A PERFUME OF LEGEND IN PARIS.
LYNYRD SKYNYRD AT THE ÉLYSÉE MONTMARTRE
ON FEBRUARY 13 AND 27, 1992.
Photos par Alex Mitram et John Molet.
Lynyrd Skynyrd "Elysée Montmartre" Paris le 13 février 1992
Lynyrd Skynyrd "Elysée Montmartre" Paris le 27 février 1992
Lynyrd Skynyrd has always captured the imagination of many French southern rockers. For the majority of us, this was the basis, the example, the model to follow. And those who would claim the opposite would be famous liars.I was not a fan from the start. At the time, I mostly listened to rockabilly and rock’n’roll fifties. And then, even if I had known Lynyrd, I was too young to attend their Parisian shows in 1974 and 1975.
A drummer friend introduced me to the Jacksonville gang at the end of 1981. Immediately seduced by this original music, I bought all the albums in the process. A few months later, this same friend offered to join his group to play southern rock. And when you try to express yourself in this musical style, Lynyrd Skynyrd is essential. I remember those long hours spent in my room, my ear stuck to the loudspeaker of my record player, trying to catch the words of "Travelin 'man" and trying to correctly reproduce the chords of "Sweet home Alabama" or the arpeggios of "Simple man" to be able to bring them out in rehearsal.
Yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd embodied THE southern rock band par excellence with a total change of scene and an invitation to the race for fantasies. Everything made us dream. Music with incredible songs and unbridled guitar solos. The look of guys with long hair, cowboy boots and hats, leather vests, belt buckles. The myth too. The endless road, the concerts, the permanent partying, the fight, the beers, the bourbon and the girls.
And the pride of the old South with the rebel flag fluttering in the wind. With a horrible tragedy as a bonus.
A dramatic and unfair plane crash, a true ticket to legend. But above all the personality and charisma of Ronnie Van Zant, the ultimate southern rocker, the free bird.
In fact, little was known about the history of this iconic band. Just some information riddled with errors and distilled drop by drop by one or two French musical journals of the time (including a well-known magazine which modeled its approach on that of the scandal press). In other words, practically nothing. We didn't know what was going on in the States (like the appearance of former Lynyrd Skynyrd members to a Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam). We only knew that the Rossington-Collins Band included almost all of the crash survivors and we had its albums but nothing more.
It should be noted that in the early 1980s, the fall of the southern giant was still very much remembered. Thus, the disc "Best of the rest" immediately succeed brilliantly with its two unreleased tracks.
And when Molly Hatchet visited us in Paris in March 1983, it was enough for Dave Hlubek to balance the first notes of "Sweet home Alabama" to make the public delirious.
Yes, the wound was still burning and we all wondered if the resurrection of the great Lynyrd Skynyrd would take place.
But time has passed insidiously. Southern rock has not been up to date.The adventures of the simple guy who hit the road to find his sweet home in Alabama were over.
Our small band splitted, the friends preferring to play another style of music. I stayed true to my passion. I continued to listen to southern rock and kept my old redneck look, joining the sparse ranks of diehards and dinosaurs.
And then, one fine day in 1988, a double live album flourished in stores. I rushed over and I was not disappointed with the return of Ed King and Ronnie’s little brother who sang.
However, I understood that the band had only set up again to ensure a "Tribute Tour" in the USA and I did not even dare to consider it going back to France.
But when the "Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991" came out, I revised my opinion. With a disc entirely composed of new songs, the group displayed an obvious revival. And there, allhopes were high for a European tour.
So when I heard about this legendary combo coming to Paris for two exceptional concerts, I didn't hesitate a second and took my tickets for the two shows. And I was right!
On the evening of February 13, I quickly walk up the boulevard that leads to the Élysée Montmartre. My heart bangs in a massive way in the grip of intense joy. It's going to be a crazy concert!
When I arrived in front of the hall, I noticed that around twenty fans were already thronging the doors. I wait while listening to the conversations around me. It is questions about the evening's repertoire that come up most often. As time goes on, the queue gets longer behind me but I don't see any known head. I thought, however, to see some old friends at this concert. Amazing!
I’m also surprised to see that the guys waiting in front of the Élysée Montmartre show practically the look of the man in the street. No cowboys or rebels on the horizon. Bizarre!
The doors finally open and the bouncers do their best to contain the crowd. I'm lucky, I'm one of the first lot allowed to enter.
The frisking passed, I hurry to join the front of the stage. Places are hard to get but I manage to sneak in the first row. Finally, only the right half of my body is there. I managed to position myself crookedly by leaning on the barrier and putting my right boot on the kind of step that runs along the stage (I will stay like that during the whole concert, halfway between the first and second row).
Right behind, it jostles a bit and everyone is slightly compressed.
Fans want to get as close as possible to their idols and that’s normal.
It reminds me of the heroic era!
I'm trying to see if I recognize someone in the audience but without success. Too bad for old friends!
With all that, time has passed and the hour of the opening band has come with the Blues Travelers.
The musicians are doing well but their blues-rock at the average tempo does not fascinate me. They
get esteem applause, but we must not hide our faces: the public has not moved for them and it is not going to make them a triumph. Well, we're not going to come back to the eternal problem of programming artists who have nothing to do with the star band they open for. Thank you, organizers!
The Blues Travelers finish their set after three quarters of an hour. The tension suddenly goes up a notch and becomes palpable. Impatience is growing. We all want to see our heroes.
And then, the big moment arrives! The lights go out, a sound of thunder echoes in the speakers and the first notes of "Smokestack lightning" resound in the room which vibrates under screams.
I immediately see that Artymus Pyle is not there. Too bad, but all the others are there. Before my amazed eyes, living legends of Southern rock move on the stage. Mythical musicians, pioneers, survivors.
Gary Rossington, Ed King, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson. And Ronnie's younger brother, Johnny Van Zant, who has delighted us in the past with really southern rock albums.
There is also Dale Krantz, the former singer of the Rossington-Collins Band, who performs the
backing vocals with a colleague. As for the third axeman, it is Randall Hall who participated in the Tribute Tour in 1987. Nothing but smart set for an evening that promises to be unforgettable! "Smokestack lightning" swings well with a good solo by Gary Rossington who lets sing his Gibson LesPaul. From the beginning of the song, the homogeneity and the efficiency of the band make no difference doubt. The choice to start the show with a title from the latest album shows Lynyrd Skynyrd's desire not to be assimilated to a common "tribute band". And the musicians do it hands down with flawless professionalism and technique. The public is not mistaken and howls its contentment.
Ed King and Randall Hall then exchange a nice improvisation, prelude to an "I know a little" which fully swings.
Right after, a drum roll resonates in the Elysée Montmartre and it is "Saturday night special" hurtling right in the face. Gary plays the original solo with a lot of pulled strings. Unbelievable !
It feels like Jacksonville in the heyday! Hearty applause and shouts of joy greet this great performance.
Johnny Van Zant thanks us, says good evening and says it feels good to be here ("Thank you very much! Good evening Paris! It’s good to be here!").
The band restarts on "You got that right", with Randall Hall singing the second voice.As rock veterans, musicians do not relieve the pressure with a muscular "What’s your name". Delighted, the public wants more.
“Keeping the faith” is directly linked with “Good thing”. Although less known, these two new songs from the last album do not relieve the tension. Johnny presents Billy Powell with thunderous applause. Ed King stretches arpeggios and the backing vocalists sing the chorus of "Simple man" just before the timeless intro of my favorite song resonates in a white-hot room. I believe my heart is going to explode! Gary and Ed deal with of the harmonized solo and the audience takes up the chorus all together. It is delirium! Amazed, I witness the realization of one of my childhood dreams.
It’s Ed’s turn to announce “The ballad of Curtis Loew”. What a joy to see in front of me the legendary Ed King playing the slide with subtlety on a memorable title! "I’ve seen enough" comes right after with its syncopated drum intro.
Johnny asks if we are ready ("Are you ready?"). And it is "That smell" that stimulates our ears with the solos shared by Ed and Randall as well as Gary's intervention on the break. The public exults. I am in paradise.
The journey back in time continues with "Gimme three steps" and Gary Rossington's very rock solo who, at the end of the song, immediately starts again on the rhythm part of "Call me the breeze." Gary and Billy Powell follow each other for solos. In conclusion, alone on the guitar, Randall Hall swings a long improvisation to make all the hard rockers of creation fade.
Johnny then introduces Randall and Gary. Applause redoubled as Johnny makes us a nice statement ("Paris, we love you!").
The party continues with an impeccable “Backstreet crawler”. The audience claps their hands on the break reinforced by a few arpeggios of Ed King and the accelerated final gives us a good slap. Nothing to complain about, it's classy!
Ed jokes that those who are born in Alabama pay attention to the song that will follow then he strums the three chords of the fabulous "Sweet home Alabama" andJohnny repeats his brother's phrase, yelling "Turn it up!" ". Ed does the same solo as on the record. Wonderful! There, I no longer know if I am in a dream or in reality. I did not think I would ever see that one day.
Apparently, I'm not the only one because the crowd is getting hysterical. In this moment, I think that southern rock is not dead.
The best things come to an end, the musicians salute the audience and leave the stage. For long minutes that seem like forever, we all scream for a reminder.
Dale Krantz then appears on stage and says to us in French “Thank you very much! ".
She then continues in English, explaining that this is a special evening and that Lynyrd Skynyrd has waited a long time to see her Parisian friends. She tells us that Johnny is going to sing the lyrics of "Free bird" just for us then she lists the victims of the crash. When she pronounces the name of Ronnie Van Zant, the audience trembles.
A roadie comes and places a statue of an eagle on the piano of Billy Powell. It makes a sensational effect.
Dale presents Johnny to thunderous applause of the audience. The latter thanks us and, taking up the famous formula of his brother, asks us which song we want to hear ("What song do you wanna hear, Paris? "). We respond with one shout: "Free bird! " And we are up for more than ten minutes of musical orgy with a heroic Ed King who deals with the main solo. The intense and powerful music makes us be transported and propels us into orbit. It’s the apotheosis, the final explosion, the ultimate delirium! I can't believe my eyes or my ears. I am witnessing a unique moment, a piece of bravery escaped from a glorious past. The drums hammer my stomach like a herd of wild horses, the bass vibrates, the roaring guitars twist my eardrums. It's crazy ! A monumental slap!
The last chord played, the musicians salute us and disappear backstage. I'm gradually coming back to the real world. Around me, I only see smiling faces and satisfied appearences. The merchandising stand was taken by storm, but I managed to buy two T-shirts (the one for the 1991 tour and another imitating the Jack Daniel’s logo).
On the way back, I analyze a little more the evening that I have just lived. Lynyrd Skynyrd struck a blow and proved he was still in the race. I came to see one of the founder bands of southern rock and I wasn’t disappointed. I applauded legendary musicians. I saw my heroes playing the songs that had rocked my life as a young man. The great Ed King with a technique as subtle as it is impressive.
Gary Rossington strumming his Les Paul, impassive under his Stetson. Billy Powell and his nimble hands. Leon Wilkeson, his elastic bass and his many hat changes. Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie's little brother.
No, I was not disappointed. I am just happy. And to think that in two weeks, I will relive all of this!
For the second concert on February 27, I’m even earlier. As soon as the doors open, I rush to stand in the middle of the first row.I lean on the railing, my boots tight on this famous step along the stage. From memory, I know I'm going to be right in front of Johnny Van Zant with Ed King on my left and Gary Rossington on my right. In a few moments, the first places are occupied and the back rows fill up quickly.
I suddenly feel like I'm being slapped on the shoulder. I turn around thinking I see an old friend.
Instead, I find myself face to face with a hippie-like guy who must have been in the wrong place.
He tells me that this famous step raise the first row and ask me if I could not bend down during the show so that he can see better. Well then ! I answer him very kindly that we are not in Woodstock and that if he wanted to see better, he only had to show up earlier. My answer does not seem to please him but he does not object. Despite he looks flabbergasted, he must have a little common sense.
It's always the same ! Every second concert, I come across a pest that needs to be put back in its place.
I take advantage of this interlude to take a look behind me but I do not see anyone knowledgeable and I am surprised. Could my old friends have forgotten southern rock?
My questions are stopped by the French of Venus Lips who open. It's not bad, but, again, I didn't come for that and I'm looking forward to Lynyrd Skynyrd's set. I think I know what awaits me because, as good professionals, the musicians will undoubtedly repeat the same performance. I still do not know that this evening will hold some surprises for me.
The long awaited moment finally arrives! The lights go out, a thunderous noise is heard and it is left for "Smokestack lightning". Sure, it will hurt again!
I suddenly feel a weight on my right shoulder. It’s the hippie from earlier who leans on me, probably to see better. Damn it ! I will not let this moron spoil my concert! I wait for the bouncer, who paces in the foreground, to move to the left side and I take my chance. I turn around quickly and "gently" dispatch the nuisance in the back rows. He disappears from my sight, caught up in the human tide.
I will be able to enjoy the show!
At the beginning, everything goes like the previous time: "Smokestack lightning" which balances well, "I know a little" and the improvisation of Ed King in intro, "Saturday night special" and the solo by Gary Rossington. This is not surprising since many artists stick to their "set-list" when it is well established.Johnny Van Zant thanks us and the group goes on "The needle and the spoon", the first surprise of the evening. Well spotted !
After an energetic "You got that right", Johnny tells us about a title from the last album "1991", "Southern woman". Thanks for the second surprise! On the break, Johnny encourages the Parisian public to clap their hands ("Come on, Paris!"). I tell myself that I did well to take tickets for the two shows.
Johnny tells us that it's good to come back to Paris for the second time and the musicians send a strong "What’s your name".
Johnny comes back and thanks us for coming so many for this second concert.
Then, we are entitled to “Keeping the faith” directly linked with “Good thing”.
Johnny introduces Billy Powell and then tells us that it's time for his favorite song, "Simple man". The song will be performed the same way as the evening of February 13. For the second time in my life, I see the survivors of the tragedy playing my favorite title and it is priceless.
"That smell" comes right after, with the guitars of Ed King and Randall Hall responding, followed by "I’ve seen enough".
On a drumming beat, Johnny tells us that Lynyrd Skynyrd is back in Paris and lets us clap our hands. He says he can't hear us ("I can’t hear you!") So we yell even louder and "Gimme three steps" shakes up the Elysée Montmartre. The group continues with "Call me the breeze". At the end, Randall Hall remakes us the "guitar hero" but this time, he adds in his improvisation the air of "Happy birthday". Johnny smiled at him and thanked him with a nod before presenting Gary Rossington who strums some notes full of feedback and sustain.
I guess it’s Johnny Van Zant’s birthday. I noticed that the musicians frequently drank from plastic cups something that strongly resembled bourbon. I think they are right to take advantage of it. After all, for Americans, it's notevery day the opportunity to celebrate a friend’s birthday in Paris. However, they may be celebrating it a little too much because I have noticed on several occasions signs of animosity between Ed King and Gary Rossington (one or two jostles and at one point, Ed will even rock the content of his cup on Gary).
Fifteen years later, the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd seem to respect the tradition of internal shouting.
As if we weren't stunned enough by this six-string festival, "Backstreet crawler" (superb track from the last album) brings it up again with its edgy finale.
"Sweet home Alabama" unfortunately announces the end of this historic evening. Johnny screams a vigorous "Turn it up!" ". The room sinks into delirium and the past rises from the ashes with the solos of the fabulous Ed King.
The musicians take off backstage and the public stamps for long minutes for the encore. I am not worried because I know they will come back for "Free bird".
Like the other time, Dale Krantz addresses the crowd. She thanks us and declares that LynyrdSkynyrd got back on stage thanks to us, the fans. She says it was Gary Rossington who insisted that Johnny Van Zant sing the lyrics to "Free bird".
She names the victims of the crash and, of course, the room explodes on behalf of Ronnie Van Zant. At this moment, Johnny kneels and lets go a few tears (emotion and bourbon rarely go wel together). Dale Krantz recalls that it’s Johnny’s birthday and the audience intones "Happy birthday to you".
Johnny asks us which song we want to hear and we yell "Free bird" like one man.
And here we go again for the sublime piano intro, Gary's majestic slide and the final madness! When the song boltes for the guitar stampede, Johnny swings the contents of his goblet on the middle of the front row and touches a few hands before leaving the stage. I think I'm dreaming! I was baptized in bourbon by Johnny Van Zant and I was able to shake the paw! Insanity! Decidedly I did really well to attend both concerts.
Like the other evening, the public is overwhelmed by the flood of notes and transported by the rise of a final boost. And I'm right in front and I don't lose a thing!
"Free bird" finished, the musicians greet us with a smile. They look happy. The spectators are just as much. Lynyrd Skynyrd respected the tradition by playing the old songs but also revealed as a full-fledged formation with new effective titles. Here's one performance that will be remembered.
I find it hard to come back down. I go home, head elsewhere. I remember the highlights of the show: the different songs compared to the first evening, the talent of Ed King and his row with Gary Rossington, baptism with Jack Daniel’s and handshake with Johnny VanZant. I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd for the second time. My dream has come true. What evening ! One of which we can say with pride "I was there! ".
Afterwards, I always stayed faithful to this good old combo from Jacksonville. I saw LynyrdSkynyrd on each of his trips to Paris and with his different staff variations. But none of these shows has ever equaled these two concerts in February 1992 where I had the immense pleasure of seeing this legendary band in its version closest to the original one.
My youth is gone but despite the flying time, this memory still gives me so much emotion and joy more than twenty six years later.
Olivier "Simple Man" Aubry