By Ché Zuro
For anyone who grew up listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, loving the band, hearing about their plane crash in 1977, or who is just a history and music buff, this documentary is for you!
If I Leave Here Tomorrow is the newest film by Stephen Kijak, whose other films include
Stones In Exile,
Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of, and
We Are X. His latest documentary takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride from the very beginnings of Lynyrd Skynyrd through their rising career and untimely demise.
After winning various awards in the film festival circuit, If I Leave Here Tomorrow premiered exclusively on Showtime on August 19, and can be streamed on demand or viewed live.
The film begins in Jacksonville, Florida, with a couple of kids in high school putting the band together. With lots of never before seen photographs and family movies, the rise of the band takes on a personal feeling. When you hear about Ronnie Van Zant, Skynyrd's lead singer, being a poet while still in school, yet fighting anyone like a rising boxer, it gives one a better idea of what the band was really like. Interviews with some of the original members makes this precious to watch.
Gary Rossington and Johnny Van Zant
True fans will already know much of the information, but the real punch comes in the details. It's lovely to see Gary Rossington, who carries on the Lynyrd Skynyrd name with Ronnie's brother Johnny, featured in this film, chatting openly about all of his feelings about the band and his life. Carrying on the band in the memory of all of the deceased members must be difficult, but Gary does it with such reverence, you can't help but love him.
It's funny to hear some of the stories that have never really been told before, and I found myself getting chills when hearing, for instance, how Billy Powell, one of Lynyrd Skynyrd's roadies, said how HE would play "Free Bird," and then proceed to sit down and start the song like a concert pianist. He was immediately fired (as roadie) and hired as their keyboard player!
As a songwriter, I also got chills when hearing Ed King, who played guitar with the band from 1972-1975, tell us about how "Sweet Home Alabama" was written, starting with a riff, then the riff was taken to the next level, then a melody and lyrics and voila. It is a special story from a Southern California guy who never felt quite comfortable being in a band with guys who all shared a Southern bond.
Hearing Artimus Pyle talk about his time with the band was also quite interesting. Replacing Bob Burns, whose story in this documentary was fascinating, Artimus really never seemed to fit in but also was so different than the rest of the guys. Hearing his firsthand story about the plane crash and what everyone had been feeling before boarding the plane, and how it felt while they were beginning to go down into the woods in Mississippi is heartbreaking. The fact that so many of them actually survived is a miracle.
I loved this film.
(Authors note - Trying to be impartial is difficult as I had met the band the night after Ed King quit and remained friends with many of them until the plane crash. Some of my photos are included in this documentary, and although I did not think it would affect me as much as it has, I find myself wondering where they would all be today had they not boarded that plane.)
If I Leave Here Tomorrow - A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd
Directed and Written by Stephen Kijak
About Ché Zuro: Ché Zuro is a professional musician/singer/songwriter with a very colorful past. Along with writing, she is also obsessed with genealogy, skiing, travel, and history. Find out more about her at checheche.com or follow her on twitter