By Todd Houston
Rockford Rocked Interviews: Good morning, Ed! For those who don’t know, you were one of the founding members of The Strawberry Alarm Clock (Incense and Peppermints) and one of the original members of a little band called Lynyrd Skynyrd. Take us back to when you first joined up with the Skynyrd crew.
Ed King: Well, The Strawberry Alarm Clock did a tour of Southern colleges and that’s where we met. After that the Alarm Clock did a tour of the South with Skynyrd opening the shows and me and Ronnie Van Zant did an exchange of phone numbers. A year later he said he’d be in L.A. on a certain date and wanted to go to a Dodger game. I bought us all tickets to the game. He didn’t show up. I never heard from him again until October, 1972. I was playing this club in Greenville and Ronnie called saying that Leon Wilkeson had quit and that he needed a bass player. The next day he drove up to get me. That’s how I became the second luckiest guitarist in the world. The reason he thought of me when Leon left is that I played a bit of bass in the “Alarm Clock”, especially on many of the recordings. Later, Ronnie called me the worst bass player he’d ever played with so he switched me to guitar and we wrote some cool tunes. (laughs)
RRI: What was the typical Lynyrd Skynyrd song writing process like?
EK: Our song writing was almost always like this… one of us would play Ronnie Van Zant a song idea. If he liked it, he’d write a verse and that would dictate where it was going. Once a verse and chorus were done, Ronnie would leave and go fishing down at the dock. While there he’d write the rest of the lyrics listening to us up at the cabin assembling the pieces, deciding solos, arranging it and getting the groove straight.
RRI: I understand that you wrote the main riff for the song “Sweet Home Alabama” and played the iconic guitar solo.
EK: Even though my riff is what got Ronnie into writing it, Gary had been playing his riff for 15 minutes before I got there (you can hear it mixed back in the verses). When I threw mine in to bounce off Gary’s, Ronnie locked in. I wrote the choruses and everything up to Billy Powell’s solo. It was a three-way collaboration as I never would’ve been inspired to write my part without Gary Rossington’s contribution.
Sweet Home took us about three hours to record. The basic track was me on a 1972 rosewood Strat, bass, drums and scratch vocal. All other parts were added one at a time. My solo was all done in one take and it, and the shorter solo, were completely mapped out. I had seen them both in a dream the night after we wrote the song. No improvisation. I used a 50-watt Marshall up full! The strat was a lousy guitar but great for that song. It’s now on display at the Rock Hall.
RRI: There’s a rather funny story that says producer Al Kooper argued with you about the “Sweet Home Alabama” solo section, saying that you were playing the solo in the wrong key and wanted the solo redone with either Allen Collins or Gary Rossington playing it. Personally I couldn’t imagine it being played any other way. Thoughts?
EK: I have heard that story but I never asked either one of them about it. The guys actually stuck up for me. They said that since I had seen it in a dream then that is the way it was going to be. I didn’t just hear it in a dream, I actually saw it! My crazy logic always told me that the song is actually in the key of G NOT D. Listen to Billy’s piano solo at the end, it’s also in G. I rest my case.
RRI: You guys were known for fighting, boozing and tearing up the road. Tell us a good tour story.
EK: Here’s one. In early 1974, we went to San Francisco for the first time. With a night off, the guys went cruising downtown in our new (to us) tour bus. I stayed back. Way later that night, there’s a knock at the door and it’s Allen’s standing there asking “Ed…you wanna see something REALLY weird?” Then Gary shoved Ronnie into my doorway. He was quite bloodied with two black eyes…drunk & howling! What happened was they were cruising a bad part of town. Ronnie was sitting near the wheel well, closest to the door and somebody (I’ll not say who) stuck their head out the window at a stop light and yelled at these three guys on the corner, “What all you F***’s up to?” They ran to the bus door, opened it, and dragged Ronnie out. (He was innocent, by the way.) Beat him pretty good! His face bled for days.
RRI: In previous interviews you mentioned that some of your fondest memories with Skynyrd were rehearsing at The Hell house. Tell us about that if you would.
EK: The Hell House was a cabin at the end of this field and was owned by a guy who lived a couple of miles up from the cabin near the road in a little town called Green Cove. The cabin was on a creek and alligators would come up out of it, sit on the shore and listen to the music. It was real fun. We’d get to Hell House no later than 9 a.m. every day without fail. We stayed until dusk and rehearsed the entire time taking very few breaks. There wasn’t any fooling around or sittin’ idle.
One of us had to stay there every night so nobody would steal anything. Before I joined the band, they left the cabin unattended and somebody came up the creek in a boat and stole some Marshall amplifiers. It was a pretty scary place to spend the night. There were gators and there were noises like you would not believe. I slept with big bright lights on all night long. If you’ve got a copy of the vinyl album version of Nuthin’ Fancy, all of the inner sleeve photos are taken at the Hell House. We were constantly wiping the sweat off the guitars.
RRI: With all the success and four Skynyrd albums under your belt, you decided to leave the band in 1975. Some might say it had to do with singer Ronnie Van Zant’s drinking and his off the wall behavior. Thoughts?
EK: Ronnie was brilliant but he could be abusive to band members and to women. I watched him beat the shit out of a woman one night right in front of me. That left an imprint on my brain that I was in a perilous situation. As it became worse, I saw my exit as a clear-cut choice.
Ed, bottom right, with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
There also came a time in a hotel room in Springfield, Illinois where we gathered to clear up some confusion. Allen Collins (guitar) was in tears and just wanted to go home. We were all dissatisfied with how the Nuthin’ Fancy album was thrown together…it was unfinished. I wanted to finish the current leg of the tour and go home to recoup. Everybody in that room agreed with me and Ronnie told me to go to management and tell them. It was at that point that Ronnie allowed me to take charge of this and I did. Two weeks later I was gone. Pushed out, I feel. Management didn’t want me around because I was “poisoning Ronnie’s mind”. When it all got too heavy, I could see that the final outcome would not be pretty. I gathered my guitars, my bags, and what was left of my pride (very little) and bolted. It was a survival instinct and a “writing on the wall” sort of thing, Todd.
RRI: Okay Ed, I’m going to say a word or phrase. Please answer with the first thing that pops into your head. The Beach Boys.
EK: The best tour of my life with The Strawberry Alarm Clock. Spring of 1968.
RRI: Stevie Gains (Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist).
EK: He was a natural. I was not!
RRI: Blackberry Smoke (Southern rock/country rock band from Atlanta, Georgia).
EK: A really good Southern band who’ve been around for decades.
RRI: Fender guitars.
EK: You can’t play “Sweet Home” on a Gibson.
RRI: MCA Records.
EK: I’m thankful they still send checks!
RRI: Muscle Shoals Studio.
EK: They had the best rhythm section on earth. The studio had notable charm and vibe.
RRI: Cheap Trick.
EK: Sorry, Todd – I’m not that familiar with Cheap Trick.