Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd Remembers Gregg Allman's 'Unmistakable Voice'

Rick Diamond/LSBB14/Getty Images for Blackbird Productions
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd poses backstage at One More For The Fans! - Celebrating the Songs & Music of Lynyrd Skynyrd at The Fox Theatre on Nov. 12, 2014 in Atlanta.

No band is more associated with The Allman Brothers Band and their Southern rock legacy than Lynyrd Skynyrd. Hailing from Jacksonville, Fla., and an eyewitness to the birth of the Allmans, Skynyrd became the standard-bearer for the next generation of Southern rock, their Allmans-inspired anthem "Free Bird" enjoying iconic status right up there with "Whipping Post."

The group's Rickey Medlocke, an early Skynyrd member who left to start Blackfoot and then returned to the band in 1996, tells Billboard about growing up immersed in the Allmans and about the band's long and warm friendship with Gregg Allman.

*   *   *   *   *

The band was pretty shocked over this. It's way too close to home, y'know? He was such a good friend of ours. We had gotten word out on the road here through people in Nashville that he had taken ill again and he was confined to his house, that he had canceled shows all through the rest of this year. We were pulling for him, man, we really were.

We played Saturday night. As a matter of fact we dedicated "Simple Man" to him in Georgia and had a moment of silence for him with the audience and played "Simple Man." It hit Gary [Rossington, guitarist] hard as well, 'cause Gary had been friends with him too. My God, "Free Bird" was more or less written with Duane in mind. We looked at the Allman Brothers as the fathers of what was to be called Southern rock. In our book, if you didn't like the Allman Brothers, you were sacrilegious.

It's a terrible loss to me, to music. That guy, if you turned on the radio and a song came on he was singing, you knew exactly who he was. He had that, he was one of those guys that had that unmistakable voice.

Being in Jacksonville, we were raised around him and Duane and all the core of The Allman Brothers back in the late '60s. I actually met Gregg back in the late '60s, around '68, maybe '69, in Jacksonville. And he was a part of The Allman Joys and the Hour Glass and they used to play the Comic Book Club in Jacksonville.

I used to go to those all the time, as did Gary and Allen Collins and Ronnie [Van Zant], all of us, even the old guys in Blackfoot and stuff. All of us used to go and be at these places, and were able to see Duane and Gregg all the Second Coming, with Berry Oakley and Dickey Betts. We just all were there in Jacksonville together. And I would go over to the Big House in Riverside and sit on their porch and listen to them rehearse and I just used to love listening to those guys get together and jam and play at those things

And I got to tell ya, at the Comic Book Club one night in particular, this was on a weekend and I remember the Hour Glass did a rendition of "Georgia On My Mind," and to this day other than Ray Charles, I've never heard a rendition like that. And I had always wished The Allman Brothers cut that version they did at the Comic Book Club that night 'cause I've got to tell you, I never heard anyone do a version like that, with Duane playing slide and Gregg on the Hammond and the rest of the guys in the band, it was just phenomenal. And I always told him that.

We did that tribute show to Skynyrd [in 2015] and he did "Tuesday's Gone," and it was just phenomenal. That day at rehearsal I shook his hand and told him how much I was glad to see him there and he said, "Rickey, I'm glad to be here and taking a part in this. This is great." And then when that was over, after that I went back home to Fort Myers and lo and behold him and his new band were coming through, and I went down and got in, I was back there waiting on him and here he comes, him and his wife down the hall.

He looked happy. He actually looked really good and they were walking down the hall and you could see him conversing with one another and kind of laughing together. He walked up and said, "Oh, hey Rickey" and I said, "Hey Gregg, I just thought I'd come down. I wanted to see your new band," and the whole bit. And he shook my hand and goes, "Y'know, we go back quite a ways, don't we?" And I said, "Yeah, we do Gregg. All the way back to about the late '60s when you guys used to rehearse in Riverside, at the Big House, I used to come over there and sit on the front steps and listen to you guys play." And I was so glad I got to see him, and thinking about it now, happy that I got to see him that last time.

I think he's going to go down in history as one of the greatest. That's my opinion. He brought forth a different kind of music -- a different kind of style, just a phenomenal voice, blues guy. I can't say enough about him.