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Pyle in 2011
|Birth name||Thomas Delmer Pyle|
|Born||15 July 1948|
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
|Associated acts||Lynyrd Skynyrd, Artimus Pyle Band|
Thomas Delmer "Artimus" Pyle (born July 15, 1948) is an American musician best known for playing drums with Lynyrd Skynyrd from 1974 to 1977 and from 1987 to 1991. He and his Lynyrd Skynyrd bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Pyle was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of homemaker Mildred "Midge" Pyle (née Williams; 1925-2008) and Clarence "Del" Pyle (1921-1971), a construction superintendent who was awarded a Purple Heart after being shot in the leg while serving with the U.S. Marines in the South Pacific during WWII. Both his parents had roots in the Jamestown, Tennessee area, and he is a distant cousin of WWI hero Alvin York. Through his maternal grandmother, he can trace his ancestry to Claus Koger (1572-1630), a bailiff who lived in the German town of Weil am Rhein. Pyle had a younger sister, Marilyn (1953-2016). Known as Tommy throughout his childhood, Pyle graduated from Eastmoor High School in Columbus, Ohio in 1966, and studied for a year at Tennessee Technological University where classmates dubbed him "Artimus" on account of his boyish face. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1968. He was named platoon and series honorman and promoted to private first class following completion of boot camp in San Diego. Eyeing a career in civil aviation, Pyle worked as an avionics mechanic at various military bases, including Millington, Tennessee and Beaufort, South Carolina, ultimately rising to the rank of sergeant. He was honorably discharged in 1971, after his father was killed  in a mid-air collision with a U.S. Air Force B-57 weather reconnaissance bomber over New Mexico.
Pyle joined Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1974, initially playing alongside, and then replacing, original drummer Bob Burns. He made his recording debut in August of that year on "Saturday Night Special", which became the first single from the band's third album, Nuthin' Fancy. In addition to Nuthin' Fancy, Pyle also played on the albums Gimme Back My Bullets, One More from the Road, Street Survivors, Legend, Southern by the Grace of God and Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991.
Pyle was known as "the wild man of Southern rock" for his antics. During one gig in New Jersey in 1977, he jumped into the crowd to quell a disturbance. The band's singer, Ronnie Van Zant, remarked, "We keep him in a cage and feed him raw meat, only let him out when it's time to play." During a gig in London, England, he was lowered to the stage by a trapeze rope while hallucinating on mescaline. Despite such stunts, Pyle was relatively even-keeled compared to his raucous bandmates, and spent much of his time trying to defuse chaos caused by excessive drug and alcohol intake.
He survived the 1977 plane crash that killed Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister Cassie Gaines, who was one of the background vocalists, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, and the two pilots. Pyle suffered torn chest cartilage, but he and two other survivors managed to stumble several hundred yards through a creek and a freshly plowed field to a farmhouse to get help. The appearance of Pyle and his companions alarmed the farmer, Johnny Mote, who fired a warning shot over Pyle's head, according to Pyle. The misunderstanding was quickly cleared up after Pyle shouted that there had been a plane crash, and the farmer helped him inside his house. About the same time, local rescuers, who had just completed a Civil Defense drill, converged on the scene and Pyle directed them to the crash site where the dead and the injured were located.
On January 13, 1979, the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited for Charlie Daniels' fifth annual Volunteer Jam concert in Nashville. They played an instrumental version of "Free Bird". (Bassist Leon Wilkeson watched from the wings because he was still unable to play.)
Pyle and several other bandmates also worked with a short-lived trio called Alias on their album Contraband. The group consisted of Dorman Cogburn, a childhood friend of Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington; vocalist Jimmy Dougherty, who went on to sing on the Allen Collins Band's sole album; and former Skynyrd backing vocalist JoJo Billingsley.
These collaborations set in motion the formation of the Rossington Collins Band, with all the survivors plus Dale Krantz on lead vocals and Barry Lee Harwood on guitar. Pyle was forced to drop out after breaking his leg in 21 places following a collision with a drunk driver. Pyle was replaced by Derek Hess.
In 1982, Pyle began recording and touring with the Artimus Pyle Band (A.P.B.), including Darryl Otis Smith, John Boerstler, Steve Brewington, and Steve Lockhart. A.P.B.'s albums include A.P.B. (1981), Nightcaller (1983) and Live from Planet Earth (2000).
Pyle took part in the Skynyrd Tribute tour and joined the reformed Lynyrd Skynyrd in recording Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991 before departing the band during a show in Toronto on August 2, 1991. In a radio interview with Rick Lewis and Michael Floorwax on The FOX in Denver, Colorado on the 20th anniversary of the crash, Pyle said, "I left the band in 1991 basically because there was a problem with drugs and alcohol and I felt as though we should have put all that stuff behind us years and years ago."
Both Pyle and his predecessor, Bob Burns, performed with the current version of Lynyrd Skynyrd following the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
As a child, Pyle was introduced to country music stars such as Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Floyd Cramer, and Eddy Arnold by listening to the radio when he stayed with his maternal grandparents in Tennessee. He also absorbed his father’s passion for Patti Page, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra. His favorite musical artists include Frank Zappa, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, and Japanese electronica pioneer Isao Tomita.
Pyle learned his craft by listening to the radio and copying drummers such as Ringo Starr, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Joe Morello of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. He got his first set of drums when he was about 12, a red sparkle Slingerland kit consisting of one bass drum, one tom, one floor tom, and a snare drum. He has described his style as “technical.”
During his time with Lynyrd Skynyrd, he initially played a chrome-plated Jazz Rock Slingerland kit that he had bought with his Marines discharge check. It featured two rack toms (14 and 15 inches); two ﬂoor toms (16 and 18 inches); two bass drums (24 inches); and a Rogers Dynasonic snare drum (14 x 6.5 inches). Later, the Slingerland Drum Company built him a set of blonde-maple drums with red mahogany rims. The kit consisted of four tom-toms up, two toms on the floor, with a double bass drum. He specified no heads on the bottom for better microphone placement, although it made drum-tuning more of a challenge. His cowbell was an actual cowbell.
He taped his sticks like a gladiator’s sandals, calling it the “gladiator grip.” He took thin strips of duct tape, and painstakingly made an interweaving pattern along the stick. The tape created a bond with his hands so that he didn’t have to grip the sticks as hard and could play more aggressively. He wears ultralight black leather gloves, which he dampens just before showtime to create the same bonding effect. He uses heavy, unlacquered Vic Firth 5B sticks.
Pyle plays in several bands in the Asheville, North Carolina area. He also tours the United States with a new incarnation of the Artimus Pyle Band that plays Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes note-for-note faithful to the recorded versions. Former Lynyrd Skynyrd member Ed King has instructed Pyle’s bandmates on the original chords and tunings.
In 2004, Pyle recorded four studio tracks on Southern Rock band Rambler's album First Things First with vocalist Pat Terranova, guitarist Mitch Farber, bassist Willy Lussier and acoustic guitarist and vocalist Rikki Cuccia. In 2007, he toured with the band Deep South, whose lineup also included Wet Willie vocalist Jimmy Hall and former Atlanta Rhythm Section members Robert Nix and Dean Daughtry.
In 2007, Pyle released the album Artimus Venomus on Storm Dog Records Group/Cleopatra Records. Several of the tunes referenced his personal tribulations, including “Blood Sucking Weasel Attorneys” and “Dead Rock Stars, Widows, Gigolos, Pocket Money.” Guests included Ed King and former Lynyrd Skynyrd backing singers Jo Jo Billingsley and Leslie Hawkins.
In June 2017, Pyle was sued by Ronnie Van Zant’s widow, Judy Van Zant, Gary Rossington, current Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Johnny Van Zant, and the representatives and heirs of Allen Collins and Steve Gaines. They claimed his involvement in a low-budget feature film about the band’s plane crash infringed upon a consent decree the band agreed to in 1988.
In October 2017, Pyle was going to publish his memoir, "Street Survivor: Keeping the Beat in Lynyrd Skynyrd", cowritten with journalist Dean Goodman, through Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard. However, the above lawsuit kept the book from being published indefinitely.
Pyle lives in North Carolina. He has three sons, two daughters, and two grandchildren. He has been married twice. His interests include cars, motorbikes, horses, and watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle. He is a vegetarian.
In 1993, Pyle was charged with alleged attempted capital sexual battery and lewd assault on two girls. He denied the charges, claiming the girls had been abused by people connected to babysitters in a Jacksonville mobile home park who held a grudge against him. Moreover, he claimed the allegations were an attempt to extort money from the Lynyrd Skynyrd organization. During legal depositions, Pyle's attorneys claimed various law enforcement and welfare workers in Jacksonville had misreported the allegations and were unqualified to ascertain child abuse. Under cross-examination, the girls' mother said that she had not seen Pyle abuse the girls. In one instance, it was alleged that the girls had been influenced by self-help books and tapes about abusive fathers. With time and money running out weeks before the trial was due to start in January 1994, Pyle pleaded no contest rather than risk a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty in a jury trial. He was sentenced to probation and required to register as a sex offender. In 2007, Pyle was arrested for alleged failure to register as a sex offender in St. Johns County, Florida, after officials lost the change-of-address form he had sent them when he and his family moved to North Carolina. He rejected a plea bargain offer, and was acquitted by a jury in 2009.
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