Lynyrd Skynyrd have written some of the most immortal, classic songs in the rock 'n' roll canon. But that doesn't mean they're averse to recording outside material, if the song's right. And on their latest album, Last of a Dyin' Breed (available everywhere August 21), there's one song, "Life's Twisted," that comes from a surprising source: Black Stone Cherry's Chris Robertson and Jon Lawhon! The two, along with Nashville songwriter Blair Daly, put the song together with an eye toward selling it to a contemporary country artist, only to find it being recorded for Last of a Dyin' Breed - something which Chris, a lifelong Skynyrd fan, still seems a little amazed by.
We got Chris Robertson on the phone to find out the full story of how this meeting of two generations of Southern rock came together. And check out the video above, in which Skynyrd guitarist Mark "Sparky" Matejka and singer Johnny Van Zant talk about the song.
How did you come to write a song for Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Well, what happened was, we had some time off and Jon [Lawhon] went down to write a song with a guy named Blair Daly, who we wrote with for Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea. None of the songs we wrote with him ended up making the cut, but Blair’s a great guy and we wrote some great songs with him. Jon went down and wrote the song with him, and they wanted me to play the guitar solo on it, and have Jon record it at my house, since I’ve got a small studio. When Jon brought me the song, he was like, “man, is there anything else [you want to add]?” I said, “I’ll tell you what, if you’ll split it with me, we’ll make it however you wanna make it.” So we went in and rearranged and restructured the song a little bit. It’s funny, because you spend all this money doing demos, but we ended up doing it in GarageBand on a Mac, just to make it quicker. We made it a little heavier, changed the vocal melody here and there. And then out of the blue we got a phone call and an email from Blair saying Skynyrd’s cutting “Life’s Twisted,” and I’m like, “Holy shit.” My favorite band of all time, hands down, is Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the fact that from now until the end of time one of their records is gonna have my name on it as a songwriter – that just blows my mind.
So it wasn’t something you intended for them when it was being written?
When the song was originally written, we were thinking about the modern contemporary country artists that dabble in rock ’n’ roll, like Eric Church or Jason Aldean, or someone like that. When Jon brought the song to me, for me to help out with, we were thinking more along the lines of something like that. It just so happens that a lot of the modern country is very Skynyrd-esque, with the distorted guitars and stuff like that. So it ended up working for them. Bob Marlette produced the Skynyrd record, and I called him when I heard, because Bob’s a great friend, and he said it was funny, because the Skynyrd guys are fans of ours, which is awesome to begin with. They’re great friends and they seem to like the band, and Bob said, “They didn’t believe me at first, but I was like, ‘I know that voice, I’ve recorded that voice. That’s Chris from Black Stone Cherry singing that song.’” And they were like, “but it came from a guy named Blair Daly,” and then they looked at the writing credits and saw that Jon and I were on there. So for us, the band that people say are the new wave of Southern rock, or whatever they wanna say, the fact that we got the band that started it all to cut a song that a couple of us wrote on…it’s pretty fuckin’ miraculous, in my opinion.
Do you know the Skynyrd guys? Have you shared a bill in the past, or hung out with them?
Oh yeah, yeah. We did a tour in 2009, it was us, Skynyrd and Kid Rock. And to see the guys from Skynyrd watching the show every night – that’s something you can’t take for granted, you know? The first song I ever remember hearing as a kid was “That Smell” and when I learned how to play guitar, I learned how to play to Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd. So for me, this is one of the biggest honors. Other than the fact that in Black Stone Cherry, we’ve been able to be very successful overseas and sell out tours and got ourselves a silver record and stuff like that, this is the biggest accomplishment in my musical career.