Long considered the "wild man" of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Artimus Pyle's
powerful and distinctive double bass drumming helped define the
legendary Skynyrd sound.
Born at St Joseph's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky on July 15, 1948,
Thomas Delmar Pyle, the only son of Clarence and Mildred Pyle, weighed
nearly 8 pounds. Almost from his earliest memories, Artimus recalls
being fascinated by rhythm and sound. Even his first love, horses, came
from the rhythmic clopping as they moved. Tommy and his two sisters were
always around horses and animals as they grew up spending a lot of time
with their grandparents. Artimus' first memory involves falling off a
horse at age seven. When asked if he was OK after picking himself up,
the confident Tommy replied,
"Yep, it's a long way down
All of the Pyle kids worked a great deal for
their family while growing up. One of his earliest jobs,at the age of
eight, was running a bulldozer with his grandfather. Again, Tommy
noticed the constant rhythm of the machine and was soon tapping his feet
and patting his hands in time with his work.
ARTIMUS IN 1949
Music was always there for young Arti. His dad sometimes conducted swing
bands and sang a little. In fact country and swing music dominated the
airwaves for Artimus.
"Grandma would always have
country, pure Nashville Tennessee country music, blaring over the radio
with a lot of static. Real bad reception, just blasting through the
house to get everybody up for breakfast."
Artimus' natural sense for time and rhythm
made his mother buy him a set of bongos when he was nine years old. Then
when Tommy turned twelve, his dad bought him a real set of drums, a
used red sparkle Slingerland rig that he treasured. The Pyles often
moved around a lot, because Arti's dad was an architect who had to move
with his work. Artimus spent his teenage years in Columbus, Ohio. This gift soon led to the
formation of his first band, The Thom Thumbs.
After graduating high school, Tommy entered
the Marine Corps where he performed extremely well. He was selected the
best honour recruit in 1968, which netted him the award of a full-dress
Marine uniform from the Leatherneck magazine. His career in Marines,
although short, was rewarding and an influence that remains to this day.
Arti was very nearly sent into combat in Vietnam - he was being sent for
training when the war drew to a conclusion. Artimus was eventually
discharged from the forces on compassionate grounds - his father's
Cessna 150 plane was hit from behind by a B-57 bomber over Albuquerque,
New Mexico. When he left the Marines, Tommy enrolled at Tennessee
Technical College in Cookeville, Tennessee. Here Tommy was transformed
into Artimus. Still "baby-faced" despite the years in the Marines, his
buddies at the school renamed him in honour of the virgin Artemus.
TOMMY ( ARTIMUS ) 1968
As college friends met hometown friends, Artimus stuck.
Artimus settled in
Spartanburg, South Carolina. His first wife said she had musician
friends who lived there, and indeed she did, George McCorkle and the
rest of The Marshall Tucker Band.
"I met George McCorkle
and all of them and it was just like getting together and smoking a
joint. So, I got to know the guys and everything. They invited me to a
couple of shows."
Still playing drums locally In the early '70s, Pyle came to the
attention of Southern Rock legend Charlie Daniels, via Marshall Tucker,
who gave him a job as a percussionist at the Volunteer Jam. From the
Charlie Daniels Band, Pyle moved on to play as a session drummer with
The Marshall Tucker Band themselves. Pyle's' association with Tucker and
possibly Daniels even more so, came in very handy. Charlie Daniels was a
man who Ronnie Van Zant had huge respect for. Pyle wanted to play a show
with Skynyrd, and when Charlie said Artimus was a great drummer, that
was good enough for Ronnie. Pyle got to meet Ronnie and Ed King at
Studio One at Doraville, Georgia.
"When Ronnie Van Zant
got the OK from Marshall Tucker and Charlie Daniels, hell, he hired me
almost without hearing me. He set up an audition for me with Ed King and
Leon in Atlanta but he didn't even show up. He said "Hire the guy". He
gave me a paper sack with $5,000 cash in it. We were two of the happiest
people in the whole wide world. We paid our bills, we bought us a Sony
Triton TV set. We were fat city."
Artimus' live debut with the band took place in Jacksonville's Sgt
Pepper's Club in October 1974. The gig, a show to raise money and
awareness for Jacksonville's food bank, was hot. Everyone remembers the
band walking through the front door and into a crush of people that
doubled the legal occupancy of the club. Playing under the hot lights in
an over-packed club with an underpowered air conditioner made for a
memorable night. When Bob Burns left the band permanently following
Skynyrd's first European tour in December 1974, Artimus quickly got the
nod as Skynyrd's new drummer.
Pyle's first album with Skynyrd was 'Nuthin' Fancy', a chance for him to
show of his distinctive double bass drumming. However, Pyle didn't need
a big kit to produce his distinctive Southern feel - on the great
acoustic track Artimus backs Ronnie, Gary, Ed, and guest mandolin picker
Barrylee Harwood on nothing more than a marching drum and a coca-cola
crate. It worked brilliantly.
One of Arti's highlights with the band was the 1976 Knebworth festival -
a huge open air gig at Knebworth, England where the band was second on
the bill to the Rolling Stones. It was the biggest single audience the
band had ever played to and they played their hearts out on the day,
outperforming the Stones according to legend.
ARTIMUS & RONNIE
"There was 250,000 people there that day. There
were no drug overdoses, it was in the middle of an English drought.
There was dogfights above the crowd by old WWI aircraft. Simulated
dogfights. There was hot air balloons...it was just a beautiful day."
was an incredible day. Incredible music and just brushing shoulders with
Jack Nicholson and Paul and Linda (McCartney) and I met the Stones and
all the people from the business that were there. I remember looking
through a window out of our dressing trailer, and looking into this tent
where Mick Jagger and Gary Rossington and Ronnie were sitting. They were
smoking hash. They were tapping a pipe. I mean this was years ago so I
know it wasn't crack, or whatever they smoke in that. They were passing
this thing around, and I remember sitting there in my dressing room
looking through the window and going "Man, I'd like to go over and smoke
hash with Mick Jagger" But I didn't. I said "Nah...I'll just watch"."
Skynyrd were on one of their many UK and
European tours in 1977, when they involved in a fracas in a London
hotel. With a conference going on in one of the function rooms, Ronnie
and the band were drinking the bar dry. As often happens, the drink
started talking and Ronnie, Gary and Artimus wound up in a fistfight
with the conference delegates. Unfortunately for Skynyrd, they had
selected the wrong opponents. The delegates were not paunchy
businessmen, but the Metropolitan Police Boxing team. Artimus and Gary
ended up being carried out of the hotel unconscious.
The years Artimus played with Skynyrd were the years that solidified the
legend behind the band. Quickly developing into one of the nation's top
touring draws with a gruelling schedule of 300 shows a year, the
constant work and touring paid off. During this time Artimus was
generous to other talented bands who hadn't broken like Skynyrd had,
such as the late Ace Moreland's band. By October 20, 1977, Skynyrd's
songs had become radio staples. Their latest album, Street Survivors,
had just been released to critical and popular acclaim. Their ambitious
new tour, just days underway, saw sell-out crowds. Then it all fell away
at 6000 feet above a Mississippi swamp.
Once the plane had been
downed into the swamp, Pyle knew that if help didn't come they would
probably all die.
"My friends were bleeding
and dying. I didn't think about it, I just took off running."
Pyle had numerous wounds from the crash including broken ribs as he ran
for help. It is important to remember his bravery, he had to negotiate
two to three feet of swamp water, infested with snakes and alligators in
pitch darkness. Eventually, Artimus spotted a farmhouse in the distance,
and made for it. The farmer, Johnny Mote, saw a bloodied Pyle charging
towards him, looking like Charles Manson. Unsurprisingly, Mote assumed
himself to be under attack, and so he shot Pyle in the shoulder. It
wasn't until Pyle could say the words
that Mote began to realise what had happened.
What's the truth about you after the crash? There
are so many rumours and urban legends about you running for help and
getting shot by a farmer.
Those are all true.
Pyle survived the crash and after some time in recovery he continued to
drum. His first outing was with fellow Skynyrd, Billy Powell, when they
helped out on an album by Texan singer-songwriter Leon LeBront. He then
performed with some of his ex-Skynyrd colleagues in a short-lived band
called 'Alias' who released a solitary album in 1979 called
He was then lined up to be the drummer for the Rossington Collins Band,
but partway through the preparation of the first RCB album, Pyle broke
his leg in a motorcycle accident in South Carolina. The band tried to
make provision for his recovery by pushing back the recording dates, but
eventually Artimus decided that his participation was not fated, and he
pulled out. He was replaced in the band by well known Jacksonville
drummer Derek Hess. He wasn't forgotten however, and was mentioned in
the credits in the liner notes of the first Rossington Collins Band
album 'Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere', as well as introducing the RCB at a
concert in Orlando, Florida.
With Arti unable to participate in the Rossington Collins Band, he
formed his own band in 1981, APB (All Points Bulletin), with Darryl Otis
Smith, John Boerstler, Steve Brewington and Steve Lockhart. The band put
out two MCA albums, 1982's 'APB' followed by 'Nightcaller' in 1983 ( on
which Lockhart was replaced by Russ Milner and new vocalist Karen
In 1987, the Skynyrd reunion was being planned, and when the time came
for a drummer to be found, Artimus was the man they turned to, ahead of
even Bob Burns, after all, Arti had the bond of being a crash survivor
and was also with the band in '77, and the reunion was to continue as
close to that line-up as possible. Arti got the call to say the band was
going to play a one off show. At this time he was living and working in
Jerusalem. He was on a plane home to America within 24 hours, with a
plan that he would commute between his home in Israel and the Tribute
Tour in America. He rejoined his former colleagues for the Lynyrd
Skynyrd Tribute Tour in 1987.
The Tribute Tour was not without problems, especially when Judy Van Zant
and Teresa Gaines took the band to court. Judy had a document signed on
a drug filled night in 1978 which was signed by Rossington and Collins.
It said that Skynyrd's name would never be used again. Although settled
out of court, Skynyrd agreed the name could only be used under the 'Rule
of Three'. This meant that the band had to include Gary Rossington, and
at least two more out of Leon Wilkeson, Billy Powell, Ed King and
Artimus remained with the band until the recording of their comeback
studio album 'Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991'. Pyle left the band shortly after.
left Skynyrd because they were doing the coke thing. I couldn't stand to
be a part of that. I'm not saying that I haven't done drugs and that was
Not long after leaving Skynyrd, Artimus was embroiled in personal
problems involving allegations from his then girlfriend. The short
version is that Pyle's legal defence allegedly cost him half a million
dollars and cleaned out his bank account of everything he made from
playing with the band.
It is also alleged that
when the news broke, Skynyrd very quickly distanced itself from Artimus.
Artimus allegedly said
that he went to see Rossington and Johnny Van Zant to see if they would
allow him to work with them, even temporarily, to help get him back on
his feet. They apparently never contacted him with an offer.
Although he was no longer a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Artimus put much
of his time into helping to promote 1995's 'Freebird the Movie' across
After Skynyrd, Artimus was a member of The Fenwicks, before forming a
trio involving Molly Hatchet's legendary bassist Banner Thomas called
"The Truth". "The Truth" didn't last for a long time, due to Artimus
having differences with the other two members and ever since it finished
Artimus has resurrected and sustained his APB band which remains a
popular draw on the live circuit. In fact, APB was the launch pad for
some great musician's, most notably The Allman Brothers Band and Gov't
Mules phenomenal bass player, the late Allen Woody.
In 1997, Pyle says that he was contacted by Gary Rossington and asked
back into the Skynyrd fold to drum on what would become the 'Twenty'
album. Arti expressed interest, but says that Gary never returned to
him. Next thing Pyle knew, the band had signed up session drummer Owen
Hale to perform with them.
In 1999, Artimus joined most of the original Molly Hatchet band in a
one-off fund raising show for their diabetes and stroke affected leader
Danny Joe Brown.
(All Points Bulletin)
More recently Artimus has been performing in 2004 with
the Saturday Night Special Band, a Ronnie Van Zant tribute act. The band
has since renamed itself 'Artimus Pyle and the Saturday Night Special
Arti is now happy and healthy, living in Asheville,
North Carolina, with his lovely wife Kerry.
March 13th 2006, Artimus was inducted into the Rock
And Roll Hall Of Fame for his pre-1977 involvement with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
At the induction ceremony Artimus performed with fellow inductees, Gary
Rossington, Billy Powell, Bob Burns and Ed King, and current Lynyrd
Skynyrd members Johnny Van Zant and Ean Evans.
Visit Artimus at his website :