An Interview with Lynette Skynyrd - the world’s one and only all-female Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band

"Southern, Honky Tonk, grunge or whatever all is rooted in the blues in some manner. There are all forms of rock music, whether regional or stylistically. It's all connected to the Mother: the Blues."

Lynette Skynyrd: Sounds of the South 

Lynette Skynyrd is the world’s one and only all-female Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute. Based out of Southern California, the band was founded in 2010 by bassist Laurie Es. Laurie had already built a reputation as the lead member of hard rock band Hallowed Engine, a former DJ on WFMU and a promoter in L.A.’s rock scene. A lifelong Skynyrd fan, Laurie set out to create a tribute that would truly do justice to the genre-defining Southern hard rock of the original band and the exceptional songwriting and musicianship that earned Lynyrd Skynyrd its rightful place in the pantheon of classic arena rock bands.

Lynette Skynyrd are Cathy Lauer on guitar, Laurie Es on vocals & Bass, Lauren Simpson on vocals, Diana Brownson on keyboards & vocals, Ellie English on drums and Sharon Aguilar on  guitar.

This group of mega-talented female musicians express the unconquered spirit of Southern Rock. Lynette captures the essence of Skynyrd, tapping into those days-gone-by, when a rock concert was the experience of a lifetime. If the past is indeed a prologue to their musical journey, then Lynette Skynyrd is nothing less than timeless. With a badass rock-chick authority, these daisy duke divas transport the Skynyrd classics into the modern era. Lynette Skynyrd has generated considerable interest from its very inception, building up a solid social media fanbase and online presence even before venturing out of their Southern California homeland. In fact, Lynyrd Skynyrd themselves had Lynette play the grand opening of their restaurant, Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ & Beer at The Excalibur in Las Vegas. If the original kings of Southern rock are giving these babes their blessing, then Lynette Skynyrd must be on the right track. In particular, rockers from the South have welcomed the band and eagerly await a US tour. Combined with the individual members’ already-established following, and the niche of a female Skynyrd yet unfilled, the band can stride easily down the road laid out before them. Lynette Skynyrd are Cathy Lauer on guitar, Laurie Es on vocals & Bass, Lauren Simpson on vocals, Diana Brownson on keyboards & vocals, Ellie English on drums and Sharon Aguilar on  guitar.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Lynette Skynyrd’s sound and progress? What characterizes the band’s philosophy?

Laurie: Female tributes are a genre unto themselves. I think the reason that many people are drawn to it, is because we’re women playing this music that has been traditionally male dominated. We’re never going to look or sound exactly like Lynyrd Skynyrd, but we strive for musical authenticity and exude the vibe that the original fans embrace. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say “I haven’t felt this way since I saw the original Skynyrd back in the day.” The fact that we can bring people back to that magical time and place in their lives means everything to us.

We’ve come a long way in the 3 years this band has been in existence. My original intention when creating Lynette Skynyrd was that I would be the bassist. Instead, I ended up being the vocalist because at the time, we couldn’t find a woman to sing with the same rich, low intonation that was characterized in Ronnie’s style. During that time, I embraced the lead vocal position. Now, 3 years later I felt it was time to revisit my original vision. Once we found Lauren, we knew she was the right gal to front the band. Besides having that powerful midrange, she’s got the RVZ swagger and confidence.  There were some talented ladies that auditioned, but Lauren was the only one who had that Skynyrd integrity.

Sometimes we get comments like “Wow! I never knew Lynyrd Skynyrd did that song. I gotta check out some of those old B-Sides.” Too many people think Lynyrd Skynyrd is just ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Freebird’. That is one of the reasons why we felt compelled to put out our album “Hot As A Fox In A Forest Fire”. On our album, there’s a couple of Skynyrd songs that made the Billboard Charts, but we also wanted to throw in some tunes that most people don’t know (like ‘Trust’ and ‘Poison Whiskey’). We also released a free download of an obscure Skynyrd song that has never been officially released or completed called Cottonmouth Country. Ed King wrote it with Ronnie for “Nuthin’ Fancy”. The original is really rough and doesn’t end. So we revamped and rearranged our own version of it. Ed King heard it and gave us the thumbs up.

A tribute band means you’re honoring the original, so it’s also our mission to educate. Who better to tell Ronnie’s story then a group of amazing female musicians?

Cathy: Well, we are striving for an authentic sound, meaning a blend of guitars/keys/bass sounds combining the early original ('Pronounced' to Nuthin' Fancy) with the latter (Gimme Back My Bullets thru Street Survivors). We perform this music in the original keys as written, trying to stay true to the details that makes it so unique. The process is ever ongoing, but is usually based around the staple guitar sounds of Gibson Les Pauls, Firebirds, SG's & Fender Strats into modern & vintage tube amplifiers. No fancy effects or processing here, straight up guitar & bass into the amp. I would say that pretty much sums up the band's philosophy, respecting tradition & the men who created it, Lynyrd Skynyrd.

"Rock music is one of those things arbitrarily designated as masculine. There is nothing endogenous to the male brain or body that would make men inherently better than women at playing instruments or creating songs, etc., yet the music scene is male-dominated."

Why do you think that Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern Rock continue to generate such a devoted following?

Laurie: Lynyrd Skynyrd defines the American dream. These guys came up from nothing. They were dirt poor and overcame incredible odds to become one of the most successful American bands of our time. Ronnie’s lyrics tell all of our stories. The song arrangements and playing are incredibly intricate, yet to the casual listener sound so simple.

Cathy: Lynyrd Skynyrd & Southern Rock music are uniquely American music based in tradition. As Americans we love to embrace tradition and of course pass it on. American music has also found its way into international audience's traditions, perhaps finding that common thread that all of us share as people. A lot of those traditions, like raising a family, working for a living, weathering hard times etc., seem to be what a lot of us are all about.

Lauren: The guys and gals of Lynyrd Skynyrd operated on- and off-stage as a family. While each member was a master of his own craft, it was this close relationship that provided the atmosphere for creating timeless music. They blended the best of American and British rock, as well as blues and country music. These were ordinary folks with working class backgrounds, and Ronnie wrote lyrics about everyday life. The lyrics are universally relatable and the music makes you want to shuffle your feet.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?

Lauren: Last year I was fortunate to share the stage with Artimus Pyle while he played a few Skynyrd  tunes. He spent a little time with me after the show and shared some stories from their heyday in the ‘70s.  It was pretty exciting to get to meet and jam with one of the guys we pay tribute to.

Cathy: We recently played the Whiskey A Go Go on the Sunset Strip here in Hollywood, CA; and I was not expecting as warm a welcome from the audience as we received. I was quite surprised that Lynyrd Skynyrd could still chip away the most hardened Hollywood Strip club goer.

I think one of my favorite shows we played has to be the gig we did in Durango, Colorado over Labor Day a couple of years ago. A beautiful late afternoon day, a glowing sunset over the mountains and a sprawling stage in front of hundreds of people – what's not to like?

Laurie: The audience were mostly Bikers and local families from the Ute Tribe. It was a great outdoor show and the fans were very enthusiastic. After the show, Cathy and I were sitting in the lobby, waiting for the marketing director to hand us our check when this lovely tribal family with 6 kids recognized us from the show and wanted to get our autographs. Neither of us were carrying any merchandise on us, so the family decided we should sign their seat cushions. It was a very surreal moment. More importantly, that was when Cathy and I decided that we needed to record our album “Hot As A Fox In A Forest Fire”.

Last September, Lynette opened for Black Oak Arkansas when they were in Southern California. Ironically, 40 years ago Lynyrd Skynyrd opened for BOA when they played in Hollywood in 1973.

"Lynyrd Skynyrd defines the American dream. These guys came up from nothing. They were dirt poor and overcame incredible odds to become one of the most successful American bands of our time." (Photo: Laurie with Dale Rossington and Carol Chase / Credits: Les Post Photographic Art)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Which memory makes you smile?

Laurie: Meeting and playing for all the current members of Lynyrd Skynyrd at the opening of Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ & Beer was a landmark event for the whole band. Honkettes, Dale Rossington and Carol Chase joined us onstage for Sweet Home Alabama. There are not too many Skynyrd tribute bands that can say that.

Cathy: This past Fall I had the opportunity to meet & spend some time with Lynyrd Skynyrd's past drummer, Artimus Pyle here in California. Artimus is a Fan of Lynette and he invited me backstage after his performance at a local club here. I spent a while listening to his stories of Ronnie Van Zant & Lynyrd Skynyrd back in the day. But I would have say that the most memorable meeting I have ever had, has to be meeting Allen Collins before he died. Allen is a long time guitar hero for me, along with Gary Rossington.

Lauren: The most important experiences to me are meeting and spending time with other musicians who share my passions. Sometimes you just click with certain players and the results transcend what you can ever achieve on your own.

Cathy, What do you miss most nowadays from the grunge era? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

Cathy: Well, I miss not buying that vintage Les Paul I passed on. I would have made a fortune! I lived in Seattle during the grunge era. I saw a lot of it up close & personal, but I can't say that I miss the music of it at all. I like guitar solos. I don't really fear anything as far as the future of music; I'd like to think that good music, whatever that may be will always be in style.

"A tribute band means you’re honoring the original, so it’s also our mission to educate. Who better to tell Ronnie’s story then a group of amazing female musicians?"

What do you miss most nowadays from the Southern Rock of 70s? Do you believe in the existence of real Dixie Rock nowadays?

Lauren: You used to be able to see 3 or 4 of those bands on the same bill for something like 10 dollars. Those were the days!  The musicianship was great in those bands and it was cool to hear the different personalities of the players and the extended jams. There was also something very real and believable about those singers and how they told their stories. I feel like there was honesty behind the lyrics and their experiences and the songs weren’t written strictly to try to sell records.

Laurie: There are some really great Southern Rock Bands out there today – Blackberry Smoke, Preacherstone, HogJaw. Some of our favorites from the seventies never really went away - Black Oak Arkansas, Point Blank, Outlaws, 38 Special, Marshall Tucker, Molly Hatchett, Blackfoot. We don’t really hear as much about them today because the media is so focused on the latest winner of the ‘X-Factor’.

I had a long conversation with Artimus Pyle about what he thought about the current state of music. He said “the contestants on  ‘American Idol’ may have some talent, but they have no idea of what it’s like to get in a van, travel 500 miles and play a show for 50 people as if you were playing for 5000.”

There’s a certain integrity that existed within the Southern Rock of 70’s. Too many artists today want the fastest, easiest way to get to the top. Perhaps it was that ethic of the working man in that music that we all found so appealing. Does Dixie Rock exist today? Absolutely, but it’s a much harder road to ride.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Southern Rock and Honky Tonk music?

Cathy: Pretty much all rock music is connected to the Blues in one form or another. Southern, Honky Tonk, grunge or whatever all is rooted in the blues in some manner. There are all forms of rock music, whether regional or stylistically. It's all connected to the Mother: the Blues.

Lauren: It’s all Southern music – Elvis, Ray Charles, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Wilson Pickett, etc. – they’re all from the South and they all grew up in the same surroundings. Musical genres weren’t so separated in the 50’s and radio stations would play popular songs from all types of artists. Elvis and Johnny Cash were both signed to Sun Records and if you look at their early records, they’re not all that different. Also, a lot of soul music in the late 60’s was recorded in Muscle Shoals, AL by the Swampers. Duane Allman played with this band on many albums and it was the recognition of his solo on Wilson Pickett’s version of “Hey Jude” that helped the Allman Brothers to get underway. The Allmans obviously pulled from a lot of blues material for their albums and brought a new fiery approach to those songs.

Laurie: There’s this commonality that goes back to the primordial soup of the swamp from which The Blues were first hatched. Over the years, it has evolved and mutated, but good Southern Rock still maintains it’s connection to the gators.

What is it like to be a female rock artist in a “Man’s Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in rock?

Lauren: Rock music is one of those things arbitrarily designated as masculine. There is nothing endogenous to the male brain or body that would make men inherently better than women at playing instruments or creating songs, etc., yet the music scene is male-dominated. I think for women in rock this translates to having a harder time proving yourself as a band or musician, and sometimes you even need to be better than your male counterparts to earn respect from men and  women alike.  It can make things a bit tougher at first, but you got to have thick skin and press on.

Cathy: For me personally, I have never thought of myself as a female guitarist. On the contrary, I think of myself as a guitarist/musician. I just happen to be female. All my guitar heroes are male. My style is based on their nuances, aggressive nature, tone etc. I'm not oblivious to the fact that there are fewer of us (meaning female guitarists) than our male counterparts, however my love & expression of the instrument can be as intense as the next guy. As for the status of women in rock, there aren't enough of us – so pick up that guitar and play. . .

Laurie: We’ve had lots of male musicians approach us who want to play on our stage. At various times, we’ve actually had some special guest dudes who rocked with us with a mutual respect. But there’s always those guys who approach playing with us as a way to boost their own egos: “Hey, little lady, let me show you how it’s done.” I always find that hilarious, because half the time, they don’t really know how to play these songs correctly and we end up having to school them. They’re always a bit humbled once they realize that we are deadly serious about what we do and really good at it.

"There’s this commonality that goes back to the primordial soup of the swamp from which The Blues were first hatched. Over the years, it has evolved and mutated, but good Southern Rock still maintains it’s connection to the gators."

Lauren, How you would spend a day with Ronnie Van Zant?  What would you say to Charlie Daniels?  What would you like to ask Duane?

Lauren: With Ronnie, I’d rather be invisible and follow him around for a day. I know most people would want to interact with him, like play music or go fishing, but I’d really like to just observe how he behaves when no one’s watching. Hopefully he’d do something entertaining.

I’d tell Charlie “thanks for being such a positive force in Southern Rock”. He always brought the bands and people together and it was him that got Skynyrd back together after the plane crash.

I’d ask Duane to please get rid of that damn motorcycle.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine for the next 24 hours, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day?

Cathy: Well as long as we are sporting the whole 'time machine' fantasy; I want to go to Nashville. I want to walk into Gruhn's Vintage Guitar Store, have the necessary cash and buy a real 1959 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst Standard guitar. I’d spend the rest of the day playing it in front of whoever will listen!

Lauren: I’d first go observe the beginning of time and then go see some dinosaurs. On the way home, I’d stop by July 1976, Atlanta, Fox Theater to see Lynyrd Skynyrd’s performance/recording of One More From The Road.

Laurie: Since I get to travel in time, I want to make some changes in history: First, I would go back to Deadwood South Dakota on August 2, 1876 and make sure Wild Bill Hickock isn’t sitting with his back to the door of the Number 10 Saloon. Then, on the way back to 2014, I would stop off on October 20, 1977 and warn Lynyrd Skynyrd not to get on that plane.  I know the first rule of time travel is to not mess with the space/time continuum, but when will I ever get this opportunity again?

Lynette Skynyrd - official website

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Tags: Cathy, Dixie, Es, Interview, Lauer, Lauren, Laurie, Limnios, Lynette, Lynyrd, More…Simpson, Skynyrd, Southern

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