Part 2: Blackfoot and Skynyrd History Tidbits
No tone details in what follows, but as a lifelong Blackfoot and Lynyrd Skynyrd fan, I didn’t know a bunch of what follows here, and figured you might not either. Interesting stuff.
The sources for this info are listed in part 1 of this article. And again, unless otherwise noted, all info is quotes from Rickey.
The Nascent Skynyrd and RVZ
When you are young and full of piss and vinegar and trying to do something, to be honest with you, I don’t really think that anyone knew at that time what the band was really capable of. It was very raw back then.
We had an incredible writer that we were playing with named Ronnie Van Zant. When I first started working with him, he had the most unusual way of writing songs. What we would do is go out to Hell House [a house in the Florida woods with no air conditioning] and we would play those songs over and over again without him even singing. He would just kind of sit in the corner in a chair and keep thinking about writing the lyrics in his head. He never even wrote anything down on paper – it was all in his head. He would just step up to the microphone and start singing. It was incredible. When I look back on it, because we have some good writers now, but with Ronnie it was like genius; it was like an artist painting a picture. He could see it in his head and I think it was gift he was blessed with and is genius. Some of my favorite writers have been Bruce Springsteen, Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Seger, Sting and Don Henley, people of that caliber. These are guys that paint the picture and allow you to see it in your head.
Why He Left Skynyrd
What was your thought process in leaving Lynyrd Skynyrd to front and play guitar in Blackfoot?
The chance to front a band of my own and play guitar was part of my reasoning. Also, I only have one lung. My breathing capacity is not what it should be for a drummer [but he can sing like a house on fire!]. I didn’t have the stamina, and I knew I’d be short-changing those guys. I didn’t think I could ever be the guy to bring it together and make Lynyrd Skynyrd go further. I gave it a great shot and guess what? It all worked out in the very end.
Blackfoot, for me, in all sincerity, was a band that was way ahead of its time. We never considered ourselves the typical Southern Rock band, but were a very heavy band, heavier than what is on record. We used to give people hell opening for them – there was basically no one that could stand up to us. We were fortunate in our life to cop some hits in that time in our life. We had “Train,Train” and “Highway Song” and others that really made a mark and a dent. We were playing arenas and touring overseas and having the time of our life. Then, for whatever reason, it all unraveled.
I do know that there has been things in the press said about whose fault it was. But, to be honest, it was all of our faults. I don’t think that it was any one person. When you are a band you should have control of it.
I have the utmost respect for the guys that played in that band. Great musicians like I told you a few minutes ago. They are very talented. For whatever intents and purposes that it all came down, I do know that the business got in our way. The record business is the most ruthless business that I can even think of. It’s funny how some record executives can talk out of both sides of their mouths. The business got in the way. We got caught up in the middle of record company wars and it was shameful. It took people downhill.
There were some hurtful things exchanged between some of us, and to me I don’t even want to go back and think of those things. With Blackfoot, we shared some incredible years together and made some incredible music together. Skynyrd had a magic and Blackfoot had a great magic. We were hell bent for leather that we were badasses of the South.
Blackfoot in Jersey
Why was the state of New Jersey such a stronghold for Blackfoot?
At that time, we were kicking ass while the rock and roll scene in New Jersey was in a transitional time with glam-rock bands like Twisted Sister and Another Pretty Face. Blackfoot came out of nowhere, a bunch of Indian guys wearing cowboy boots and hats, with hair down to our waists. We had low-slung Les Pauls, Flying Vs and loud-ass Marshall amps. We gave the working-class people of New Jersey something different to listen to. Blackfoot played heavy and raw. We played down and dirty.
On the Potential for a Blackfoot Reunion
I have lots of responsibilities now with Skynyrd and am counted as one of the main guys in this band. In order to do any project that you are going to do, you can’t do 3-4 things at one time and make one certain thing great. I think that you can do two projects at once and make them good, but after it gets beyond that it takes away from both and takes away from the other two or all three.
I know that the fans are interested in seeing a reunion between the four of us [this interview was done in 2004 – on March 16, 2005, Blackfoot drummer Jakson “Thunderfoot” Spires passed away]. I can say that right now I would have to take myself out of Lynyrd Skynyrd — and there are many people that count on me here — and immerse myself in Blackfoot. I don’t know that at this time in my life I am able to make that kind of move.
We would also have to sit down and lay a lot of stuff out on the table as far as the past goes. I am not saying that I am not willing to do that. I have taken a lot of negative rap from a lot of people. I have never commented about it. Jakson Spires is my brother-in-law and is married to my sister. I will not say anything negative about anyone. Things happen in life that you cannot understand or explain but, you know what, life is too short to sit there and dwell on it. I am not going to dwell on the past. I have nothing but respect for those guys playing and their musicianship.
I will say that if people can think about how they remember Blackfoot standing on that stage and playing — the one thing that I would never want to do is to tarnish it or make it less than what people remember it being. Four guys that had an incredible magic and incredible team on that stage. I would never want it to be less than what it was. The memories I have of it kick ass. We have a live record that proves that; it was voted the best live record of the decade. For me, that says it all. This is not a thing where I am saying never but there is a lot to be done and considered and then take it from there.
Near the End of Blackfoot
Later in its career, Blackfoot made a curious decision when it added Ken Hensley, a keyboardist/guitar player from the British band Uriah Heep. Why? Was it your decision, or were you pressured into it from management or your record label?
It was our decision to approve adding him, but it was the beginning of the end when we started listening to the record label. We should have told them to take Blackfoot as we were, or don’t take us at all. Ken Hensley had moved to the United States, we loved British music, and it seemed like the right thing to do at that time. Looking back now, I’m not sure that it was the right decision, but hindsight is 20-20.
> Rickey on his Native American ancestry: “My father is a full Dakota, Sioux Indian – South Dakota, Rosebud Reservation – he was born and raised there. My mother is half Choctaw and half Scottish.
> His greatest compliment: “The greatest compliment that I have had in the last probably 25 years of my life came from Billy Gibbons. We did that tour with ZZ Top and I used to eat dinner at the crew meal every night with Billy Gibbons and he looked straight across the table at me one night and said, ‘Hey Rickey, I’ve got to tell you something. I was just listening to you play, man, you have the butter tone.’ I said, ‘Yeah, those old Marshalls are really something.’ He said, ‘Let me tell you why they’re the butter tone. It’s because you have the butter-spreader in your hand.’ He said, ‘Your hand is smooth as buttermilk and don’t ever forget it.’ He looked at me over those dark sunglasses and said that I was a really great guitar player. It blew me away.”
> If you’re a Blackfoot fan, check out the long-ish Charlie Hargrett version of Blackfoot’s history: Click here to read it on his website.