned the nickname “wild man of Southern rock” for his onstage antics and because “I was just crazy.” Today, Pyle is still considered one of the greatest skin bashers in rock history and proves it with his new release.
The surviving members of the band reunited with Ronnie’s younger brother, Johnny, on lead vocals and Allen Collins Band member Randall Hall for a show at the Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam before a tour marking the 10th anniversary of the plane crash. Pyle eventually left the band in 1992.
His new solo album, with a similar Southern rock sound on most tracks, is about “releasing the venom” he built up against the Skynyrd band members, as well as Van Zant’s widow, Judy.
Sixty artists, including Pyle’s sons, Chris and Marshall, are involved in performances on the album, and though Pyle says he isn’t a singer, he provides lead vocals for many of the tracks.
“I’m not [Bob] Dylan,” he says. “If I ramble, people won’t listen. If Dylan rambles, each word will be dissected. My album, it’s all my opinion. I’m not really a singer or a writer, but this album has to be 100 percent me or else I’m lying. I realized everything had to come fresh and brand new from me. It’s not just some sort of demo I put together that I was going to sell in the back of my trunk.”
It began with “Blood Sucking Weasel Attorneys,” a song Pyle has been living since the death of his father in a plane crash — ironically enough — and a song he uses to send a message to current Skynyrd members, who don’t speak with Pyle. The reason, as stated in the song, “The lawyers won’t let ya” because Pyle claims the attorneys are keeping him from getting to his former friends.
In all, “Artimus Venomus” is an album of pure emotion from the 58-year-old drummer, who said he will be a drummer until he is 100 and then will switch to stand-up comedy.
“The album, it made me laugh, it made me cry, I would go through the entire gamut where I would laugh and I would cry and I would scream and yell, but by the end of the album, I had purged myself,” Pyle says.
“The album is like a tribute to Ronnie and to Frank Zappa [who died in 1993]. When Ronnie Van Zant was speaking, I was listening,” he says. “A lot of these songs are very venomous. I miss all these people just because of greed and so I decided to write an album about it. I think Ronnie would give it a thumbs up and I think Zappa would give it a thumbs up.”
More so than just the music, certain traits Pyle picked up from his former comrades bring certain aspects of the album to life.
Remembering how Van Zant gave Pyle a chance to be the band’s drummer as an unknown nobody (the day Pyle signed his father’s wrongful death action papers, he flew to Atlanta to record “Saturday Night Special,” his first exposure to Van Zant) and how Van Zant also allowed Steve Gaines to sing lyrics for the song “Ain’t No Good Life” during a live show while he stepped out to have a cigarette, Pyle takes a similar approach in one of his own tracks.
In the song “Trust #3” — a song Pyle first sang with Van Zant 30 years ago — unknown lyricist Thane Shearon is called out on the album to step up to the mic and sing.
“I told him, ‘You sing this so much better than I do,’” Pyle says.
The album did not come without oddities and signs he thought might occur. As the plane dove toward a muddy swamp in 1977, Pyle sat behind backup singer Cassie Gaines. One of the backup singers on “Artimus Venomus” also bears the name Kassie (Miller). Then there’s also Kym Collins, whose first name, in true Skynyrdese, replaces the vowel with a “y.”
“I said, ‘Larry [Goad, the album’s producer], I have a feeling there’s going to be a bunch of moments like this,” Pyle says. “There are some very secret moments on this album.”
Though Pyle spread the word of Skynyrd, as he sings in the song “Knock Me Down,” his 1992 departure from the band came because he felt other members were failing to do the same. Pyle, who doesn’t drink or do drugs, admits, “I’ll smoke a doobie every once in a while,” but opted out of the life of luxury because of extensive drug and alcohol abuse by the rest of the band members. He felt strongly about carrying on the names of the former Skynyrd members who died and felt “the new Lynyrd Skynyrd” wasn’t doing that.
Differences aside, Pyle put on his tuxedo and joined Ed King, Bob Burns, Gary Rossington and Billy Powell for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 13, 2006, and then proceeded to rock the house with gut-busting drum beats he hadn’t performed in days, but it was years since he had done so with that group of guys. Pyle got to do so with one of his idols — Miles Davis — in attendance being inducted the same day.
Also adding author to his title, Pyle is currently writing a book, with the working title “Lynyrd Skynyrd: A Blessing or a Curse, the Best Seat in the House,” because from his drum set vantage point, he says he can see everything — crowd, crew and band.
Once everything is in place, Pyle plans a tour, hitting major markets along the way. He says an Indianapolis date is a definite. In the meantime, get Pyle’s emotionally driven album and you’ll quickly find out that, even at age 58, he still has a lot of rock left in him.