Rickey Medlocke on Blackfoot and Skynyrd

May 22, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More

medlocke_rickey_blackfoot_slidePart 1: Blackfoot and Skynyrd Gear

I love Blackfoot. One of the best bands ever to be on a stage, period. If you missed ’em, I feel for you. It was all good ‘ol rock ‘n’ roll: loud, fast, Les Pauls and Explorers through Marshalls, hitting the skins hard. No BS, no ballads – during the bands’ golden era, anyway.

I was also fortunate to grow up in New Jersey, where this band of southern origins made its second home and got its break. So there was a lot of Blackfoot in that little state, and I saw what feels like a bunch – but not nearly enough.

Short bio on Rickey Medlocke: Put together Blackfoot (late ’60s-70), then sort of aborted that effort and hustled back to Jacksonville, Fla. to join a nascent Lynyrd Skynyrd on drums (1971), then rejoined Blackfoot (1973) and fronted that band (singing and playing guitar) for a long and mostly successful time (into the ’90s). Then after Blackfoot got strangled by record company execs he eventually ended up back in Skynyrd (1996) playing guitar and singing backup where he is now.

The following takes a look at his history, his gear and other interesting tidbits. Info is pulled from Gibson.com (2008), Rock-is-life.com (2005), Swampland.com (2004) and Fuzz magazine (year unknown). All quotes are direct from Rickey unless noted otherwise.

Blackfoot Gear

[In Blackfoot he mostly played a black les Paul Custom for slide, and a Gibson Explorer and  “lawsuit” Ibanez Destroyer (Explorer copy). Fellow Blackfoot guitarist Charlie Hargrett only played Les Paul Standards.]
I still have that black Les Paul [Custom]. And guess what? That thing is a major chunk of wood. You put it on and you go, “Oh geez.” I think it’s 13 to 15 pounds. It’s a ’67. You gotta be a WWF wrestler to hold one all night.

I had really gotten into Marshalls and am still a Marshall guy. There were mainly three players who got me interested in Marshalls and were big influences on me: Hendrix, Beck and Clapton. And later on, Billy Gibbons. Those four guys are still my biggest influences. Whenever I feel like I’m looking for something new, I listen to those guys and they pull me right to it. I’m honored to be very good friends with Billy Gibbons. He’s the salt of the Earth. I’ve never met Eric Clapton, although I’d love to shake his hand and tell him I’m grateful. I developed my vibrato thanks to Eric Clapton. I met Jeff Beck years ago. He’s such an extraordinary musician. Hendrix is just the greatest guitar player I’ve ever heard in my life.

[Amps were] three Marshalls [hot-rodded “to run at about 180-watts apiece”] going with six 4×12 cabinets. I used to use them all, but really for tone rather than volume. I’d just plug in, jack that sucker up, buddy, and it would just be singing.

Skynyrd Gear

[Rickey plays Gibson Explorers and Firebirds, which he has always played and so coincidentally did Allen Collins. Other than that:]

I went to Gibson and they gave me the first Les Paul Axcess off the line, with the Floyd Rose whammy bar. It is an absolutely wonderful guitar. I’m using it on-stage and just did some tracking on it.

If you look at pictures you’ll see me with my Firebird and my Explorer with vibrato bars. I’ve always used vibrato bars and always had great success keeping them in tune. So when the guys from Gibson came to me with the new Axcess with the Floyd on it, I felt like this Les Paul was made just for me. I think it’s brilliant.

I’ve got some good stares out of people up front who are guitar freaks―like, “what the hell is that?”―but I believe in this guitar. What’s so magical about it is they’ve scalloped behind the neck and body at the neck so you can slide up to the last fret with no trouble. Trust me! I always played “Freebird” on the Explorer ’cause I can get all the way up to that last note. You got to get all the way up to the B-flat. I tried it with the Axcess. So easy. Phenomenal.

Now Gary’s got one, too, with a stop tailpiece. He used to have to lift his hand off the neck to get to some of the notes in “Simple Man” and “That Smell.” He goes right to them now. My hat’s off to the designer and craftsmen involved. It’s just a phenomenal guitar.

The tone on it is perfect. I love smooth mids and beefy bottoms, but really want those warm mids and highs for my leads. And it’s got ’em. I think I’m actually gonna take a few of my vintage guitars off the road and I’m gonna get a black Axcess and probably have two of those and my Explorers with me. That’ll be great!

In my amp rack today I still have two of my old Marshall Lead heads. I have a ’71 and ’72 that have been hot-rodded to run at about 180-watts apiece. But I use one head and a 4×12 Marshall straight cabinet with the Vintage 30s live. I put that together with an old Fender Blues DeVille with two 12s for cleanness, and when you mix them together you’ve got beef.

In the band, my thing is to have a “chunk” there that gives the “umph” to this group. And then Gary’s got his sound and Mark [Matejka, former Charlie Daniels Band guitarslinger and Thomasson’s replacement] has his. And when you blend the three of us together, it’s just beautiful.

More on Current Axes

I basically play an Gibson Explorer, and also I have an old reverse-body Firebird. Those are among my favorite guitars to play. I also have quite a few Les Pauls and stuff, but – they call them the weird-shaped guitars [he plays in Skynyrd]….

I love experimenting with different guitars to see if there’s something I’ve missed somewhere along the way. I even have a couple of Stratocasters at home for using in the studio. I have an old ’57 Les Paul Special that was once owned by Buddy Holly. I bought it from his sister and brother-in-law in Lubbock, Texas [after Rickey’s gear got stolen], and that’s one of my prize possessions. The old reverse-body Firebird I got [for his 16th birthday, I believe] is one of the early prototypes. Two Explorers, a Flying V, a ’67 Black Beauty Custom [same as mentioned above], a ’54 Goldtop – I’ve got a beautiful old doubleneck, one of the rare white ones that’s turned absolutely yellow now, the SG-shape solidbody. I have a collection of different stuff….

Musical Role in Skynyrd

My role is to play off of Gary just like Allen Collins did. And as it turns out, my style and Allen’s are very similar. We even play the same kind of guitars―a reverse body Firebird and an Explorer. At the very first rehearsal I stepped up next to Gary to play “Simple Man” and almost got goose bumps. My vibrato and Allen’s are so similar―very deliberate and very slow―that the sound was exactly right.

And Gary just has an extra special thing when he hits the guitar. You know it’s Gary Rossington the second you hear him. Same with Hughie Thomasson [who founded the Outlaws and played with Skynyrd from 1996 until his death in 2005], who was another great original. I loved playing with Hughie.

Category: Blackfoot, Explorer, Firebird, Les Paul, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall, Rickey Medlocke

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  1. WoodyTone! - Rickey Medlocke: More on Blackfoot and Skynyrd | May 25, 2009

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