Music Is The Message and Artimus Pyle Is The Messenger 

Words By Ambar Ramirez and Carmen Macri

Artimus Pyle, a legendary musician and former drummer of the iconic Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, has left an indelible mark on the world of rock music. With his distinct style and thundering beats, Pyle’s contributions to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s enduring legacy are undeniable. From his early days as a session musician to his time with Lynyrd Skynyrd during their heyday in the 1970s, Pyle has experienced the highs and lows of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. In this exclusive interview, we delve into Pyle’s musical journey, his memories of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and his lasting passion for music that continues to resonate with fans around the world.

The band formed in Jacksonville in 1964 when lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, drummer Bob Burns and guitarist Gary Rossington played baseball on rival teams. After Van Zant “accidentally” hit Burns in the head with a baseball, the trio held an impromptu summer afternoon jam session in the garage of Burns’ parent’s house. And the rest was history. 

Born in Kentucky and raised in Tennessee riding horses and working on the family farm, Pyle was able to find rhythm in just about anything. He was a natural-born drummer, referring to the doctor spanking his bum after birth as “a downbeat.”

“It went like spank, 2, 3, 4 … spank, 2, 3, 4” Pyle explained. 

When Pyle was 12 years old, his father gifted him his first drum: a red sparkle sling drum. Before that he was known for finding music in anything, the way his father would pat his hands to the music on the dashboard or using his mother’s pots and pans as a makeshift drum set. 

“Having the gallup of hooves on a horse and the sound of a diesel engine on a Caterpillar bulldozer set up all these rhythms under me. I am definitely a natural drummer,” Pyle said. “Sitting next to a babbling brook and listening, you know, to the rhythms. There’s rhythm in rain. There’s a rhythm in wind. There’s a rhythm in lightning and storms. It’s all around us.” 

After a lifetime of casually playing drums, Pyle’s passion for music took a serious turn when his father died. In memory of his late father, Pyle made the decision to leave the Marine Corps and return to Columbus where he enrolled at Ohio State University. He also threw himself into his drumming, joining not one, but five different bands. 

Pyle joined Lynyrd Skynyrd as their drummer in 1974 after Bob Burns’ health began to decline.

Knowing he had a reputation to withhold, Pyle gave it his all. As a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, he found himself stepping out of his comfort zone. He contributed his background vocals on the song “Trust” on the 1976 album “Gimme Back My Bullets.” He also collaborated with Van Zant on “The Smell,” one of the band’s best known songs. 

Pyle’s time with the Lynyrd Skynyrd was cut short by a devastating plane crash in 1977. Just three days after the release of the band’s album “Street Survivors” on Oct. 20, 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd was en route from Greenville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when their chartered plane ran out of fuel and crashed in the woods, just five miles outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi. The crash claimed the lives Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer (and Gaines’ sister) Cassie Gaines, road manager Dean Kilpatrick and both pilots. This tragic event marked a turning point in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s history and had a profound impact on Pyle and the music world as a whole.

“I was on that plane. I went down with the band in Mississippi,” Pyle shared. “It’s been 45 years, and I still think about it every single day. I really miss my friends.”

Despite the harrowing experience of the plane crash, Pyle miraculously survived with a broken rib. Showing incredible resilience, he managed to pull one of the victims out of the wreckage before setting out to find help. Pyle spotted a farmhouse in the distance and made his way there seeking assistance. However, in his bloodied and unrecognizable state, he was shot by a farmer who was protecting his family. This unforeseen turn of events added yet another layer of tragedy to Pyle’s already traumatic experience and left a lasting impact on his life. 

Ten years after the crash, the remaining band members reunited. Pyle continued to play with what was left of Lynyrd Skynyrd until 1991 when, according to an interview in “Modern Drummer” he left the band due to his bandmates’ “massive, gluttonous consumption of cocaine and alcohol.”

Even though Pyle stopped playing with the band, he never stopped spreading their legacy. He created APB (which he says stands for “All Points Bulletin” but is commonly known and marketed as “Artimus Pyle Band”) 15 years ago with a few of his friends. The idea was never to try and become Lynyrd Skynyrd, as he notes there can be no Lynyrd Skynyrd without Ronnie Van Zant or Gary Rossington, but to honor the his former band and bandmates. APB delivers performances that pay homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd with sets that are exclusively dedicated to the their timeless music known around the worl.

During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Pyle found an avenue to share his story in the film “Street Survivor: The True Story Of The Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash.” Pyle not only lent his voice as the narrator of the film, but he also contributed original music to the film’s soundtrack. And the last living survivor of the crash (and someone who lost his own father in a mid-air plane collision), Pyle is the only person who can share a first-hand account the horrific realities before, during and after the accident.

“I can say music has actually saved my life,” Pyle said. “Being the drummer of Lynyrd Skynyrd has saved my life because there were many times when I felt like giving up, you know, and then music would bring me back.”

He has also revealed that a new album paying tribute to the late Ronnie Van Zant and the original lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd will be released sometime this year. “Artimus Pyle and the Artimus Pyle Band Honors Ronnie Van Zant and Lynyrd Skynyd” will feature a cover of “Freebird” by Dolly Parton with the unmistakable guitar riffs played by Rossington himself.

The album also served as a reunion for Rossington and Pyle, who had drifted apart over the years. Their unexpected collaboration also reignited their shared love for music and allowed them to reminisce about the cherished memories they shared during their time together in the band, creating a heartfelt moment of reflection and nostalgia.

“Gary said, ‘I miss your family. I love you. I miss you. Let’s get together,’” Pyle expressed. “I knew in my heart that if things worked out that at some point after the album came out, Gary and I would probably have lunch together one day and talk over old times. I will cherish for the rest of my life these texts between Gary and me.” Sadly, Rossington passed away earlier this year at the age of 71.

Another important aspect of the new album, Pyle mentioned, is the proceeds will benefit the families of the former members of Lynyrd Skynyrd who have passed away. 

“I didn’t do [the album] for money. I did it because I love the music, and I love the band members and our girls, you know,” Pyle expressed. “There’s a higher purpose than just trying to make a buck.”

Even being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, as Pyle was as a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, doesn’t mean as much to him as the brotherhood he shared with his bandmates and friends — and also the music, which he says speaks for itself and will always live on. For him it was never about the money or the fame.

“Music is the message. Music is the messenger, and it brings so much joy,” Pyle said. “Throughout the history of mankind and, to me, all of the songs send love and talk about love and that’s the message. That’s the only thing that’s gonna save this planet is love.”