Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Steps & Stairs: Gimme Three Steps

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Gimme Three Steps

A few years back, I wrote a piece for Cover Me that was timed to run on the anniversary of the plane crash that killed three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and his sister Cassie Gaines, along with the pilot, co-pilot and the band’s assistant road manager. The rest of the band, manager and crew all suffered serious injuries. I melded the blog’s In Memoriam series with a Full Album treatment, focusing on the band’s debut, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd. One of the things that struck me as I was writing it was that a number of the songs were drawn from the remarkably colorful life of singer Ronnie Van Zant, including “I Ain’t The One,” meaning “the father,” "Tuesday's Gone," about the change in his life following a major label deal, and, most amusingly, “Gimme Three Steps.”

The song recounts a true incident when Van Zant used a fake ID to enter a bar in Jacksonville, Florida and made the mistake of dancing with another man’s wife or girlfriend. When the aggrieved gentleman appeared to be reaching for a gun, Van Zant told him: "If you're going to shoot me it's going to be in the ass or the elbows... just gimme a few steps and I'll be gone." He ran out of the bar and back to the truck where his bandmates Gary Rossington and Allen Collins were waiting. They reportedly wrote the song that day, possibly in the truck. It is unclear whether that bar was The West Tavern, later known as the Pastime, or another bar called The Little Brown Jug, whose name conveniently allowed them to rhyme it with “cutting the rug,” but it hardly matters. In addition to being a great tune, what makes the song a classic is Van Zant’s presence of mind to ask for a head start, then beating a hasty, panicked retreat when circumstances resulted in his getting that lead preventing him from getting shot. Because, if nothing else, if he had been killed in that bar, not only wouldn’t we have “Gimme Three Steps,” but the last song on Pronounced would never have been recorded, and concertgoers would have nothing stupid to yell out.

If you have read any of my stuff here, there, or there, you know that I’m a huge fan of the Drive-By Truckers, and the album that broke them to a wider audience, Southern Rock Opera, is filled with Skynyrd references and allusions. They’ve even been known to work a little “Gimme” into one of their songs, live. And here’s something I just found, a Village Voice article from 2002 about the Truckers, after the release of Southern Rock Opera, entitled "Gimme Three Stepsisters," which gets into some of the Skynyrd stuff. (Not a bad article, despite getting the drummer’s name wrong).

And, if you read my stuff here, there or there, you also know that I’m a big fan of Uncle Tupelo (and the bands that formed from its demise). Their last gig ever ended with a sloppy cover of “Gimme Three Steps” featuring Bottle Rockets singer (and former Uncle Tupelo roadie), Brian Henneman, on lead vocals.

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