Lynyrd Skynyrd joins several other major rock acts — including Paul Simon, Elton John and Ozzy Osbourne — that have decided to retire from touring and are launching farewell tours to mark the occasion.
For the members of Skynyrd, the decision came down to wanting to go out on their terms.
“Well, the major reason, a lot of it, actually has to do with Gary’s health,” guitarist Rickey Medlocke said in a recent phone interview. “He’s had a lot of ups and downs in the recent years, heart (disease), etc., you know. Basically, he’s not able to go out and do the real grind as such. And we completely understand that.”
“Gary” is Gary Rossington, the guitarist, singer and last remaining original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. In October 2015, he was sidelined by a heart attack and has had complications since then. Health issues have taken a toll on Rossington, and the band wanted to give fans a proper farewell tour rather than be abruptly forced off the road.
Medlocke said the band is making sure the last time around the touring circuit — including a Saturday (10/13) stop at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids — will be memorable. Set lists will go beyond the expected selection of hits and fan favorites.
“It’s a mixed bag of tricks,” Medlocke said of the set list, which can change between venues, but will include some songs Lynyrd Skynyrd has not played live for some time.
“The production part of it is going to be really spectacular. There are a lot of surprises in it, a lot of things that I think that will make even grown men weep,” he said. After all, the story of Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of rock’s most triumphant and tragic tales.
Some of the triumphs came early, as the group, based out of Jacksonville, Fla. — not exactly known as a hotbed of promising acts at the time — overcame hardscrabble beginnings and several personnel changes to scrap its way to a record deal in the early 1970s with a hard-hitting but soulful brand of Southern rock.
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With early hits like the epic “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” helping the group gain a foothold, Lynyrd Skynyrd appeared to be hitting a musical peak with its fifth album, the 1977 release “Street Survivors.” The album had been out only three days when an October plane crash claimed the lives of singer/songwriter and band leader Ronnie Van Zant, as well as guitarist Steve Gaines and backing singer Cassie Gaines (Steve’s sister), among others.
It looked like Lynyrd Skynyrd had come to a sudden, premature and tragic end. But in 1987, surviving members Rossington, guitarist Allen Collins, bassist Leon Wilkeson, keyboardist Billy Powell and drummer Artimus Pyle decided to revive Skynyrd, bringing in guitarist Ed King (who was in Skynyrd from 1972 to 1975) and singer Johnny Van Zant to replace his late brother, Ronnie, in the new edition of the group.
Lynyrd Skynyrd has been together ever since, putting out eight studio albums and several live releases. It has endured its share of detractors who never felt the latter-day version of the band measured up to the original model.
Today’s lineup includes Rossington, Van Zant, Medlocke (an early member in 1971-72), Michael Cartellone on drums, Mark Matejka on guitar) Peter Keys on keyboards and Keith Christopher on bass.
The band’s history is told in a new documentary, “If I Leave Here Tomorrow,” which premiered in March at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
WHAT: Lynyrd Skynyrd: “Last of the Street Survivors” Farewell Tour, with Marshall Tucker Band opening
WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday (10/13)
TICKETS: $29.50 to VIP $350 and up, venue box office, 1- (800) 745-3000 or Uscellularcenter.com
ARTISTS’ WEBSITES: Lynyrdskynyrd.com and Marshalltucker.com