All bands have a resident comedian, and in Skynyrd's case it was Bob Burns, the man that former manager Alan Walden affectionately refers to as "Harpo".

 


Ronnie Van Zant played baseball with a local team The Green Pigs. He was playing in particular game in 1964 and it was his turn to swing. He hit a line drive a little harder than he thought and the ball flew straight at a guy who played for a rival team, "The Bugs", and watching the game. The guy landed out cold and Ronnie ( panicking that he may have killed him ) ran over to see how he was. The guy sprawled on the floor was to evolve into Lynyrd Skynyrd's first drummer, and his name is Robert "Bob" Burns.

Ronnie felt guilt at first and spent some time making sure Burns, and a friend he was with, Gary Rossington, was OK. He found though that he was spending time with them not out of guilt, but because they all loved music. Ronnie was an aspiring singer, Gary played guitar, and Bob had a drum kit. They headed back to Bob's house, and started to play together for the first time. They jammed songs such as, 'Last Time' by the Stones and 'Gloria'.

 


Gary and Bob were already well into sharing their music with each other. In fact, Gary wanted to be a drummer too, but realising that two drummers and nothing else wouldn't work, Gary took up guitar. Before long, the duo were joined by another young friend, bass player Larry Junstrom (who eventually found fame with .38 Special) and they called their band 'You Me and Him'. It was during the life of this band that Ronnie Van Zant appeared on the scene.

The foursome wanted to be more original than other bands, and decided a second guitarist was the way to do it, and so they recruited Allen Collins to their band.
 


COLLINS, ROSSINGTON,
VAN ZANT, BURNS, JUNSTROM

 

The band which was to become Skynyrd held its first rehearsal in the garage adjoining Bob's parents house. Unfortunately, Bob's parents got deluged with complaints about the din, so the band had to find other premises to practice in.

 

Right: Bob Burns house and the carport where they first jammed

 


The band moved to rehearse at a disused building they christened 'Hell House'. It was so named because of the lack of air conditioning which turned it into an oven, and the long hours the band played in there. These conditions were often enough to upset the meekest of people, but the two hottest tempers in the band were owned by Ronnie and Bob, who frequently clashed in the enclosed surroundings.

When the band were still at the stage of their career where they couldn't settle on a permanent name for the group, Bob was instrumental in them settling on Lynyrd Skynyrd.

 


By 1971, Bob decided he was missing an education and so he left ( temporarily ), being replaced by future Blackfoot front man Rickey Medlocke. The arrangement didn't last long, and Burns was back the following year. On 1987's Tribute Tour video, there is footage, owned by Randall Hall, of a 1971 Earth Day gig featuring both Burns and Medlocke as twin drummers. Sadly the footage has no soundtrack to it.

Bob Burns; "There are so many groups making it on their acts and clothes instead of on their music and that's not right. We just play our music and hope people like us."

 


Bob had a funky, distinctive, almost jazzy, drumming style that no-one else on the scene at the time even came close to resembling. This style marked Bob out from his contemporaries and Ringo Starr once said in an interview that he considered Bob to be
"the best drummer in the world".

During 1974, Skynyrd were joined on the road for a short period by North Carolina drummer Artimus Pyle, who went on to become a stalwart of the band. Artimus roomed with Bob at various hotels on tour and the two became friends. When Bob quit, the line of succession was practically guaranteed.

 


Bob Burns;
"I just had to leave for my own sake. The touring, the recording, the constant motion was too much. I'm very proud of my contributions though, even today, when I listen to the radio and hear me, I can hardly believe it."

Other versions of why Burns departed the band are, firstly that, Alan Walden remembers meeting Bob at an airport, and finding that the band had fired him, and secondly that, Bob left because he was suffering with his health due to the bands lifestyle.

The song 'Am I Losin' from 'Nuthin Fancy' was written by Ronnie on the subject of Bob Burns leaving the band.



ED, LEON, ALLEN, BOB, GARY, RONNIE, BILLY

 


Bob disappeared from view in 1975 and his background is vague until 1987 David Anderson played guitar in the same band as Bob from 1987.

This initial band was called Reckless, and featured David on guitar, Bob Burns on drums, Bud Jones on guitar and vocals, and Greg West on bass. They played progressive country music at their gigs, but in the last set of the night they would play more country rock stuff. Occasionally, from 1988 onwards, Leon Wilkeson would show up and play a guest slot with the band, often until three in the morning. The band held a residency type arrangement for a year at Dottie's Bar and Grill, Memorial Drive, Atlanta Ga.

Later in its career, 'Reckless' changed its name to 'American Steel', which continued for another two years before breaking up. Bob and David then hooked up again in 1999 to form 'Burns and Co.'. That band played a series of shows in summer 1999 with Jimi Hendrix' cousin Riki.

 


After many years out of the limelight, Bob Burns had re-emerged, in a surprise one off guest appearance, to play live with Skynyrd in 1995. It was a show performed to celebrate the premiere of Freebird the Movie.

Judy Van Zant; "At the end of legendary producer and player Al Kooper’s set, several members of Skynyrd came out to jam. The crowd’s response grew as first Billy and then Leon walked out, then increased even more when Gary came onstage, but the Fox Theatre nearly exploded when Bob Burns sat down behind his drums. This historical event marked the first time in twenty-one years that Skynyrd’s original drummer played onstage with Lynyrd Skynyrd. Later, towards the end of the show Bob and Artimus both played with Skynyrd on the all-time classic, 'Gimme Three Steps'."

 


Bob is held in awe by fans of the band, but sometimes this can turn sinister. This happened when Bob was plagued by a guy impersonating him. The man, eventually exposed as one Carroll Church, played gigs and turned up at music stores claiming to be Bob. The owner was suspicious when 'Bob' was unable to answer some of his questions on the band. He was eventually arrested when he ran up an $8,000 hospital bill and tried to charge it to Bob and MCA Records.

 


After his one-off gig, Bob again vanished from view for a number of years. In fact it wasn't until very recently that he re-emerged with the Classic Southern Rockers ( http://www.classicsouthernrockers.com ) comprising of himself, ex-Skynyrd guitarist Mike Estes, former Outlaws picker Steve Grisham, former Skynyrd bassist Timmy Lindsay, keyboardist Barry Rapp, and ex- Southern Rockers Reunion vocalist Ted Patton.

 


On March 13th 2006, Bob Burns once again took to his stool and performed with Lynyrd Skynyrd. This was at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame awards ceremony, when he was inducted along with other pre-1977 band members, Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Steve Gaines, Artimus Pyle and Leon Wilkeson.

Bob Burns; "I'd like to thank the fans, and especially the band, and the man ( Ronnie )."

Congratulations Bob.

       


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