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Comfortable In Their Own Skynn
by Nathan Orme
Aug 26, 2009 | 634 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy photo -
Larry Woodruff performs the role of Ronnie Van Zant for the Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band Skynnyn Lynnyrd, which will be a John Ascuaga’s Nugget on Saturday night.
Courtesy photo - Larry Woodruff performs the role of Ronnie Van Zant for the Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band Skynnyn Lynnyrd, which will be a John Ascuaga’s Nugget on Saturday night.
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For anyone who missed seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd before the plane crash that killed several band members in 1977, or for those of us who only know the group from the radio, this weekend is the chance to see the legendary Southern rockers on stage.

Not literally, of course. The Northern California-based band Skynnyn Lynnyrd will be in the Celebrity Showroom at John Ascuaga’s Nugget to bring the band back to life. The modern incarnation of the famed classic rock group, which brought the world “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Gimme Three Steps” and “Free Bird,” is still together (with the younger brother of original lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and original guitarist Gary Rossington), but tribute band Skynnyn Lynnyrd attempts to both play the music and the original stage characters.

“I myself have studied away my character,” said group founder Larry Woodruff, who plays the role of Van Zant. “I’ve studied his body language, the way he moves, the way he talks, the way he walks, the way he sings.”

Woodruff put the group together in 2005. One of his first recruits was guitarist Kirk Thomas to play the role of Rossington. Woodruff then searched long and hard around his hometown of Vacaville, Calif. to find musicians who could perform the music and learn the roles. Another guitarist, Robert Moody, came to audition for Skynnyn Lynnyrd four years ago when he was just 15 years old.

“I kind of giggled but I hid it so he didn’t see me doing that because I didn’t want to embarrass him,” Woodruff said of Moody’s audition. “I didn’t know he studied ‘Free Bird’ for eight months before that. His father told me later that’s all he played.”

Moody got the part and is now part of the nine-member band that plays 25 to 30 shows a year, mostly at casinos and fairs.

Rounding out the band are Chris Durham, also on guitar, bassist and music director Curt Tosthma, drummer Marc Schwarz and keyboardist Mike Klepic. The band’s two female backup singers, Debralee Andersohn and Heather Rose, are integral to the effort to recreate the original Skynyrd sound, Woodruff said.

“Lynyrd Skynyrd was based around the harmonies and the girls blazing out ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘That Smell,’ ” he said. “We’ve worked hard to get those girls right up to par.”

Woodruff said the band spends four to six weeks practicing each song and getting the sound, stage presence and “each little nuance” just right.

Woodruff’s love of Lynyrd Skynyrd started more than 30 years ago.

“When I was probably 12 or 13 years old a friend of mine, Jimmy — I’ll never forget it — for my birthday he gave me an album, ‘Nuthin’ Fancy,’ and from that point I was totally hooked,” Woodruff recalled. “I took it home and just played that thing until I could memorize all the words. I started playing acoustic guitar at 14 years old to that record.”

That record was Skynyrd’s third, released in 1975, and Woodruff’s copy helped it reach platinum status. The group only had time to release two more albums before the 1977 crash in South Carolina that killed Van Zant, two backup singers, an assistant road manager and the two pilots. Other band members suffered serious injuries but survived, though the band didn’t survive the incident.

The band’s music lived on, however, in the hearts of fans like Woodruff. He worked for 20 years as a musician before forming Skynnyn Lynnyrd. The tribute project has found work across the United States thanks to some help from promoter That’s Entertainment Inc., and has gone from practicing in a garage to having a 1,400-square-foot music studio with a stage, lights and even a lounge.

“I love rock and roll and I have a country side of me too,” Woodruff said. “With Lynyrd Skynyrd a lot of lyrics and music are based around country music and I’ve got that Southern twang in me. This is the only role I was going to be able to play in rock and roll.”

Skynnyn Lynnyrd performs Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the Nugget. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling (800) 648-1177 or online at www.janugget.com.

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