Gary James' Interview With Larry Woodruff of
Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute
On stage he's Ronnie Van Zandt. Offstage he's Larry Woodruff. Larry leads the popular Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute group Skynnyn Lynnyrd.
Q - Larry, this band of yours has been together how long?
A - We are on our ninth year.
Q - What were you doing before Skynnyn Lynnyrd?
A - Well, I actually was playing in another tribute band doing a tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd, playing bass. I thought I could separate myself from that, put my own together and I thought I could do a better job starting fresh.
Q - And it looks like you've done it!
A - I think so, yeah.
Q - How did you come up with this name for the band?
A - I wanted to name it Skynnyrd Lynnyrd, but I knew I might have a legality issue there. So, I was on the phone with my manager, Dave Moody, and we would just go back and forth, throwing different names back and forth at each other. We probably spent, I don't know, off and on, two months on the phone trying to come up with a good name because originally we called ourselves Saturday Night Special and some original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were doing a tribute band and they called themselves that. They threatened to sue us. That was the biggest favor anyone has done me. That name is so much better than them not being comfortable with me using Saturday Night Special, they did me a favor.
Q - This is the first I've heard of a Skynyrd tribute act being contacted by Skynyrd themselves.
A - I was actually contacted one other time by them, but then when I changed it to Skynnyn Lynnyrd, I contacted their management company and asked if they would approve it and they gave me the thumbs up. So, I guard that with my life. (Laughs).
Q - You've got a full stage production here, but you didn't start out in a bar, did you?
A - Well, I kind of did. I started out doing small, aftermarket, motorcycle repair shop parties and small clubs. That just led into doing costumes and a full-blown production.
Q - Does that mean there's a lot of work for a West Coast Skynyrd tribute act?
A - Well, there is this year. The last couple years it started getting really tough. What I think happen is everybody and their brother came out of the woodwork to start a tribute band, and when you do that, you better go all out and do it right because you're not gonna last long if you're just wingin' it and not learning it. Each person has to play their character or you're not gonna last long. Most of 'em found out. That's what happened to 'em.
Q - Larry, when you're portraying Ronnie Van Zandt, you have to be careful what you say and that any expression that is popular today would not have necessarily been popular when Ronnie was around.
A - Exactly. I actually stand in front of the mirror all the time and I practice his little nuances and his little sayings and the way he held his right shoulder down towards the ground and his motor movements and the way he looked over without turning his head to the right and to the left. All the little things are so important because I've had people come to the show and see I'm not wearing any shoes like Ronnie. They told me if I'd have had my shoes on, they would have left. That's how critical these fans are. They ain't playin'. Some of 'em don't know any different, but there might be a handful of 'em in there that are judging you all the way to the end. (Laughs).
Q - And are they also judging how each of the other members in the band look as well?
A - Well, they are. I have a 15-year-old kid and he is playing the role of Alan Collins, okay? He looks just like Alan. When he grew his hair out, you couldn't tell the difference hardly. Jumping up in the air like Alan did with "Freebird". My three guitar players all dress up and look just like their character. Not everybody does, but the majority looks dead on. As long as you get it as close as you can, you can get away with it. But you better be able to play the part right. The only difference in my band is my bass player is way bigger than Leon was. My bass player is so damn good I can't go replacing him for some long-haired, 150 pound guy, you know?
Q - Did you ever get to see Skynyrd in person?
A - I actually did. I was 14 years old in 1976 at the Oakland Coliseum. I saw the original Skynyrd twice. That means everything to me.
Q - Besides the fact that some diehard Skynyrd fans appreciate the fact that like Ronnie Van Zandt, you don't wear shoes on stage like Ronnie, what other comments do you get? Is there any common theme?
A - Yeah. They just thank me for being true to the music. When real, true Skynyrd fans; I mean we love all the fans, but when real, true Skynyrd fans, especially when I know they're musicians, know the difference between a guitar solo that's on the money or a vocal arrangement that's right on the money, when they know the difference, then I know I'm doing my job. When we learned "Tuesday's Gone", we spent three months on that.
Q - That's dedication!
A - Yeah. It's pretty tough. We still rehearse every week. It does bore my band sometimes and sometimes we have to have a talk. We have to get through it. Sometimes people don't want to be there. They get grumpy or what have you. They want to learn new material, but we're a one trick pony. It's all we do is Skynyrd. If you ask Skynnyn Lynnyrd to play, I don't know, name a song, if you ask us to play anything other then Skynyrd, you can forget it. We just don't do it. We're a one trick pony. I think what it was is I had to find a needle in a haystack when I started looking for the players. I think I got real lucky. I don't think I could do it again, honestly.
Q - You would think that the musicians who would be into Skynyrd would be found in the South.
A - Yeah, there's a lot of Skynyrd out here. There is so much. There's a lot of Southern rockers out here. And they can do it. Some of 'em can do it.