Got to love Artimus Pyle, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s drummer at the time of their plane crash. He is too old and crusty to be politically correct and god bless the world for people like him.
He isn’t part of the current Lynyrd Skynyrd Farewell Tour and explains why in the interview quoted below. The movie he struggled to make amidst lawsuits trying to block its release is done and available, but the memory of the crash never ends.
Music has saved my life. At the end of the movie, I say I loved being the drummer of Lynyrd Skynyrd. I’ve been dragged through the mud; I’ve been falsely accused. Judy and Vector [management] and all of those people have stolen millions of dollars from me that could have been in my bank account. They’ve given my paycheck away to 15 different drummers that can’t play the parts. I have every reason to be bitter and pissed off. But I tell you something, I’ve got eight incredible children and grandchildren. They all play music. With this movie, we did the very best we could with the resources that we had under the conditions that we had. And it didn’t have to be that way, but that’s the way it was, and I’m so proud of Cleopatra, of the attorneys that defended us, of the actors and actresses that portrayed us and put their hearts and souls into it and of Jared Cohn, the director. I feel very satisfied that we did the best we could.
After watching this movie, I’ve been listening to more Skynyrd. Throughout this critique, I’ve picked out songs that would have fit in with the movie — but with only one exception — don’t exist. It’s my way of saying, the music is what should have made it into this movie. It would be something like Elton John’s biopic Rocket Man not having the title song.
That’s my fundamental criticism of the movie: the missing Skynyrd music. The elephant in the room. The rest of the movie, lower budget aside, is done pretty well.
Only one Skynyrd song is actually in this movie, and that’s “Call Me The Breeze.”
Rock and roll drummers, unless you’re John “Bonzo” Bonham of Zeppelin, Keith Moon of The Who, Tommy Lee / Motley Crue, Neil Peart of Rush and others, we typically don’t get to know skin bashers very well. It’s always the lead vocalists or guitarists that get the majority of the limelight. The timekeepers are very important to the overall band, but they are so often obscured behind their kits.
I’d heard of Artimus Pyle before, he’s the second drummer for the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Don’t ask me how many other drummers they’ve had, but they only had two with Ronnie Van Zant. Bob Burns played on Skynyrd’s first two albums where the bulk of their hits (like almost their entire first album were hits). Why did Burns leave the band? According to Wikipedia, he suffered a mental breakdown after a European tour. Burns is deceased, after a car crash in 2015.
From here, it’s spoiler territory.
… you’ve been warned, SPOILERS ahead …
So, this film is Artimus Pyle’s account of what happened. How he joined the band (very briefly), followed by what happened during and after the plane crash.
The crash happened on Thursday, October 20, 1971. Ironically, Skynyrd has two famous songs with days of the week in the title: “Tuesdays Gone” from their debut album and “Saturday Nigh Special” — which are exactly one day apart between the day of the crash.
It would have been cool if the movie opened the movie with “Tuesday’s Gone” and then at some point before the end of the movie — but not the ending — played “Saturday Night Special” The first song would have fit the title sequence and Artimus Pyle’s initial story because Bob Burns, the original Skynyrd drummer left the band (no idea if that was on a Tuesday, but wouldn’t that be really coincidental?).
Pyle’s present day band was on the label Cleopatra, which put him in connection with the film’s director, Jared Cohn.
There has been a multi-year legal battle between current members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and family members of the deceased over Artimus Pyle telling his story of what happened. Some allege that Pyle was a coward and ran away, while Pyle was a Marine and his account is that he went to seek help.
On the opening of the movie, Pyle explains his frustration that they couldn’t have a bigger budget and Gary Rossington and Judy Van Zant, the lead vocalist’s widow, tried to block the movie from ever being released. They blocked any Skynyrd songs from being included in the movie except for “Call Me The Breeze” which wasn’t originally a Skynyrd song.
In an interview with Street Survivors director, Cohn explains if he believes Pyle’s account of the crash.
I took everything else into consideration and I put pieces of that to fill out the story, when I was creating the world. But in terms of how things went down when that plane started to crash, it’s Artimus’ point of view. I sat with him, he was crying, thought it was emotional and there were tears; it’s impossible not to believe him, so I 100% believe everything that he said.
Pyle’s first album with Skynyrd was Nuthin’ Fancy in 1975. The biggest hit song from that album was “Saturday Night Special” — I think it would have been better to place this song toward the end of the movie, but in this post, I’m putting it here.
The movie highlights the album “Street Survivors” Pyle worked on with the band, but again, none of the music is licensed, but it would have been cool if they played during all the naked breasts, drinking and drugs, the song “That Smell”
The song “Simple Man” would make a good song to include after Pyle was established joining the band. The song makes me think of Pyle, even though he wasn’t in the band at the time of the debut album.
It seemed like a lot of the people in the band, maybe save for Ronnie Van Zant just cared about playing great rock and roll and were simple in that regard, but the music they played wasn’t very simple. A three guitarist attack was being formed in the mid 70s that one can only dream what would happen had they been able to continue.
During the plane crash would have been too much to play any music, but the song before the danger is detected happens, perhaps on the radio they could work in “What’s Your Name”
After the crash, the stock music they used is good as it is. That’s the only place I didn’t want to hear any Skynyrd music. Somewhere before the end, working in, “Sweet Home Alabama” seems like a necessity.
Of course the movie and end credits should have had “Free Bird” — here, again a live performance playing alongside all the people involved, living and dead from this band could have rolled in the credits.
It seems Artimus Pyle wanted a movie with this music to be included, but licensing just wasn’t going to happen with the movie being under constant legal barrage. We’ll have to settle for this accompanying blog post to put the music where it belongs in the story.
Reviews by Others
This film doesn’t have a lot of reviews out there, probably because it’s VOD and more narrow-focused, but I’ve seen a couple Street Survivors: The True Story of The Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash reviews to share.
The Ballad of Curis Loew: “There is no doubt Skynyrd fans will be divided on the merits of this movie. The families of those that perished in the plane crash will, I am certain, consider it an intrusion on their grief. It will touch many raw nerves. For me, as the titles rolled at the end, the abiding emotion that I am left with is one of profound sadness. At times, especially the band’s final moments, I wanted to stop watching. Heart breaking.”
World Film Geek: “…despite the low budget, this is actually a pretty decent indie biopic that starts with Pyle, played with excellence by newcomer Ian Shultis, auditioning for the band and his eventual bond with the late Van Zant, played by Taylor Clift. One thing is for sure, yes, there is Lynyrd Skynyrd in the film, but the focus is without a doubt more on Pyle and his bonding with Van Zant”
In my reading list, haven’t see any reviews that weren’t recommended as of this writing. It’s possible there will be more reviews when it leaves VOD and hits one or more streaming services.
Did I miss your review? Use the comments to tell me about your movie-related/review blog and I’ll follow. I like following movie-related blogs and pull quoting from my reading list as well as other new blogs shared, liked and discovered.
Other films about Lynyrd Skynyrd
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I went into a Skynyrd sidetrack mode watching and reviewing movies about the band. Here are some other related reviews: