By Geoffrey Rowlands
American rock bands Greta Van Fleet and Lynyrd Skynyrd share a common bond. They hold the distinction of taking their band name from that of a living person.
Lynyrd Skynyrd used the monikers My Backyard, The Noble Five and The One Percent before settling upon the name under which they found fame.
It was initially Leonard Skinnerd, a mocking tribute to the Robert E Lee High School physical education teacher, Leonard Skinner, who was notorious for strictly enforcing the school’s policy against boys having long hair. The more distinctive spelling was developed within a few months.
The band had a friendlier relationship with Skinner in later years. He was even asked to introduce them at a concert in their home city of Jacksonville, Florida. But his relationship with Gary Rossington had been so bad that the guitarist actually dropped out of school rather than be constantly hassled about his hair.
But if Lynyrd Skynyrd chose their name as a mocking gesture, there was no such acrimony in the choice of Greta Van Fleet.
“We named ourselves after an elderly lady in our home town of Frankenmuth, Michigan,” revealed lead vocalist Josh Kiszka, who co-founded the band in 2012 with his twin brother Jake, younger brother Sam and their friend Kyle Hauck. “We’d never met her but her name was mentioned by Kyle’s grandfather and we thought it sounded like a really cool name for our band.”
“The only thing we changed was her first name,” added guitarist Jake Kiszka. “The lady’s name is actually Gretna Van Fleet but we thought dropping the n and calling ourselves Greta Van Fleet just sounded that little bit better.”
“We hadn’t actually asked permission,” admitted bassist and keyboardist Sam Kiszka. “We were doing a show in our home town and there were all these Greta Van Fleet posters. Some people apparently misread the name and thought she was doing some kind of performance.
“Anyway, Van Fleet and her husband attended the show. They must be in their 80s but sat through our entire set and came to see us later when she officially gave us her blessing to use the name.”
Danny Wagner replaced Kyle Hauck on drums in 2013. The band spent their first few years playing numerous concerts and effectively learning their trade. A pledgemusic project raised the money to finance the recording of a live EP at Detroit’s Groovebox Studios on February 28, 2014. At the time, each band member was still in high school.
“It was our family, friends and fans who gave us the money,” Jake stated. “We were lucky to have a solid fan base even back in those days. They believed in us and what we were doing. We’d never seen such devoted people. They were from all ages and genres, not just white kids. They really loved our music.”
So too did important people at the Chevrolet motor car company. They authorised the use of Greta Van Fleet’s song, Standing On, to soundtrack a commercial for the Chevy Equinox compact crossover SUV.
Television producers also appreciated their work. In 2016, the band’s live performance of Highway Tune was used on the show, Shameless. But it wasn’t until 2017 that fame really started beckoning to Greta Van Fleet.
A deal was signed with Lava Republic Records. Highway Tune was released as the band’s official debut single. It topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, the first of three Greta Van Fleet songs to do so. They recorded two EPs. Black Smoke Rising reached number 10 on Billboard’s Top Hard Rock Albums chart but From The Fires hit number one. Fan appreciation also saw the band win Best New Artist at the 2017 Loudwire Music Awards.
“It was definitely quite a year for us,” Danny laughed. “In addition to everything with the music, Sam and I got to graduate from high school. We were touring and playing music festivals but June 1 was deliberately left free for our graduation from Frankenmuth High.”
This year has seen Greta Van Fleet achieve even greater success. Their debut studio album, Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, shot straight to pole position on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart and hit number three on the Billboard 200.
It registered the week’s highest album sales. But factoring in equivalent units such as streaming and digital downloads saw Greta Van Fleet placed behind the soundtrack from A Star Is Born and Future & Juice Wrld’s collaborative commercial mixtape, Wrld on Drugs.
“We originally planned to use songs we’d written over the last few years,” Sam remarked. “But about 75 percent of the album is made up of new songs which we wrote during a two-week period.
“It basically turned into a concept album. The songs ask fairly large questions. What are we doing to ourselves? What are we doing to our environment? What are we doing to each other? Why must there be hate? Why must there be greed and evil? I think it simply asks the question of why can’t we all be one? We’re all people. We all look up at the same sky, breathe the same air and come from the same place.”
Anthem Of The Peaceful Army has also become a huge hit throughout much of the world. Their international popularity is reflected in Greta Van Fleet’s current concert tour which takes the band to Britain, Europe, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand as well as dates across North America. Sadly, there are no concerts scheduled for the Gulf.
“People just have to let us know if they want to see us live,” Josh smiled. “If the demand is there, we’ll come and play.”
A 46-year-old documentary film featuring the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, has finally be shown to the public.
Footage for Aretha Franklin: Amazing Grace was shot in January, 1972, at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles during the recording of Aretha’s multi-million-selling live album, Amazing Grace.
It was originally intended to accompany the album’s release. But director Sydney Pollock made the monumental mistake of failing to use a clapperboard to synchronise the audio and video. This made the film extremely difficult to edit in the pre-digital era.
So difficult in fact that the project was shelved and the footage remained untouched until producer Alan Elliot acquired the rights to the documentary in 2007. Experts were engaged to digitally assemble the finished film which was completed in 2011.
It was presented to Aretha Franklin for what was expected to be her nod of approval. In the event, her attitude was completely the opposite. She even took legal action to prevent the documentary from being released.
Aretha’s stance on the matter was baffling. Thankfully, the heirs to her estate hold a different view. Sabrina Owens, Aretha’s niece and executor of her estate, could hardly be more enthusiastic about the documentary.
“Alan presented the film to the family and we absolutely loved it,” she remarked. “Amazing Grace is the heart and soul of Aretha Franklin. It is so pure and joyous. Her fans need to see this film.”
Amazing Grace premiered last night (November 12) in New York at the DOC NYC documentary film festival. Week-long runs are scheduled for New York and Los Angeles before a wider cinematic release will follow in January, 2019.
A trailer for Amazing Grace can be seen at (no www.) vimeo.com/284564169
London duo Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker, better known as Zero 7, recently released a new track, Mono. The video is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-edN-oRsYI It is the lead single from what is expected to be a new studio album, their first since 2009’s Yeah Ghost, to be released early next year.
Interest in Zero 7 should be ramped up ahead of the new album by the November 30 release of a special edition of their Mercury Prize-nominated 2001 debut album, Simple Things.
Originally composed of 12 songs, plus some bonus tracks on overseas editions, the new release consists of two CDs. It features all tracks from the various editions of Simple Things plus remixes and three live songs performed for San Francisco radio station KFOG.
Five singles were released from the original album. Two feature, and were co-written by, Sia Furler. Largely unknown back in 2001, although she did have a UK top ten hit in 2000 with her debut single Taken For Granted, Sia’s involvement should ensure additional interest in the special edition of Simple Things.
A video of Sia and fellow vocalist Sophie Barker performing the single, Destiny, with Zero 7 during a live session for San Diego radio station KPRI in 2002 is available to view at www.youtube.com/watch?v=uin5LDFr1SE
The original Simple Things album can be heard in full at www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV5FhnK2UKM
If you enjoy their music, Zero 7’s entire set at the 2004 Glastonbury Music Festival is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRjGlmLdebM
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