Lynryd Skynyrd and I Begin Badly
by Regis Boff
The flying bottle of Jack Daniels continued to slaver out its brownish alcohol as it passed my ear. It spit some on my neck as it headed into Pete Rudge’s fireplace mirror behind me. The mirror buckled like an airless fighter punched in the mid section. Reflective glass shards blew outward and the heavy wooden frame let go of its wall falling the six feet onto the Italian tile.
Ronnie Van Zant and I were separated by a wide glass coffee table. Rudge had disappeared to get more drinks, which made no practical sense except that he might have thought the best route was to get his lead singer to pass out and deal with all this dangerous nonsense later tonight.
I was just about finished with this mean little drunken motherfucker and unless he had hidden another bottle to throw, this was not going to be a fight he was going to get a song out of, unless it was going to be called, “I don’t remember shit after he hit me”.
I have never actually hit a member of any band. I once lifted the keyboardist for The Who a few inches off the floor by his neck to shut him up and I did have fights with road crew on occasion but that was very early on with Genesis. Pete Townshend and I got into it once but that another much more complicated story.
Pete Rudge was my boss at the time. He was the tour manager/manager for The Rolling Stones and The Who in North America. He was also the manager of Lynryd Skynryd, a huge country rock band that I knew little about. This made him a significant player in live performance across the U.S. I had never encountered anyone then or since quite like him.
These bands traveled like the medieval Kings of France and Rudge himself created much of this imaginative pomp. I was jolted and unnerved by my first tour with The Who. There was a dynamism that was indistinguishable from high violence. If you were an outsider, like I was at first, danger seemed to lurk everywhere. The amounts of money that were at stake intimidated me and I dreaded making mistakes. I would work and rework the deals constantly for months. I didn’t talk much.
Pete had hired me to do the money for The Who about a year earlier and I had just completed my first tour. He kept me on afterwards to run his New York office while he traveled wherever he traveled. His 57th street Manhattan office had a balconied second floor, ten people, a white grand piano, an Andy Warhol of Mick Jagger, a hundred gold albums and a regulation sized basketball hoop. He sat me at his huge desk with a staff that did not know me and resented me because they, like me, had little to do but posture. We booked tours for The Stones and waited for Mick to cancel them. I felt like a dick most of that time.
Rudge had a lot to do. It is an axiomatic in the music business that an artist cannot receive enough attention from their managers and his acts were especially needy. The Rolling Stones were essentially controlled by Mick Jagger who would blow in, look at a tour that had taken months to put together, announce that he would be spending time at the water somewhere in Europe on those dates, and hundreds of people would get fucked.
The Who were handled by Bill and Jackie Curbishley, their managers in London, so there was really very little for me to do at all for them until they decided to tour.
I told Rudge I probably should quit. Rudge dramatically responded by inventing a scheme where I would take over much of the day-to-day breastfeeding of Lynryd Skynryd. This would have been a big opportunity for me and I wanted it to happen. I did a crash course on Skynyrd’s history and music while memorizing their faces and the instruments they each played.
Rudge and I had picked Ronnie Van Zant up on the tarmac where his small jet had landed. He deplaned with a bottle of Jack Daniels in each hand. Rudge whispered to me, “Welcome to country rock.”
Van Zant gave Rudge a “country hug.” This is a gesture defined by its vast distance from homosexuality. He saw me as he had come down the steps from the plane but ignored me and did not shake hands, he sulked off to the car drinking as he went, and we followed.
I am big and I know how people react to me. It is an advantage that takes time to get accustomed to. If you are big when you are very young, like I was, you are the target of smaller older kids. This makes fighting back impossible because bullies are always the ones that are bigger. This is a canon in adult minds. I hated being big. Now in time of course this all changes. Eventually my size performed like an early warning system for me. I can detect resentment immediately and from long distances from people who are disturbed by it.
Van Zant had decided, despite near panic-stricken explanations from Rudge and me that I was Rudge’s bodyguard. He was not going to see it any other way and he did not like it. He was furious with Rudge because he figured Rudge did not trust him anymore. Laugh and disbelieve if you like but this was true.
So we wind up in Pete’s fabulously posh apartment in the city, Ronnie is still drinking and now Rudge has joined in. Rudge had tabled any more discussion about me and was going on about the next album. To which I had nothing to add so I just sat there dumbly.
I was also sinking into a very unsmiling black mood because Ronnie was just sitting on the sofa giving me the half-eye me from under his sweaty black hat.
From my point of view this lunatic was collecting impulses from Jupiter simply to fuck over what little career I had. On top of that I had wasted a day memorizing his music, which for some equally incoherent and petty reason bothered me almost as much.
I began staring back at him giving him my best non-confederate ”fuck you, you cunt.”
This, it appeared, was the last bullet necessary to fully load his pistol; he stands up and whips the bottle at me.
Ronnie make significant misjudgments in the next seconds, the most glaring of which was his estimation that the glass coffee table would hold his weight when he stepped on it to get to me. It didn’t, and his foot went straight through trapping him awkwardly. A drunken legend wedged in a coffee table is fairly defenseless but I never took advantage.
From out of nowhere, and to my permanent appreciation, came Rudge through the air and into Ronnie’s chest driving him backwards over the sofa, freeing his boot by sheer momentum.
Ronnie remained limp on the floor either from general shock or the concussion of hitting the floor with Rudge on top of him. Rudge screamed in his face,” He is with me and he is on your side”.
He stood up pulling the sofa and Ronnie with him. He buckled onto the other sofa next to me. Ronnie Van Zant, now pretty much a serious physical mess walked around the coffee table over to me and gave me a hard no crouch hug and said, “Sorry man”, and that was that.
Later after Ronnie had left and Rudge was frantically trying to find his maid on the phone to come clean up, he put his hand over the receiver and said to me, “ You still want this job?” I told him that I did.