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“WISH YOU WERE THERE”
BY BEN UPHAM
SEPTEMBER 9, 2011
Five months later I moved 1,000 miles North from the Bay Area up to Spokane, Washington. A very different concert scene in Spokane as opposed to the Bay Area. Not so many Rock Concerts to choose from. But…after I’d lived in Spokane for about a month they announced that Skynyrd would be headlining at the Coliseum with Journey opening (on their “Next” tour, which is a great album). I bought a ticket right away and anticipated the upcoming show! Little did I know at that time how amazing and life changing that day would be…The band had just released their first Live album, “One more from the Road” on September 13th and it was Killer! They had added a third guitarist, Steve Gaines, Cassie’s Brother, and he sounded great!
It had been announced that the day of the show the band was going to be doing an in-store appearance at “The Magic Mushroom” record store in downtown Spokane at high noon. I grabbed some of my best Skynyrd pictures and headed down to the record store hoping to get a chance to meet my Rock Heroes (mainly Allen and Ronnie). As I arrived at about 11:41 I was waiting outside the store with some other fans when an odd thing happened. I looked up to the sky and noticed something floating down towards me very slowly. As it got closer I realized that it was a dollar bill. It was headed for the sidewalk but I stepped over and caught it before it hit the ground. I don’t really know the significance of that event, but it was rather odd.
Minutes later a car pulled up and out stepped Artimus Pyle, Leon Wilkeson, JoJo Billingsley, and Steve & Cassie Gaines. They were all very friendly and we talked as they signed autographs with the 30-50 fans that had gathered to see them. I remember asking Artimus if the band had ever played “Am I Losin” live and he said, “Yes, but only 2 or 3 times”…JoJo was the most impressed with my pictures and even gave me her home address so I could send her some. I would have given her some, but I told her that I was hoping to give them to Allen.
I asked Leon where Ronnie, Allen, Billy and Gary were and he said they were back at the Hotel sleeping. It was a little disappointing not getting to meet Allen or Ronnie but I was glad to have met the others. When I got back home I was trying to think if there was any other way I might get to meet Allen and Ronnie. Bingo! I came up with a great idea. Go down to the Coliseum and see if you can talk with any of the road crew setting up the equipment!
I arrived at the Coliseum at around 3:30 and had my camera and a folder with my pictures as well. I parked the car in the empty parking lot and walked over to the back-stage door. There were several security guards. Two at the entrance and then a few more that I could see inside the hallway. I was trying to think of what to say when I decided to say nothing at all. Instead I just walked right in, passing the two security guys, and they didn’t say a word to me. Then I walked down the hallway and the other security guys looked right at me, and I nodded at them…They nodded back. I kept walking, thinking that this just might work.
The next thing I know I’m out on the floor of the venue and there is Neal Schon, Journeys guitarist. I walk over to him and said, “Hello Neal, I Love the new album”. He smiled and thanked me and then said, “I Love opening for Skynyrd, those guys are Great”…Right after he said that I hear a guitar chord being struck and sure enough there is the band up onstage putting on their instruments! Everybody in the band except Ronnie who was still sleeping.
Allen counts off, “One, Two three…” and they leap into a full on version of “MCA” without lead vocals! Neal and I are all grins! After that Steve asks to run through “Travelin’ Man”, this allows the Honkettes to get some singing in. Then they did a fine version of “Cry for the Bad Man”, once again with the only vocals being the Honkettes. I was a little nervous about taking any pictures during the sound-check, but I did take about 20. Then came the amazing highlight as Allen says, “Lets do the new one”. At that point Neal and I are treated to a blow away instrumental song that is totally unfamiliar and astoundingly hot.
After they ended the song I approached Allen to introduce myself and give him the pictures. I walked up to the stage, made eye contact and he leaned down to shake my hand. I said, “That was incredible Allen, what was the name of that song you just played?”. He smiled and said, “Well, it’s about some accidents that we’ve had lately, and we’re calling it ‘The Smell of Death’, it’ll be on our next record”. I told him that I had some pictures that I’d taken of him from Winterland and the “Day on the Green” and that I’d like to give them to him. He said, “Why don’t you just bring ’em to the Hotel after the show and we can hang out for a while, it’s room #407 at the Sheraton”. I told him that sounds great and that I’d see him after the show. We said goodbye.
I contemplated leaving the building, but decided to go and sit in the stands and calm down a bit. As I sat down and started to relax the sound man popped in a cassette with some very interesting music that I’d never heard before. Really different stuff with lots of strange effects and unusual changes. As I was listening I saw Artimus head out on to the floor with a skateboard. For the next 20 minutes or so he did a bunch of cool skateboard tricks to this unique music. I kind of felt like I was in a Dream watching and listening.
At that point I went down to the sound man to find out who the music was by, he said, “That’s the new Supertramp, it’s called ‘Crime of the Century”. Another great turn-on…I decided to stay in the building and at about 6:30 an usher approached me and asked what I was doing there. I said, “I’m a friend of Lynyrd Skynyrd” and he said, “Oh, okay”.
At 7:00 the band Rex came on and didn’t really impress me at all.
After their short set Journey came on and unfortunately were plagued with a horrible buzz in the P.A. throughout most of their set. Very frustrating for them as their songs have quiet parts that were ruined by the buzz. All in all they still pulled off a good set though, highlighted by their opening song, “Of a Lifetime” and their stretched out jam song, “Look into the Future”.
At about 9:00 Skynyrd took the stage with a Leon roar jumping into a spirited version of “MCA”, which segued right into “I ain’t the One”. Ronnie said his Good Evenings and we were off once again to the show I wish had never ended…The Spokane set-list was the same as the “Live Album”, except they added “Simple Man”, “Gimme Back my Bullets” and “Cry for the Bad Man”. Steve Gaines was phenomenal to say the least. He really worked well and seemed to push Allen and Gary to new levels on old songs. I got some awesome photos from the balcony and really enjoyed the show. No sound problems during Skynyrds set. After the last notes of “Free Bird” had played I hurriedly left the building with my friend Ed, to head over to the Sheraton.
Our timing was Grand! I parked my car and we walked to the entrance of the Hotel just as a Limo pulled up…
Out step Ronnie, Allen and Steve. I looked at Allen and he comes over and puts an arm around me and says, ‘What did ya think of the show Ben?”… I told him that is was as good as it gets! We headed up to the room and Ronnie said, “Are ya’ll coming down to the bar?”. Allen said, “Maybe later, we’re just gonna hang out here for a while”. I will be honest here, I was in shock! I was 18 years old and getting the royal treatment from my “Rock Star Heroes”… I wasn’t really understanding how all of this could be happening…Especially since “Free Bird” meant so much to me, and here I am as a guest of the Man who wrote it!
When we got in the room I think Allen sensed this, probably from my inability to actually say anything half way intelligent. So, he looks at me right in the eyes and says, “You know one major thing that we have in common Ben?”. I said, “What’s that Allen”. He gets a big grin on his face and says, “We both Love to get up in the morning and take a good Shit, so please don’t put me on a pedestal. I’m just the same as you guys, no better and no worse, I’ve gotta wipe everyday too”…This line sent me and Ed to the floor laughing and all of a sudden the whole scenario changed…I wasn’t hanging out with a Rock Star anymore, I was hanging out with a friend…
I handed Allen the stack of pictures, about 25- 8×10’s, and he was loving them, commenting on them such as the fact that the corduroy jacket photo from Winterland was very rare because he only wore it onstage at one other show! We talked about all different kinds of subjects ranging from music to sports, to nature, to work and even talked about drugs. At that point Allen asked, “Have you got any weed?”. I told him, “No man, we smoked it all during the show”…So then he asks Steve to hand him his guitar case and he says, “Well, I’ll see what I can scrape out of here”.
Then to our astonishment we watched as Allen scraped just enough grass out of his guitar case to roll a “Pinner”. Which he rolled with one hand mind you! I asked, “So is this killer weed Allen?”. He says, “No, it’s just the cheap Mexican that we are given”. Either way, it tasted very nice! Especially chased with a shot of Jack Daniels! Steve was very quiet. And Allen was very talkative. He asked several times what we thought of Steve’s playing and we both told him that he was “Made to be in Skynyrd”…
After about an hour Ronnie made his way in, barefoot and with an open bottle of champagne in his hand. He sat down and checked out the pictures between swigs off his bottle. Then he told us about “Jaws”…A very small dog, I can’t recall if he said a Poodle or a Chihuahua, with a big set of teeth and the attitude of a Devil! Ronnie looked me in the eyes serious as can be and said, “That little dog would bite through a 3 inch solid Oak door just to get you”…He asked Allen and Steve if they wanted to go to the bar (again) and they both said, “No, we’re just gonna hang out here with our friends”.
About 45 minutes later the door opens and it’s the road manager saying, “We gotta Roll ’em Boys”… As Allen is gathering his stuff I told him that the pictures were all for him. He smiled and thanked me, and as he was putting them into his guitar case he says, “Don’t you want me to sign one for you Ben?”…I hadn’t wanted to ask…So I said, “Sure”…He signed one of him playing Free Bird, “God Bless You, Allen Collins”…That framed photo has been on my walls ever since!
As the band boarded the bus we exchanged hugs and I thanked them for a wonderful evening. Allen said it was a pleasure meeting us. After they were all on the bus I climbed in one last time and said, “You guys Rock, Thank You so much for all of the great Music”, and Ronnie winked at me…Ed and I were blown away by the entire event and decided to go to Denny’s for something to eat. It’s about 1:00 A.M. We look at the menu and both decide to get the same thing, the “Super Bird” Deluxe Turkey Sandwich…And so endeth the tale…
LYNYRD SKYNYRD DISCOGRAPHY:
1973 Pounounced Lynyrd Skynyrd
1974 Second Helping
1975 Nuthin’ Fancy
1976 Gimme Back My Bullets
1976 One More From the Road (Live)
1977 Street Survivors
1978 First and Last
1982 Best of the Rest
1991 Box Set
1998 Skynyrds First (Complete Muscle Shoals)
2009 Live at Winterland 3-7-76
2009 Live at Cardiff 11-4-75
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