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Long considered the "wild man" of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Artimus Pyle's powerful and distinctive double bass drumming helped define the legendary Skynyrd sound.
Born at St Joseph's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky on July 15, 1948, Thomas Delmar Pyle, the only son of Clarence and Mildred Pyle, weighed nearly 8 pounds. Almost from his earliest memories, Artimus recalls being fascinated by rhythm and sound. Even his first love -- horses -- came from the rhythmic clopping as they moved. Tommy and his two sisters were always around horses and animals as they grew up spending a lot of time with their grandparents. Artimus' first memory involves falling off a horse at age seven. When asked if he was OK after picking himself up, the confident Tommy replied, "Yep, it's a long way down though."
All of the Pyle kids worked a great deal for their family while growing up. One of his earliest jobs -- at the age of eight -- was running a bulldozer with his grandfather. Again, Tommy noticed the constant rhythm of the machine and was soon tapping his feet and patting his hands in time with his work. Artimus' natural sense for time and rhythm made his mother buy him a set of bongos when he was nine years old. Then when Tommy turned twelve, his dad bought him a real set of drums -- a used Slingerland rig that he treasured. This gift soon led to the formation of his first band, The Thom Thumbs.
After graduating high school, Tommy entered the Marine Corps where he performed extremely well. He was selected the best honor recruit in 1968, which netted him the award of a full-dress Marine uniform from the Leatherneck magazine. His career in Marines, although short, was rewarding and an influence that remains to this day. When he left the Marines, Tommy enrolled at Tennessee Technical College in Cookeville, Tennessee. Here Tommy was transformed into Artimus. Still "baby-faced" despite the years in the Marines, his buddies at the school renamed him in honor of the virgin Artemus. As college friends met hometown friends, Artimus stuck.
Although he had developed other interests and jobs, music continued calling Artimus and he returned to the drums. His first real break came with the Charlie Daniels band's Volunteer Jam. His first recording lists -- Artimus Pyle, percussion. Then with other work for the Marshall Tucker Band, Artimus became known as a powerful session drummer.
Using his connections with Charlie Daniels and Marshall Tucker, both acts that toured often with Skynyrd, Artimus met with Ronnie VanZant and Ed King at Studio One in Doraville, Georgia. The results of that meeting -- Saturday Night Special -- greatly impressed Ronnie. Artimus' live debut with the band took place in Jacksonville's Sgt Pepper's Club in October 1974. The gig, a show to raise money and awareness for Jacksonville's food bank, was hot. Everyone remembers the band walking through the front door and into a crush of people that doubled the legal occupancy of the club. Playing under the hot lights in an over-packed club with an underpowered air conditioner made for a memorable night. When Bob Burns left the band permanently following Skynyrd's first European tour in December 1974, Artimus quickly got the nod as Skynyrd's new drummer.
The years Artimus played with Skynyrd were the years that solidified the legend behind the band. Quickly developing into one of the nation's top touring draws with a grueling schedule of 300 shows a year, the constant work and touring paid off. By October 20, 1977, Skynyrd's songs had become radio staples. Their latest album, Street Survivors, had just been released to critical and popular acclaim. Their ambitious new tour, just days underway, saw sellout crowds. Then it all fell away at 6000 feet above a Mississippi swamp.
At 6:42 PM, the pilot of Lynyrd Skynyrd's chartered Convair 240 airplane radioed that the craft was dangerously low on fuel. Less than ten minutes later, the plane crashed into a densely wooded thicket in the middle of a swamp. The crash, which killed Ronnie VanZant, guitarist Steve Gaines, vocalist Cassie Gaines, road manager Dean Kilpatrick and seriously injured the rest of the band and crew, shattered Skynyrd's fast rising star as it cut a 500 foot path through the swamp. Lynyrd Skynyrd had met a sudden, tragic end.
When the time came for the crash survivors to continue their musical careers with the Rossington Collins band, Artimus was originally slated to resume his duties on drums. Shortly before the recording project got underway though, he was involved in a serious motorcycle crash in South Carolina. His injuries prevented Artimus from joining Rossington Collins, but the following year he released his own album, A.P.B. with the Artimus Pyle Band. Followed with Nightcaller in 1983.
At the time of the ten year anniversary of Skynyrd's plane crash Artimus was living and studying in Jerusalem. When the call came about reforming Skynyrd for the 1987 Tribute Tour Artimus returned to the States the next day. What was originally set up as a one-time event, stretched into a three year tour across the country. Then in 1991, Lynyrd Skynyrd '91 released the first new recordings in 14 years. The tour supporting the album was a tense and grueling one for Artimus, and resulted in his leaving Skynyrd in August. Since leaving the band Artimus has always remained active in his own musical projects. In the past he took an active role in promoting Freebird... The Movie by appearing for television and radio interviews across the country. Click this link for up-to-date information on Artimus Pyle
In 1971 his father was killed in a mid-air collision in Albuquerque, N.M. when he was nearly finished with four years in the military.
“I was the sole surviving son, so they let me out, but not by much,” he said. “I was in 3 years, 11 months, 22 days, 6 hours, and 25 minutes, but I had a four year hitch and I had signed up to go to officer's candidate school and fly jets. I passed all the Marine Corps history and everything, but they wanted me to do two more years of college. I had one year of college and not good grades. They wanted me to go back to do two more years, make the grade and then go to officer's candidate school at Quantico. Then my dad was killed ... I just lost my heart for flight. My dad had taken lessons about the same time I started taking flight lessons. He soloed and I was about to solo, then he was killed. I went from almost being a Marine Corps officer flying jet airplanes to a drummer in a rock band.”