Original Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Bob Burns sat down to talk with icedjamb.com after his clinic at Seminole Music and Sound in Seminole, Florida on June 25, 2011. During the clinic, Bob was accompanied by his new fellow band mate Phil Stokes (Pure Prairie league) on bass guitar, Tommy Zvoncheck (Blue Oyster Cult) on keyboards, Tampa Bay local guitarist Tom Spittle and two local vocalists, Chris Tripp and Pat Buffo. The group played several of the Lynyrd Skynyrd songs that Bob had recorded. More importantly, Bob took time between the songs to take questions from the audience about the music, and life on the road with Lynyrd Skynyrd. In addition, Bob took time to speak to the younger members of the audience with an anti-drug message, and urged them to follow their dreams with music or whatever they wanted to do with their lives..
When a young boy from the audience asked why Bob had started drumming, he replied that he was originally impressed with the Beatles’ performance on the Ed Sulivan show. This motivated him to attempt playing the guitar and then eventually on to drums when he realized that he was not cut out to be a guitarist. When asked about some of his favorite moments touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob cited one incident while touring with The Who. He reminisced that Keith Moon had gotten a blow-up doll from somewhere and took it on a ride in the limousine. Keith was hanging the doll out of the window as they rode along with the wind flapping the doll back and forth. This caught the attention of a passing police officer who turned around to pursue the Limousine. Seeing this, Keith pulled the doll back into the car, quickly deflated it and then hid it inside of his jacket. When the officer approached the vehicle and asked them to step outside, he could not find the woman that had been hanging out of the window. Of course, Keith went on to taunt the officer saying that he had no idea what the officer was talking about. The officer, obviously frustrated, told the group of them to get out of here.
When the clinic was over, Bob and his wife Marsha came to a small office in the back of the music store and the following interview was given:
E – I saw that you had joined the band in 1965, it was still The Noble Five at that time right?
BB – Yeah, well, it didn’t have a name at that time, but that was our first name, yes.
E – So Ronnie Vanzant and a couple of the original band members got together basically from out of their high school, I guess…how did they get started?
BB – Larry Junstrom started playing bass. He built his own amplifier. I had seen that Ed Sullivan thing so I bought a set of stolen drums. I knew they were stolen and I knew where they were stolen from but I didn’t steal them. So I paid the guy and I got a receipt. Then I’m playing stolen drums and me and Larry would just kinda mess around and I knew Gary played a little bit of guitar because I knew him a little bit. So we got Garry to come over and jam and the three of us just kinda tinkered around with it and one day Ronnie knocked on my door and I thought he was there to fight me. He was a pretty notorious fighter, you know, like a bounty hunter, we’ll see who can whip who here.
(Note – At this point in the interview, Phil Stokes came through the door and needed to speak with Bob. Bob bowed out of the interview for a few minutes. In his absence, Marsha continued to speak with me)
E – So you said the first time they practiced was at Bob’s
MB – The first practice was at Bob’s parent’s carport on Park Street in Jacksonville. This relationship went way back to elementary school. So they had become friends and they had been dabbling around with it. It was the three of them Gary Rossington, Larry Junstrom, and Bob. They called themselves Me You And Him.
E – Now, were you with Bob back at that early stage in your lives.
MB – No, but we met when we were teen agers though. We’ve been married for 19 years. Then Ronnie showed up one day and knocked on the door, and like Bob said Ronnie was a very notorious fighter, he’d fight anybody. Bob had kind of a reputation as well so Bob thought he was there to fight him. Ronnie goes “No, no, no man, I heard you had a little band together and I’m a singer and I want to sing. So he came in and started singing and at first he didn’t sound too good. It took him a while to develop his style and his voice. But, they didn’t think that the band was full enough. They wanted to add another guitar player, so they got together and Bob and Garry said that they knew of a guy named Allen Collins that was playing in a band called The Mods. They thought they would ask him if he wanted to come over and play with them. So they asked him and he said “Gee guys, I’d like to play with yall but I’m afraid the Mods would beat me up.” So Ronnie goes “Everybody get in the car.” They go over to where The Mods’ practice house was and Ronnie gets out of the car and rips his shirt off in the middle of the front yard and says “We’re here to take Allen, anybody got a problem with that”, and they said “nope, we’ve got no problem with that, in fact, we will help you load all of his equipment and good luck to yall.” That’s how they got Allen Collins.
E – You were involved because you were hanging out with him at the time?
MB – No, we’re writing a book so this is all my investigations.
E – Well that’s good because we can include the book information. Do you guys have a web site?
MB – We don’t, we’re working on a Facebook right now but we have a literary agent in New York that’s working with us on the book.
(Note – Bob now re-enters the interview as Marsha continues to speak with me)
MB – Well at that point there was Ronnie, Allen, Gary, Larry and Bob. So there was five players and they changed the name of the band to The Nobel Five. That’s how that came about.
MB to BB – I kinda filled him in while you were gone
BB – Well she can do that, she knows it better than I do.
E – Yeah, it sounds like she has certainly done the research. My question then is, you and Jonstrom formed this band then basically, Ronnie came in later, and then you guys went and got Allen?
BB – Right, and Garry.
E – Now why did you switch the name to Lynyrd Skynyrd. I have read that it was about the high school coach.
BB – Well, that’s kind of a half truth. How old are you?
E – I’m 44 now.
BB – You may or may not remember but there was a song that came out.
MB – Well, wait a minute. Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt but there was one more name change before Lynyrd Skynyrd. They changed their name to One Percent.
E – One percent, so that actually happened.
BB – We were the One Percent longer than we were Lynyrd Skynyrd.
E – Really?
BB – For back then, yeah we were the One Percent for like 5 or 6 years.
E – It was printed in Wikipedia
MB – Well that’s all wrong.
E – But it was recorded there.
BB – The song was called Camp Granada, it goes “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda, You Remember Leonard Skinner he had ptomaine poisoning after dinner.” That’s where the name came from right there. I heard it and I thought it was the funniest damn name I had ever heard in my entire life. I thought what if your name was fricken Leonard Skinner. Then it became a household word, that fan would just fall and there was no earthly reason why that fan would fall, well that was Leonard. Or somebody was on the phone at four-O-clock in the morning but nobody was saying anything, that was Leonard. A noise, all of a sudden this box would move and you and I know there’s no way this box could move but it did, that was Leonard. So we were the One Percent and that same year they got a gym coach named Leonard Skinner. We were thinking of names to name the band and I started laughing my ass off and I said “Leonard Skinner.” They went “Where?” And I said “No, the name of the band, Leonard Skinner.” And they went “For a name?” I went “Yeah”, and they busted out laughing. They laughed and Laughed and Ronnie said “That’s what we’ll do and we’ll tell them that we named it after the damn coach.”
E – So it actually came from that song. That’s a heck of a story.
BB – Yes it did and if you don’t believe me look the song up on the internet “Camp Granada” the name Leonard Skinner is in there.
E – Someone had speculated and it was recorded on Wikipedia that you had left the band briefly in 1971.
MB – No, it was 69.
E – And they give the reason they know this is because on the record “Skynyrd’s First…and Last” you are credited for recording some of the early songs. Then the stuff that is listed from 1971 was recorded by Ricky Medlock. After that you are again credited for recordings after 71. But now you are saying that you left in 69.
BB – It was 69 and I left for 9 months.
E – Why did you leave?
BB – It’s kinda embarrassing really.
E – Well, if you don’t feel comfortable you don’t have talk about it.
(Note – Bob then conferred with Marsha)
BB to MB – I mean, should I just tell him the truth, hadn’t we always agreed that the truth is the best policy?
MB – Yep, just tell him the truth.
BB – My parents moved away and I was like 15 years old.
E – So you were 15 when this band was going on and when you started all this?
BB – Yeah
E – Did you go to Robert E. Lee high school?
BB – No, I went to Forrest. Gary and Larry went to Robert E. Lee, that’s where the gym coach was. Me and Allen went to Forrest.
E – And that’s in Jacksonville as well?
BB – Yeah, that’s just a different high school, we lived in a different district. But your question?
E – Your mom and dad were leaving.
BB – Yeah, I had no place to stay. I was 15 and 16 years old, I was crashing in people’s bushes. I was crashing wherever I could.
E – Why didn’t you go with mom and dad? You wanted to stay with your band?
BB – Right, I wanted my band man.
E – So you shouldn’t be embarrassed about that, that’s just Rock and Roll dedication right?
BB – Well, I hung on as long as I possibly could. I was borrowing clothes from the roadies to play shows with. I didn’t even have any shoes and it just got to me. Everybody was saying “Damn man what if they don’t make it, then what are you going to do. Your friends are driving Porches and Vetts they’re in college or making good money.” The rest of them were living with their parents. Their parents were helping them out.
E – So you couldn’t go stay with any of them?
BB – Not really, their mothers and fathers didn’t want me moving in with them.
E – Where did you go?
BB – I went back to live with my folks in Orlando
E – Well that wasn’t too big of a jump.
BB – Jacksonville to Orlando, but at 15 years old it was like moving to a different country.
E – But why did Dad and Mom leave Jacksonville? Was it for work?
BB – For work, yes. My father got a much better job. So that’s why I left, and then I decided after I left, I would rather have nothing, no shoes or nothing, just like it was before rather than not be in the band. I knew I had given up my dreams, my hopes, my everything. The first prayer I ever had in my entire life, I looked up at the sky and I said “if there’s a God there, I’m sorry if I’ve done wrong, but I want back in that band, it’s just not working for me out here.” The next night Gary Rogers called me up and said “Man, you want to play in this band or not?” and I said “Yeah” and he said “be here about as fast as you can get here.” I left that night and went back to the band.
E – Now did you have a car or did you start hoofing it?
BB – Yeah, I had a little Corvair Monza.
E – Now how did you survive, did you get a job?
BB – I lived in the practice house, by that time they had a practice house.
MB – The Hell House
BB – That was the name of it.
E – Really, why did you call it the Hell House?
BB – Because it was so hot you could fry an egg in there.
E – So God got you out of Orlando and put you in the Hell House?
BB – Yeah, it was so hot in there. You know what the crazy thing about it is , if it was so hot in there, it would be like 110 degrees when we were trying to practice. If it was so hot in there why the hell didn’t we stick some air conditioners in there.
E – Were you guys making money? Were you gigging at that time?
BB – No, we stayed at the Hell House for 7 years. We played 3 gigs in 7 years. We wrote and practiced and recorded. If I didn’t catch fish I didn’t eat.
E – Did you guys send out demo’s at that time? Were you hitting the record companies?
BB – No we just filed it in here. We just filed our songs and then we got with Cooper. Well, its so involved. We got with Allen Walden at first. One thing led to another and we got a hold of Al Cooper and he says “I’ll tell you what, I’ll do an album with you guys and if it hits you guys can pay me back, if it doesn’t do anything then you guys don’t owe me anything. The rest is history.
E – So Al was your first break? How did he find you guys?
BB – By going to a night club we played in Atlanta called Funochio’s.
E – And what year was that?
BB – Early 70’s
MB – That’s where I first saw him.
BB – First gig I ever went to. I remember looking at her when I was setting my drums up and I went “Damn.”
MB – And then I was a fan of theirs and I would go, when they were playing at Funochio’s I was always there. I loved them.
BB – I remember seeing her there. Then I remember seeing her through a friend or ours, God what 40 years later.
MB – It wasn’t that long.
BB – Well, help me with the dates. I’m not any good with the dates.
MB – It was about 10 years later, 15 years later.
BB – Yeah, I had seen her at a party with somebody else and she was married, and I was just about as good as being married. I had been with the same girl for 6 years. So we talked and talked, I bet we talked for 4 hours me and Marsha did. She told me later on and I told her later on, I said “I should be leaving with her man, that’s the woman I ought to be with.” She said the same thing to herself about me. Then 5 years after that we hooked up again and we were both single and the rest is history. 19 years we have been married.
E – You have credits co-writing Mississippi Kid, what part did you play in writing that?
BB – Well, the main part was naming the song. They wrote the song and they were proud of it and they loved it. They sat around in the studio for 3 days trying to come up with a name of that song. They just had that like brain fart thing. They just couldn’t put a name to it, couldn’t put a handle on it, and I walked into the studio after just hanging around town. I just dropped by there to see what was going on. My drums were already done so I was just ready to do what I wanted. I walked in and Ronnie turned around and went “Hey Bob, what are we going to name this song?”, and I went “Mississippi Kid. He said “that’s it” and he said “You’ve got credit for writing this song boy.”
E – So they put you down on the album
BB – Right
E – Did you do all your own beats or did they tell you what they wanted on particular songs?
BB – We all did that. Everybody critiqued everybody.
E – I noticed that there was always one or two names on every song that were the key writers. Ronnie was involved in almost all of the writing.
BB – Yeah, well he did all the words except for the cover tunes, and even then he would add his own lines.
E – who did you cover
BB – Back then we were covering Cream, Free, some bands like that.
MB – Alman Brothers
BB – Yeah, some Alman brothers. Back then they were called the Hour Glass. That’s way before they were the Alman brothers.
E – Now you left in 74 or 75. It’s been reported several different ways across the internet.
BB – 1975
E – One says 75 in January.
BB – It was right there where the two seasons met, you know what I’m sayin, within a few weeks of being like at Christmas.
E – Did you leave while you guys were on tour? Because it said online that you left because of the pressures of the road, and then I heard out here in your clinic when you said that it was personal issues and you had to get medical assistance. So was it pressures from the road that caused all of this.
BB – Should I tell him the truth Marsha?
MB – Well, I can shed some light on this.
BB – I’m Bi-Polar, and I have to take this medicine called Prozac.
MB – He’s Bi-Polar. They were in Europe. Bi-Polar usually manifests itself between the ages of 18 and 24. So they were in Europe and this started happening to him. He didn’t understand it and they didn’t understand it either. Well, they had no adult supervision over there. They were just a bunch of kids running around Europe playing gigs.
BB – 18 or 19 years old. Nobody had a clue what was going on.
MB – Nobody understood what was going on and there was nobody to help them. So he had to go home and his parents put him in a hospital in Jacksonville.
BB – And they found the problem. They found that I was Bi-Polar. They gave me medication and I’ve been a free man ever since.
E – And that’s what normally happens. A lot of people bounce back and recover really well from that.
BB – Well that’s what happened and that’s the truth and I may be hanging myself by tellin you that, but that’s the truth.
E – Well, I wouldn’t try to hang you with that, I try to make positive things out of everything. Hopefully this will be a positive thing because there are other people out there suffering from Bi-Polar and if they see here’s a successful guy, he had Bi-Polar and he got himself squared away, why can’t I.
BB – Aw man that’s so beautiful. Think of all the people that are Bi-Polar that I could help. See how the truth works, if you tell the truth then good things happen.
E – When this gets printed hopefully young people may read this and say, now here’s a guy that may be an idol of mine or my dad’s even, and he went through this and I am going through this and If he can do it and recover then maybe I can too.
BB – They just found the right medication for me you know and I came around.
MB – And today he is happy and joyous and free.
BB – I’m gonna tell you the God’s honest truth again. Sometimes I get a little moody but it nothing uncommon to people. Everybody gets a little perturbed or something.
MB – Well, his is managed by a doctor.
BB – I see a phychiatrist. His name if you want to write it down or mention it is Dr. Patel from Rhome Georgia. He is a tremendous doctor.
MB – He doesn’t drink alcohol or take drugs and that helps a lot because that only compounds Bi-Polar disorder.
E – Well you know every Rock and Roll band is going to partake a little.
BB – I can’t.
MB – No, he doesn’t.
E – Did you back in the day though?
BB – Aw yeah man, I swam in it. (Laughs)
E – But you got away from it.
BB – I had to. Not so much by choice but because of the illness I had, it just did not work.
E – I have heard that a lot of people with this problem attempt to self medicate by taking drugs to try to stop what’s happening with them because they don’t know whats going on with them.
BB – That’s what I was doing. Everybody was doing it in the band and they were going in one direction with it and I was kinda headed off in another. I didn’t understand why and they didn’t understand why. It was because my Bi-Polar was pulling me in a different way with the drugs, and they were all going this way. Nobody understood what in the world was going on. We were like best of friends since we were like 4 or 5 years old.
MB – There was nobody to ask over there in Europe.
BB – We didn’t know what to do. Back then nobody even recognized it for what it was hardly. I sure didn’t have a damn clue.
E – And this was right in the beginning of 1975?
BB – Right, if this can help Bi-Polar people around the world then print it man, print it good.
E – Well I am glad I had a chance to meet with you. There is so much stuff that is printed out on the internet and this is one of the things I like about what I do. I like to correct information.
MB – Well, there’s one thing that I want to clarify. The story goes, out on the internet, that they way Bob met Ronnie, that Ronnie hit a line drive foul ball and that it hit Bob in the head.
BB – I was standing by the dugout. I had my hand on the dugout watching Ronnie bat and he hit a line drive coming at me. It looked like an aspirin comin at me, and I turned around to run and it caught me right there.
E – Right there in the middle between your shoulder blades.
BB – Yeah, it hit me hard. It knocked the breath slap out of me, and I’m layin on the ground going (wind sucking noise) and the coaches are pullin my belt up saying “Breathe son, Breathe.” I finally came around and I looked up and Ronnie was starring down at me. He went “Sorry kid” and he walked off.
E – How old were you guys then.
BB – God, I must have been about 13 years old. Ronnie was about 7 or 8 years older than us. He let us know about motors and the ladies and things of that nature. He was like a much older brother. He taught us a lot about a lot of things that we were not mature enough to know about. He had a car. We used to drive around in his car and everything. We all loved each other very much.
(Note – At this time Phil Stokes came into the room and sat in on the interview)
PS – Did he graduate?
BB – Who, Me?
PS – No, Ronnie?
BB – Ronnie had one half of an English course to graduate and he was a straight “A” student at every subject, Gym, Geometry, History, Straight “A” Student.
PS – He didn’t strike me as the studious type.
E – How about you, did you make it through school?
BB – Na, I got through the 11th grade. But I’m not illiterate. I can read the good book and I can write out of the good book and I can understand what I wrote so that’s got to be good enough.
PS – I went all the way through college, right in the front door and out the back.
BB – Phil that’s magnificent man. (Laughs)
E – You guys started out and your first album eventually went triple platinum and then your second album went double. You left after that, does that kind of success with the touring and all pretty much set you up for life or did you have to work at other things to keep yourself alive.
BB – Yes it did set me up for life. I was a very wealthy man and it kept climbing each year all the way up until about 3 years ago. The internet people steal music off the internet. Why aren’t they going to buy it, and there went my pay check. So Phil and I have got a project that we’re working on.
PS – Southern Rock’s Finest
BB – That we hope to make some serious cash flow with, and have some good times, and turn people on to some good old fashioned Skynyrd music.
E – Now are you guys doing any originals with that project?
PS – We’re starting to but there’s going to be two projects. Southern Rock’s Finest is an all star band which Bob is in. One guy from Skynyrd, one guy from Marshal Tucker, one guy from the Outlaws, one guy from Blackfoot and myself from Pure Prairie League. We play all the hits from all the bands. Then the other thing, Bob is starting a Skynyrd project that’s going to be all vintage, old Skynyrd stuff like.
BB – Old Skynyrd like One More Time, Gotta Go, Junkie, He’s Alive
PS – Early demo stuff, and then we’re going to play all the songs off the first two albums that he played on.
BB – I have enough to do a headliner. People are going to hear it and they’re going to say “I know that’s Skynyrd but is it past present or future.” They are just not going to know.
E – Unless they have heard Skynyrd First…and Last” right?
BB – Some of it is on there, but some of it goes back even way further than that.
E – Has some of it not been published?
BB – All of it has been published but it was like D and F songs on the back of English albums and stuff like that.
E – Do you guys have a web site for this stuff?
BB – Use Phil’s for now.
PS – Southern Rocks Finest, Myspace.com/southernrocksfinest
BB – Our’s is down right now.