From feeding chickens in Benbecula to rock n roll music fame

Damon Johnson and Keith Christopher of Lynyrd Skynyrd perform on stage in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)Damon Johnson and Keith Christopher of Lynyrd Skynyrd perform on stage in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)
Damon Johnson and Keith Christopher of Lynyrd Skynyrd perform on stage in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)
​So, how did I, a boy from the Outer Hebrides end up being the leading authority on Lynyrd Skynyrd, one of the world’s iconic rock bands, and became pals with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees whose hits include Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama?

Well, it began for me in the most un-rock’n’roll surroundings imaginable in a Gaidhlig-speaking home on the Isle of Benbecula.

My earliest musical memories are listening to country stars such as Charley Pride and Jim Reeves who featured regularly spinning on my parents’ record player. My only access to rock and pop was the crackly sound of Radio Luxembourg and the 7” pop singles my older brother brought back from the mainland.

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When I moved to high school on the neighbouring island of North Uist I met my English teacher, a lovely man from Lewis named Gordon MacDonald. Apart from being an inspirational teacher, Gordon had a large collection of records and on a Friday afternoon he would bring some of these into school for his pupils to listen to.

Iain and Skynyrd guitarist Rickey MedlockeIain and Skynyrd guitarist Rickey Medlocke
Iain and Skynyrd guitarist Rickey Medlocke

Pink Floyd, Yes, Bad Company, Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan all impressed, but it was when Gordon lent me his copy of the Lynyrd Skynyrd live album ‘One More From The Road’ that my musical education was complete. I’d never heard of the band. On the bus on the way home I read the liner notes and gazed at the band pictures – seven long haired hellraisers from Jacksonville, Florida. Jim Reeves never dressed like these guys, they looked so damn cool.

Forty-seven years on, I still remember the moment I first heard that record. I carefully placed the needle on the vinyl on my parents' old box record player. The thundering drums, crashing guitar chords, all lapped up by a raucous rock and roll crowd who stomped their feet and cheered themselves hoarse.

The sound took my breath away; it was extraordinary and exhilarating like nothing I’d ever heard before – and it seemed like another planet compared to the Outer Hebrides.

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I was captivated by the passion, technical excellence and musical integrity that underpinned the band's sound. I was drawn like a moth to a flame by Ronnie Van Zant, Skynyrd’s charismatic frontman and leader, chief lyricist and the band’s heart, soul and driving force who was complemented by a magnificently talented band.

Iain Monk with Johnny Van Zant, Skynyrd lead singer.Iain Monk with Johnny Van Zant, Skynyrd lead singer.
Iain Monk with Johnny Van Zant, Skynyrd lead singer.

“What’s that noise?”, my mother yelled from the scullery. Definitely not Charley Pryde, I thought to myself. When I gathered together enough pocket money I started buying the band’s other LPs and then, as my devotion grew, band memorabilia.

Gordon MacDonald said: “When you retire from a career in education, you sometimes wonder how your former pupils got on in the world. Learning that Iain had simultaneously carved out a career for himself in the Scottish civil service while also becoming a leading authority on one of the world’s iconic rock bands gave me genuine pleasure tempered with relief that the stumbling efforts of a novice teacher appeared not to have done him any lasting damage.

“Goodness only knows what his parents thought when the driving rock of Skynyrd was rattling their windows. All of which was a salutary reminder that a teacher’s influence may extend beyond subject boundaries in unexpected and sometimes improbable ways!”

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In October 1977, three days after the Skynyrd released their ‘Street Survivors’ LP, tragedy struck when the band’s chartered plane crashed in a Mississippi swamp killing frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie Gaines who sang backup vocals in the band. Assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick and both pilots also lost their lives. The other band members were seriously injured.

The new book explores the classic years of the band between 1973-1977.The new book explores the classic years of the band between 1973-1977.
The new book explores the classic years of the band between 1973-1977.

The rock world mourned the loss of one of its most exciting and distinctive artists and we are left to ponder what could have been if cruel fate had not intervened and silenced the group at its peak.

Since 1987, when the surviving members reformed, I have seen the band 35 times and have become friends with the band and their families.

In 1988, I decided to travel to New York for three shows. I wrote to the band’s management company asking if they could help with tickets. They set me up with tickets and were so impressed by my dedication that they gave me all access backstage passes and invited me to travel between shows on the band’s tour bus.

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In the years that followed I criss-crossed the US and Europe on numerous tours following the band from city to city. Atlanta, Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Portland were just some of the great places I visited and on each occasion, it was access all areas.

In 1997 I flew to America’s west coast for two shows and then jetted to Florida to holiday at the home of then Skynyrd guitarist Randall Hall who had invited me to stay with his family.

One minute I was feeding the chickens or mucking out the byre on the family croft, the next I was travelling on the Skynyrd tour bus hanging out with my heroes. I was living the dream.

Last year I was asked to pen the epilogue to a new 400-page coffee table-style photo book celebrating the American rock icons’ roller coaster history.

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‘Pronounced – A Photographic History of Lynyrd Skynyrd’ explores the classic years of the band between 1973-1977 through the lens of the world’s greatest music photographers.

As well as writing the epilogue, I also dated and provided venue information for all the pictures as well as supplying images and rare band memorabilia from my own collection.

The book includes photos of Skynyrd onstage at the world-famous Glasgow Apollo, the first venue the hard-drinking and often-brawling band ever played in Europe and by far their favourite European setting.

In keeping with the much-missed Apollo’s legendary slogan – “They’ve all been .. and they’re all coming back” – Skynyrd played on numerous occasions there during the 1970s and always sold it out to full capacity.

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Skynyrd loved Glasgow and its people and created a special bond with the venue, feeding off the energy radiating from the raucous Apollo crowd.

One of the nicest people I’ve met in my travels following the band was former Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle, he played in the classic 70s lineup. He’s been very kind and generous with his praise for my involvement in the book.

Here’s what he said: “Lynyrd Skynyrd loved Scotland and the thousands of fans that flocked to our shows in the legendary Glasgow Apollo. We enjoyed brilliant times in the city, the warm welcome and excellent hospitality we received was humbling. Iain Monk, our Scottish superfan, has dedicated his life to celebrating the band’s music.

“Reading the epilogue that he wrote for the new Skynyrd photobook moved me greatly. It’s incredible. I fought back the tears reading his beautiful, deeply personal, heartwarming tribute. I thank him for all he has done to keep alive the memory of Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

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The book marks the culmination of my remarkable bond with the band which spans almost fifty years and it was an honour to write the book’s epilogue. I poured my heart and soul into crafting the right words to do justice to the memory of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Gordon MacDonald helped ignite my passion for Lynyrd Skynyrd and to this day I thank him for his kindness, without which I would never have discovered the band. Looking back to that day after school in my parents’ living room, I just can’t quite believe the journey I’ve been on with the band.

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music ignited a passion in my heart 47 years ago that remains undimmed. It’s been one hell of a ride.

Pronounced - A Photographic History of Lynyrd Skynyrd - is published by Rufus Publications at

Iain writes a Lynyrd Skynyrd music blog, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, via Facebook