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Artimus Pyle

What makes Artimus venomous

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Artimus Pyle
Photo by Clay Enos, courtesy Artimus Pyle
Artimus Pyle was mad. Really mad. Homicidally mad. And suicidally depressed. But he's feeling much better now.

His recovery has been due, in large part, to three years of work on an album entitled Artimus Venomus in which he lives up to the title with some scathing lyrics that express the outrage he felt about what he feels was his betrayal by current members of the Lynyrd Skynyrd roster.

Pyle's nickname was "Wild Man" because of his playing style and his onstage antics as Skynyrd's drummer from 1974 until the October night in 1977 when the plane carrying the band crashed in a Mississippi forest, killing six people, including de facto leader, vocalist and chief songwriter, Ronnie Van Zant. Seriously injured himself, Pyle, a former Marine, managed to find the rescue crew and lead them to the wreckage.

Surviving members -- Pyle among them -- re-formed the band in 1987, with Johnny Van Zant taking over his late brother's role. In 1991, Pyle left the band, disillusioned, he says, because of some members' heavy drug and alcohol use. He claims that in later years, the band used their lawyers to limit the amount of money ex-band members were entitled to.

These days, Pyle tours and records with his band, APB (variously known as All Points Bulletin or Artemus Pyle Band) but is still purging himself of his past.

About Classic Rock:
In the liner notes you say, “If my songs bother you, maybe there’s more to the story.” Clearly, this is what I would call a concept album. There’s a very clear theme running through it, and it’s a pretty dark one. I mean, you’re taking no prisoners here.

Artimus Pyle:
Yeah, taking no prisoners. Well, the first clue is the title of the album. It doesn't say Artimus Harmonious. Obviously I am making statements about how I feel. That's why I wrote the songs and why I had to sing them. You can also tell something about it from some of song titles, like "Blood Sucking Weasel Attorneys," "Dead Rock Stars’ Widows, Gigolos, Pocket Money" [with pointed references to Ronnie Van Zant’s widow, Judy] and "Spit" [with pointed references to Ronnie Van Zant’s brother, Johnny].

"Million Dollar Farm" is about the phony music industry executives who are responsible for all the trite, cookie-cutter crap that all sounds the same, all with the same players. It’s about people who sell out the other members of their band for their own gain. Ronnie Van Zant was not like that. My album is a way to tell the world that Ronnie Van Zant was a man of integrity.

The album is about how I was treated by people who said they loved me and supported me but who turned on me to benefit themselves. It has been cathartic. I feel so much better. I never thought the album would be anything more than me purging myself. It’s on me. I was the fool. The things that happened to me happened because I let them happen. Yeah, I’m sour grapes.

If you listen to the whole album, there is a theme. It's telling a story. And the last song is about forgiveness. Yeah, I was mad for a long time. I was homicidal and suicidal for a couple of years. But I'm over it. If I was driving down the road and saw one of these people on the side of the road with a flat tire, I'd stop to help. And then I'd keep right on driving.

I had to write this album. It had to be me. I quit the band. They tried to make it look like I was fired, but I quit. I was trying to get those guys who were part of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd to see how far they had gotten away from what Ronnie Van Zant was all about. I was hoping that by quitting, I’d get their attention, thought maybe they'd say, 'Hey, something must really be wrong for Artimus to quit over it.'

About Classic Rock:
One of the things that makes the album distinctive is the use of sound effects, special effects, and spoken word all woven into the music. Are these things part of what’s in your head as you write, or do they evolve when you get into the studio?

Artimus Pyle:
I'd say for the most part I was thinking about it while I wrote, although there were few things that happened in the studio that were actually mistakes, but when I heard them I said, 'Keep them in.'

As for the spoken words, Frank Zappa was a good friend of mine. Had he lived, I probably would have wound up playing in his band. So it's a combination of [being like] Ronnie [Van Zant] – telling it like it is – with a little tongue-in-cheek humor like Zappa's.

About Classic Rock:
The darkness of the theme aside, there's some really good music on this album.

Artimus Pyle:
If you like the music it's because there are just some fantastic players on it. There are 60 people on this album, all of them great singers and musicians.

And some of it is lighthearted. There’s a point where you hear my producer’s voice say, 'Hey, Artimus, can you lighten up a little bit?' and I say 'Oh. Yeah, man, I see what you mean' and we launch into "Can’t Get Off With Your Shoes On." So, it's not all about greed and betrayal. I had so much fun doing the album, I plan on doing many more, a whole series. My son says I should call the next one Artimus Harmonius.

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