Gary James' Interview With Rick Dekker Of
Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute
Rick Dekker holds down the lead guitarist position in the Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band, Lyvyn Skynyrd. Based out of Southern California, these guys have won high praise from the likes of producer / engineer John Lowson, who says "this is the best Skynyrd rendition I have ever heard," and Chris Wonzer, also a producer / engineer who says, "Lyvyn Skynyrd is the real deal. They capture the vibe of Lynyrd Skynyrd with true authenticity," and finally Paul III, studio bass player who says, "Lyvyn Skynyrd is the most honest, best sounding, most well played tribute to the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd I have ever heard." You can't get much better than that!
Here then is Rick Dekker on Lyvyn Skynyrd.
Q - Rick, are you Lyvyn Skynyrd today?
A - I'm Lyvyn Skynyrd. That's where the name came from.
Q - How did you live Skynyrd today? What did you do?
A - Well, I was working on songs as usual. Every day I have to work on the songs, the material is so tough. I'm constantly playing songs every day. I was booking the band today also.
Q - You are wearing two hats then. You don't have an agent or a manager?
A - I'm it!
Q - I hope the band appreciates what you're doing 'cause it's a tough job.
A - It's a very tough job. They have no idea how many hours I put in to book us, to schedule us, to do rehearsals. All that.
Q - And don't forget the promotion of the band.
A - Absolutely!
Q - Being a Southern California-based band, how much work is there on the West Coast for a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band?
A - Actually, the demand for Southern Rock is very high in Southern California.
Q - How would you explain that?
A - Well, I don't know what you mean by that. Lynyrd Skynyrd is still very popular as you probably know. Who doesn't love their music? "Sweet Home Alabama", "Gimme Three Steps", "Freebird". What's so appealing about their music is that it reaches all ages from young to old. I hear from younger people when we play out. I hear from younger people all the time, 18, 20. They grew up listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd because their parents always listened to it. Lynyrd Skynyrd's music has hints of Country, Blues, Rock all combined to create the Southern Rock sound. It goes with any theme. You can use it for a Country type of theme. You can use it for a Rock theme. You can pretty much use it for a Blues theme in a way. So, it kind of reaches all these different areas of music. It's pretty easy actually to get interested in their music.
Q - Was it difficult to find musicians for Lyvyn Skynyrd?
A - Absolutely. That's probably the hardest thing, finding musicians that had an interest in the band as much as we did. It's a great question actually. Finding musicians in California is pretty easy. There's a million of 'em. But finding musicians that can play Skynyrd's material is not so easy. The material is very difficult. It requires a lot more time to learn than the music of most of the bands. You have to be dedicated and committed to learning it. Their music is very carefully put together. It's blended and mixed perfectly. So, if someone isn't playing their part right, it sticks out like a sore thumb. It took hours and hours to audition the right players and singers.
Q - Is it important that every person look like the person they're portraying?
A - Well, personally I think the most important thing is sound. You need to sound like the band you're portraying first, so when people leave the show they should be thinking "wow! That really sounded like Lynyrd Skynyrd." I don't think they put too much emphasis on whether each band member looked (like) the person they were portraying, but we do make every effort to look the part. We try and dress like they did. We try and move on the stage like they did. But realistically to find players that look just like the person they are portraying and can play their parts like they should be played, is very difficult. There are some bands that do the opposite. They find their look-alike first and then they try to mold them to the music. But I really think the music suffers because of it. So in our case, we have the best Ronnie Van Zandt of any Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute that I've ever seen and he sounds like him too. He's fantastic.
Q - You played in cover bands prior to Lyvyn Skynyrd, didn't you?
A - Yeah. Exactly.
Q - And you thought there was more money to be made in a tribute band?
A - Well, that was part of it. In all honesty I was really getting tired of playing late nights for small audiences. Classic rock bands, or cover bands if that's what you want to call them, play mostly bars and private parties. The bars usually want the bands to play from 9 until 1:30 in the morning. Most nights the biggest crowds are there until 11:30 or 12 and after that you're playing for a handful of people. That wasn't fun anymore. I wasn't interested in that. Tribute bands play for one to two hours usually in front of hundreds of people and usually during the day or early evening. So, it's rare they play after 11 PM.
Q - A lot of the work, take the festivals, are on a seasonal thing, right?
A - Correct. They pretty much are.
Q - So, what do you do in the off-season? Do you still play bars?
A - Casinos. We are playing like The Coach House coming up. We are opening for a couple of other bands. Big-name bands. Marshall Tucker. John Waite is coming. Eric Burdon is coming. So, we are opening in venues like that. We are opening for a national act. That's in the off-season. Tribute bands play one to two hours like I said. I can't deny that the thought of making $1000 or $2000 for an hour and a half or two hour show instead of $300 or $400, isn't very appealing. I could no longer get excited about playing four hours and going home with 50 bucks, or 75 bucks. Not to mention bars have a stage for tiny bands. The events tribute bands play usually have huge stages and they have a sound team. So, you are getting professional sound on a stage in front of a large amount of people and of course making a little bit more money. So, that's kind of where that came from.
Q - You put this band together in the summer of 2010?
A - Actually, no. The assembly of the band began in the summer of 2010, but the actual idea began in the summer of 2008. I was playing in a Classic Rock band called The O.C. Brothers, which I started in the summer of 2006 and I was getting really burned out of playing Classic Rock. Some old songs. No difficulty, just boring stuff. So, I slowly began adding Lynyrd Skynyrd material to our set, our song list, with the intention of changing a couple of members from the band and starting a Lynyrd Skynyrd project.
Q - How hard was it to go out and secure that first booking?
A - Well, because I was booking the band, I was booking for us already, the booking part of it was interesting. I had been booking my Classic Rock band. So, I had several ins for some of the local venues. We started out playing clubs and venues that we had played before basically. Tribute bands play for a couple of hours normally. The real challenge was we play only Lynyrd Skynyrd songs recorded before the plane crash that took the life of Ronnie Van Zandt. Buyers expect the band to play for four hours. So there wasn't enough material to play that long. So, we started out pairing up with other tribute bands. Owners of the club we started playing in knew me, so they were willing to work with us.
Q - How often do you work?
A - We went through a lineup change in the fall. While it was very tough, it turned out for the best. The lineup by far is the most talented it's ever been. So, we made dramatic upgrades to several of the players, but it came at a cost because we weren't able to perform during that time. So, on average the band will perform two, maybe three times a month during the busy season, which is fast approaching. Right now I have a ton of bookings in the works.
Q - You haven't gotten beyond the West Coast with this band, have you?
A - No, not yet. Actually, I'm in conversation with a promoter for a big festival in Illinois. It's not final yet, but I'm working on it. He might be booking us for another festival in Arizona and that'll be coming up in the summer. So, I'm working on that as we speak. It's funny you should ask that question.
Q - Let's say the gigs come through, how will you transport all your gear? By truck?
A - No. We'll fly. Then, they'll have a backline for us. We'll only be able to take our guitars and our foot pedals. Probably very minimal stuff on the plane. That's the only way logistically you can do it. It'd be too much to drive to Illinois.
Q - Do you ever find yourself wondering what Ronnie Van Zandt in Lynyrd Skynyrd would sound like today? You must think of it at the end of the show.
A - I wouldn't say at the end of the show I think about it, but there have been many times I've been listening to their early music over and over to learn my parts that I realize how much time they put into every song. I would think what an amazing band Lynyrd Skynyrd was and what would they be. Ronnie Van Zandt was only 29 on that fateful day. (September 20, 1977) when his life came to an end. They were truly and their prime as a band. Their last album was "Street Survivors" and it was a masterpiece. They were energized by their new guitar player, Steve Gaines. Ronnie Van Zandt was at the top of his game. I have read article upon article on living family members that said the band was absolutely excited about all of the new energy that was happening. The "Street Survivors" album had only been released a few days before the plane crash. In a snap of the fingers, just like that, the dream was over.
Q - It's just too bad Skynyrd didn't take as much time in securing the proper transportation as they did with their songs.
A - Well, you know how Ronnie was. Ronnie said "When it's your time to go, it's your time to go."
Q - Isn't that crazy?
A - It's crazy, but you know the really scary thing? Ronnie, even as a real little kid, said he'd never make it to 30. He died three months before his birthday. If I remember correctly that plane was chartered by Aerosmith and they were having problems with it. They no longer wanted to fly on that plane. Ronnie said, "We'll take it. We're not afraid." A couple of people were afraid to climb on and he said, "Oh, let's go. If it's your turn to go, it's your turn to go." He climbed up the stairs and, well, we know what happened.