PAUL ABRAHAM Tour Manager of Lynyrd Skynyrd 1989 to1997.
By Philippe Archambeau & Olivier Aubry, questions translated by Y. Philippot-Degand. (2020)
Thank you for accepting this interview for my webzine Road To Jacksonville dedicated since 2001
to the Southern rock http://www.rtjwebzine.fr
I know you've written a book but I have not read it, so some questions may be obvious to you.
RTJ : You were born in Leland, Mississippi. What is your date of birth ?
Paul : January 15th, 1950. Same as RVZ. He was 2 years older.
RTJ : A little wink: do you know Johnny Winter's song "Leland Mississippi Blues"?
Paul : Most certainly. I met him in Leland in the 80's.
RTJ : I think your father had created a radio station. Can you tell us that? Did it have a musical influence on you?
Paul : The station, WESY, played soul, blues and gospel music. Yes. I loved Motown music as a teenager and the blues, I was born with.
RTJ : Is it true that you saw the Beatles in 1966?
Paul : Yes, my father bought the 12th row on the floor and me, my brothers and a bunch of my friends went.
RTJ : When did you work with the Marshall Tucker Band?
Paul : I worked with them on the Southern Spirit Tour with 38 Special, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jon Butcher and Barefoot Servant.
RTJ : Have you met Toy Caldwell? If so, what kind of man was he, and did he play as loud as they say?
Paul : Yes. I met him at The Ritz in New York. He was very friendly and jovial. He laughed heartily and loved being there with the Skynyrd guys.
RTJ : When and how was your first meeting with Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Paul : The first time I met them was the night my brother and I promoted them in Cleveland, MS 38732. It was wild and crazy and I was very busy the entire night.
RTJ : Did you know Ronnie Van Zant well? How was he? Do you have anecdotes about him?
Paul : The next day, Ronnie decided the band would stay and hang out with us. They had a night off, so they were extremely casual and honestly, just like us. I think that's why Ronnie liked us so much. Ronnie was the real deal. He said what he meant and meant what he said.
We got to hang out that day pretty much all day and we went to a few local establishments. We talked about everything under the sun.
He was the best.
RTJ : It seems like you went to prison in the mid-seventies. When was it exactly? If you do not mind, can you specify the causes of your incarceration?
Paul : Yea, I was a dumbass and got involved with drugs and lots of it. On top of that, my choice of friends
was poor. It was a drug deal gone way wrong. Leave it at that. I went in July 1975 and got out 40 months later.
RTJ : During this time, is it true that Ronnie and the other members of Lynyrd Skynyrd sent you a note? Do you still have this paper?
Paul : Yes and yes.
RTJ : How did you learn about the crash of the plane that carried Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Paul : In jail in Memphis, shooting pool, listening to Rock 103 in Memphis. A news bulletin announced the crash. I found out the next morning on the National news. My brother Carl dispatched himself to McComb and Jackson, where the band members were taken. He acted as messenger between them. My brother Carl loved these guys, and would take a ton of his friends to see them. He was their best promoter..
RTJ : It seems that you started working with Lynyrd Skynyrd on the 1987 Tribute Tour. On the live album, you are credited in the security staff. How were you put in contact with them? What was this job?
Paul : I was living in Colorado and Gary Rossington was living in Jackson, Wyoming. We reconnected over the next several years and when the Tribute Tour came about, he asked me to go out with them as Security (bodyguard). I jumped on it although I had never done that type of work before. Gary said we're only going to do 32 shows and quit. 10 years later, I was still there.
RTJ : What do you think made Lynyrd Skynyrd's musicians continue as a full band after the Tribute Tour?
Paul : It was great until the lineup started to change. First, Artimus, then Randall, then Ed. The soul of the band left when Ed had to leave due to his health.
RTJ : How did you become Lynyrd Skynyrd's Tour Manager? What was one of your days like?
Paul : About 2 years in, Gary and the other band members trusted me to do their day to day business rather than anyone else. I stayed straight...well within reason. Sometimes, weed was a necessity.
My road day starts when the bus rolls into the next town. I grab hotel keys, get the drivers in their rooms and leave the rest of the keys on the bus for the bodies that stayed in bed. I then grab breakfast, usually at the hotel… sometimes at the venue. I work on guest list, advance upcoming shows, put out any fires that may ignite and get everyone ready for soundcheck. After soundcheck, it's a hang thing mostly. After dinner, we do a meet and greet, usually about halfway through the opener's set and then it's to the dressing room for 30 minutes before stagecall. After Alabama, the guys go to the dressing room for 5 or 10 minutes before they go out for Freebird. When Freebird started a couple of us would sweep the dressing room and make sure everything gets put in the right ride. The final note of Freebird, I would be back sidestage to direct the band to the vans or limos or busses. We go back to the hotel. Everybody showers and hangs out until the bus drivers are awake and ready to drive...usually 2AM. We have a ball on the bus, movies, beer drinking, dope smoking....some folks did cocaine, but I had given that up in 1975… abruptly. Get some sleep and start over again.
RTJ : You were on Lynyrd Skynyrd's tour in 1992. Was there tension between the band members? What was the relationship between Ed King and Gary Rossington?
Paul : There was always some sort of tension between Ed and Gary. I never understood it,
but mostly Gary initiated it. Other than that, everybody got along.
RTJ : In Paris, on February 27, 1992, we witnessed a jostling and some tensions between Ed and Gary on stage.
It even seems that later Ed and Johnny Van Zant came to blows. Is it correct?
Can you explain what happened that night?
Paul : It came to a head in the dressing room. Ed accused Johnny of spitting on him onstage. It was Johnny's birthday and he was really drunk. We got them back onstage for Freebird and back to the hotel afterwards where it started up again in the lobby. Johnny swung at Ed. Ed threw up a defensive hand. Johnny hit and broke Ed's slide guitar finger. We got everyone to their rooms and I thought it was over. I got a call that Johnny was either hurting his wife (who was there for his birthday) or trashing his room. I knocked on the door and she opened it. I went in and Johnny looked like he was possessed by the devil. He picked up a luggage stand with metal legs and threw it at me, hitting me in my shins. He then came running at me and before I knew it, I had hit him right between his eyes with an uppercut to his ribs. The trouble ceased and I sent to bed.
RTJ : Why did Randall Hall leave?
Paul : Creative and monetary differences. It hurt my feelings because I loved Randall.
RTJ : Can you specify the circumstances of Ed King's departure?
Paul : Short answer - Ed had a heart attack onstage in Asheville, NC. We had Greg Martin come in and sub for Ed until it was decided (?) that Ed wasn't coming back. I didn't get mired in those processes. I would usually only see the end results.
RTJ : Were alcohol and drugs as present as it’s been said in Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Paul : Yes. A lot of Jack Daniels. After Johnny's birthday in Paris, I renamed him Jack Damage for the rooming list.
More blow and Budweiser and Miller Lite, too.
RTJ : Is it true that one day, while fetching Leon Wilkeson, you put Lemmy from Mötörhead in his place without knowing who he was?
Paul : It was 2 days before our previously mentioned Paris show. It was really funny. He looked at me like I had cursed his name. I just didn't have a clue who he was, even after Leon told me.
RTJ : What are your best memory and your worst memory with the band?
Paul : Best memory was every night when they started playing their show.
Worst memory was the day I found out I was fired.
RTJ : When and why did you leave Lynyrd Skynyrd? Was Gary Rossington involved?
Paul : I left in the Fall of 1997, not of my choosing. On a whim, Gary and Johnny decided they wanted to replace me. It happened overnight. I was really never given a good reason, but after all was said and done, it was for the best. I didn't realize how much stress was involved in my job.
RTJ : Have you worked with other Southern rock artists?
Paul : 38, Tucker, Thunderbirds. I also worked with Paul Rodgers and Bad Co.
RTJ : Why did you move from Southern rock to country music?
Paul : I went out with Michael Peterson as a favor to his manager, a friend of mine. I worked with him in 1998.
I was really not planning on going back out on the road, but Ed King called me to tell me he had talked to Billy Ray Cyrus and I should go talk to him. I did and he made me a very generous offer to come to work for him. It lasted 11 years on and off.
RTJ : Which country artists did you work with?
Paul : Michael Peterson, Billy Ray Cyrus and Craig Morgan.
RTJ : What is your view of today's music scene? Are things so different from before?
Paul : Things are very different in this age of cell phones and internet. We did not have those luxuries.
RTJ : Do you have projects currently?
Paul : Not really. Retired from music business. I'm thinking about writing a second book.
I play in a band and we do occasional gigs for friends mostly.