Former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle loved Southern rock music long before there was such a term for the genre.
The Kentucky native, who now lives in Asheville, North Carolina, grew up listening to country music legends Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Eddy Arnold.
“I love all good music, but I remember hearing that bubbly sound of Mary Ford on the scratchy radio speakers and thinking, wow!” the 70-year-old Pyle said.
The Artimus Pyle Live and Loud Band will open the 2019 Linn County Fair on July 17. Joining Pyle are Brad Durden, vocals and keyboards; Scott Raines, guitar; Jerry Lyda, guitar; and Dave Fowler, bass.
“I still play like I’m in my 30s,” Pyle said. “Most of my band members are in their 50s and they all grew up listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd music. It’s a huge part of our lives.”
Pyle said his desire to continue touring across the country isn’t solely money-driven.
“Outside of my children and grandchildren, the music is the biggest part of my life,” Pyle said. “If I won the lottery, I’d buy a brand new tour bus and keep doing what I do.”
For now, Pyle’s band tours in a 1999 Prevost coach that had been owned by Lenny Kravitz.
“She’s a beauty and runs like a dream,” Pyle said.
Pyle admits that playing drums — “especially like I play” — requires him to lead a much more tempered lifestyle than he did during his days with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The band took its name from their high school’s basketball coach, Forby Leonard Skinner, who sent them to the principal’s office because their hair was too long. They used variations of his name until settling on Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“I don’t do drugs. I might take a couple Aleve when my legs get to hurting from the plane crash,” Pyle said. “I eat right. Lots of green salads, kale. I don’t smoke. I don’t snort cocaine. No meds.”
Pyle’s life didn’t turn out like he had planned.
“I was a terrible student and my dad and I really didn’t get along because of that,” Pyle said.
But the two did share a love of flying, and when Pyle enlisted in the Marine Corps he and his father mapped out a plan for him to go to Officer Candidate’s School and become a career pilot.
But Pyle’s father was killed in a plane crash in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and those plans went up in flames.
“I cried for two years after my dad’s death,” Pyle said. “I self-medicated with marijuana.”
Pyle said the two men had “just started to come together.”
Pyle joined Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1974 and the band became known worldwide for its Southern rock style with songs like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.”
In 1977, the band’s plane crashed in Mississippi. Band leader and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick and two pilots were killed.
Pyle was severely injured and he and two other survivors made their way to a nearby farmhouse to get help.
On his band's website, Pyle pays tribute to Van Zant by saying, "If it wasn't for Ronnie, no one would know my name."
“Ronnie and I weren’t alike at all,” Pyle said. “But he respected me and I respected him. He treated some of the guys like a father figure, but I had been in the Marine Corps and I had a strong father.”
Pyle said he was touched when Van Zant asked him to write the liner notes and dedicate an album to his father.
Pyle respected the talented singer because “He loved the music. He put so much of himself into it. He was very smart.”
Pyle believes that had there not been a plane crash, Van Zant would have kept Lynyrd Skynyd moving forward for years.
“He would have collaborated with country artists,” Pyle said. “I don’t know that the path would have been, but Ronnie would have figured it out. He would have made it happen somehow.”
Pyle said that 40 years after Van Zant’s death, “There are still Lynyrd Skynyrd fans all over the world. There is no other Lynyrd Skynyrd. What we do is a tribute. I would never call my band Lynyrd Skynyrd without Ronnie.”
Pyle also believes the band would have generated lots of money for charitable causes, “because that was the type of person Ronnie was.”
Pyle said the Foo Fighters remind him of the high energy Lynyrd Skynyrd style and he also likes the band Blackberry Smoke that originated in the Atlanta area.
Born Thomas Delmer Pyle, the nickname Artimus came about when he was attending Tennessee Technological University.
“We were in a Greek Mythology class and everyone had a nickname,” Pyle said. “My friends decided to call me Artimus, which was a Greek goddess. Thank goodness the show Wild West West came on TV and there was a character called Artemus Gordon.”
Pyle said he never tires of playing Lynyrd Skynyrd songs.
“I always think about my father and others we have lost,” he said.
Pyle was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the band in 2006.
He has harsh words for many of today’s young country music groups.
“It’s pander pop. It’s not country music,” he said. “They think all they have to do is write a song about guns, sittin’ on the front porch and drinkin’ whiskey. There are some real country singers like Allyson Krause and Vince Gill.”
Pyle said his musical tastes extend well beyond country. He enjoys the jazz of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the blues of Billie Holliday, but he also enjoys Harry and Jimmy Dorsey and Gene Krupa, adding that “all of my dogs are named after drummers.”
When he talks about guitar legend Les Paul, it’s almost in a heroic sense.
“Les Paul’s good friends have given me his guitar picks, a guitar,” he said. “They have actually brought Les Paul’s Les Paul guitar to our show and our guitar player played Free Bird on it.”
Pyle said he has been fortunate to have met some of the most famous musicians in the world, including Paul McCartney of the Beatles and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.
But he said Dolly Parton is “just incredible. She’s the real deal. She’s more than a performer. She is such a true humanitarian.”
Pyle said he is looking forward to performing in Oregon again.
“I remember playing at the Paramount Theater in Portland in the ‘70s,” Pyle said. “It was a beautiful old theater. Many of the places we performed have been torn down.”
Pyle said he is also looking forward to eating some fresh Oregon salmon.
Roger Nyquist, chairman of the Linn County Board of Commissioners, said he is “enthused that Artimus is coming to the Linn County Fair.”
“He’s a former Lynyrd Snynyrd band member and people here love his music,” Nyquist said. “He’s going to perform on Wednesday night.”
Tickets will be on sale in a month, Nyquist said.
Other acts will be announced soon, Nyquist said.