All I Can Do Is Write About It: One Boy’s Journey Through Music With Lynyrd Skynyrd

By C. Eric Banister

All I Can Do Is Write About It chronicles both the career of Lynyrd Skynyrd and how music writer C. Eric Banister used their music to dig deeper into the history of all music, a task that wasn’t quite as easy in those pre-Internet days of the 1980s. An introduction by rock legend and Lynyrd Skynyrd founding member Ed King notes: “I read Eric’s book and enjoyed it muchly. I must say he hasn’t skimped on details.”

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By the time I fell in love with Lynyrd Skynyrd the band had been disbanded for 7 years. They had released their first album when I was two years old and their final album, at least with the classic line-up, when I was six. I remember the sound of “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “What’s Your Name,” and, of course, “Free Bird” throughout my childhood, sort of a sonic breeze that blew through the background of life along with other bands from all sorts of genres. Growing up in the late-1970s and early 1980s in an out-of-the-way part of Southern Indiana, I depended heavily on music, both from records and from the radio, to pass the time.

Less than a mile from my home, down a winding state highway, lived my Grandma, my mom’s mom, and during the summer my mom would take my brother and I there to spend the day. While Mom and Grandma did whatever it was they did, I sat in a room with a record player and whiled away the hours listening to whatever music I could find in the remnants of record collections left by my uncle and my aunt when they moved out on their own. There was a little of everything in those boxes: the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Ray Stevens, Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole.

My Dad listened to pretty much anything rock or country and my Mom preferred rock or pop. Every Sunday we loaded into the 1971 Duster my Dad called the Miracle Machine and headed down the two lane for the hour drive to my other Grandma’s house. On the way there we listened to the current Top 40 on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40, and on the way back that evening we listened to Bob Kingsley and the American Country Countdown. To me, it was all just music and I soaked it in for the two-hour roundtrip.

That has been my attitude toward music for as long as I can remember. I think I was around 11 or 12 years old when I got a clock radio. I listened to that radio every minute I was in my room, including at night while I drifted off to sleep, and it would still be playing when I woke up. I alternated between two radio stations – 97WB out of Bloomington, Ind. and 101.5 WKKG out of Columbus, Ind. 97WB played a Top 40 format and WKKG was country, so both played predominantly the current hits. It wasn’t until a few years later a rock station would come to town.

Aside from music, my other great love at this time was reading. I read pretty much anything that I could get my hands on. My favorite books to check out of the school library were a series about the classic Universal monster films like Dracula and Frankenstein. One of the books showed detailed pictures and drawings about how each monster was created through special effects and makeup. I started to really enjoy the behind-the-scenes stuff and tried to get as many books about things like that as I could, whether it was about movies, television or music.

Like most elementary school libraries, it had a limited selection. Not like the library in town that seemed to have endless shelves of books. To promote reading and the public library, there was the Bookmobile, a sort of rural extension of the city library. It was a big RV fitted with shelves that held the books from falling out while it made its way from town. Being mobile they couldn’t fit that many books in, so you could request them to bring books on a certain topic the next time they visited and I often requested that they bring books about music and musicians.

It was around this time that I would walk down to my uncle’s house and asking him to pull something out of his record collection for me to hear. Uncle Randy was always game to find a song or band I hadn’t heard before and to tell me something about the group as we listened to the song.

There are three albums I distinctly remember requesting when I would visit. One was a compilation of heavier artists like Black Sabbath and Nazareth and I would often request “Iron Man” or “Love Hurts.” The second was the soundtrack to the movie American Hot Wax that featured music from the ‘50s including Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and other stars of that time. The third included a lot of the songs I had heard in the background for so long.

Gold & Platinum was a two-record Lynyrd Skynyrd greatest hits package including songs that spanned the life of the band, from the early recordings to the their last. It included a gatefold cover adorned with an amateurish drawing of the band in rehearsal that fascinated me. It featured child-like caricatures of the band, their background singers The Honkettes, and other assorted characters I had no idea about.

The songs, which had all been previously released, included their most popular songs like the ones mentioned earlier and songs I wasn’t familiar with at the time. Those songs, “That Smell,” “I Know A Little,” and “You Got That Right,” all came from the Street Survivors album, their last album of new material, released in 1977. Gold & Platinum also included the lyrics for each track along with the names of the band personnel that played on them. This would come in handy later.

There was something about the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd that drew me in, made me listen to it differently than I had to music previously. I’m not sure, to this day, that I can pinpoint exactly what it was that drew me. Out of all of the records in Uncle Randy’s collection, I gravitated to this far more than anything else. I made a conscious decision that I had to get more of it.

Now, before I latched on to my uncle’s record collection, I had latched on to the boxes of comic books he had left behind at my Grandma’s. My Aunt Kathy had set out to be a beautician and in a burst of entrepreneurialism she purchased an Airstream trailer that had been outfitted as a rolling beauty salon. But somewhere shortly after she went a different direction and the trailer was parked in my Grandma’s backyard. It quickly became a storage area for things left by my uncle or my aunt when they moved out.

- C. Eric Banister

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