Rickey Medlocke

In 1979, Blackfoot—the band name being a nod to guitarist Rickey Medlocke’s Native American heritage—scored a multi-platinum record with Strikes. The “Highway Song” went on to become a Southern-rock staple, while “Train, Train,” recently scored number 16 on Country Music Television’s “Twenty Greatest Southern Rock Songs.” Medlocke was a commanding performer, firing off heavy, blues-based riffs on his Gibson Explorer, while leading Blackfoot to be one of rock’s hardest touring acts. The original band disbanded in 1984, was revived by Medlocke in 1990, and is now reunited once again—without Medlocke.

Happily, his absence has nothing to do with dissolution or diminished powers. After being one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first drummers in the late ’60s/early ’70s, Medlocke was asked by Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington to rejoin the band as a guitarist in the mid 1990s. He has held the gig ever since.

“In 1972, I remember my grandfather saying, ‘There’s something very magical about these guys, and you’re taking a big chance leaving,’” says Medlocke of his decision to vacate the Skynyrd drum throne. “But I knew I’d never lead them to greater heights. They needed a powerhouse drummer. And, anyway, I’ve always stayed true to what I am, and that’s a heavy, blues-rock guitar player. I wanted to sing and play guitar, so I formed Blackfoot.”

In Blackfoot, you and Charlie Hargrett played lead guitar.
Yes. Whoever’s style best fit the song was the one who played the solo, and we never fought over who was playing what. Charlie’s style was really smooth and melodic—like Leslie West meets Paul Kossoff. He was very quick, as well. My favorites were Hendrix, Clapton, and Beck, and I derived a lot of my style from them.

Who played the outro solo on “Highway Song”?
That was me. The lead guitar was done in one take. We recorded the lead several times, but we always came back to the first take, because it had a vibe and feel that we dug. The truth is, we were really beat up because a lot of people thought “Highway Song” was a “Free Bird” rip off because both songs were ballads with fast endings. But it’s a song about the road, and I wrote it because of all the southern bands that were our brothers—bands like Skynyrd that we shared stages with over the years.

You played some great slide on “Train, Train.”
That was all derived from my grandfather, Shorty Medlocke—who had cut the song years before. He was heavily into Delta blues, country, and bluegrass. Mississippi John Hurt was my favorite player back then, and I worked his style into my own playing. We needed one more cut to finish Strikes, and I just started fooling around with the riff to “Train, Train.” Shorty played the harmonica on that track.

The chunky rhythm intro is one of the most identifiable in southern rock.
Shorty taught me a lot about heart and soul, and how you need a great feel to make a riff special. I couldn’t be more proud of that. When I hear that rhythm progression on the radio it still gives me chills.

What kind of gear were you using then?
Almost exactly the same stuff I use today. I had three hot-rodded Marshall heads with six Marshall cabinets. I also have a Fender Blues DeVille. I pretty much run from guitar to head—although I sometimes use an old Crybaby wah.

Being raised by such a renowned blues and bluegrass musician as Shorty Medlocke must have given you some serious insights.
He told me that you’re only as big as your last record, and you’re only as popular as your last show. That’s something I’ve never forgotten.