Rest In Peace, Ray

But Ronnie Van Zant spins in his grave

When you're a devotee of vintage music, you get used to your favorite peeps croaking like a school of tuna swimming beneath a bleeding Exxon tanker. However, the news that slammin' songster Ray Condo was found dead of a heart attack at age 53 in his Vancouver apartment on April 15 buckled my brisket, bruised my innards and blackened my spirit. Damn it, I really loved this guy. Somehow, Condo just seemed too tough for premature bucket-kickage. He was a hard, wiry, rubber-faced ferret of a man, old-school ornery as a spittoon fulla tobaccy chaw, the kind of fella who seemed destined to live to be 120 years old, too stubborn to deign a deed so mundane as untimely death, a cussing, sputtering, suspender-sporting codger out of place and time waiting to happen; a potential Walter Brennan for the 21st century.

Condo was a sterling showman, a learned musicologist and a precious anomaly: an intellectual rockabilly guy in a scene too often populated by double-digit IQ poseurs. His turbocharged music—a simmering stew of choicely chosen 'billy, swing, jazz and blues covers mutated into a cohesive, rockin' ruckus—his acid wit, his thirst for knowledge and his refusal to suffer fools of any persuasion made him among the most entertaining gents I've ever interviewed or seen perform.

"Ray was very unique," said Jeff Richardson, president of Condo's label, Joaquin Records. "He didn't write songs, and by today's standards, people think that makes you unoriginal. But Ray interpreted songs—he could make any song sound like Ray Condo. He was a great performer, very spontaneous and funny. He was a character. There was no one else like him. There was a lot of typical rockabilly power trios in that scene, but Ray absorbed every kind of music and made it into something distinctive."

For more information on Condo's life, career and an upcoming tribute show in Los Angeles, visit raycondo.ca/.

I was but a wee teenage boy-chile when Lynyrd Skynyrd first came to the fore, but I was put off even back then by their chicken-eyed, plaque-toothed, George Wallace- and Watergate-supporting redneck politics, the frequent/flagrant stupidity of their music, and the band's massive popularity, which eclipsed and cast a pall over the entire Southern rock scene, which included such then-great groups as the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band and the Charlie Daniels Band, who were Skynyrd's predecessors and superiors by immeasurable leagues.

Now that 90 percent of the Skynyrds are dead and the Tucker and Daniels crews have proven to be as ignorant and tasteless as we all might have feared in hindsight, I suppose I can forgive them. Part of that also has to do with perusing Skynyrd's contract rider, as published by thesmokinggun.com. Inexplicably, while there is no request for Jack Daniels or Harley logo coffee mugs, Skynyrd's demands include, and I directly quote: "assorted herbal teas" . . . "48 bottles 16 oz. Evian water" . . . "finger foods" . . . "pot of homemade vegetable soup (tomato based) . . . with lots of broth" . . . "porcelain crockery and metal cutlery are essential."

While the rider failed to request aromatherapy balls, seaweed wraps or pedicurists, somehow I imagine that Ronnie Van Zant is spinning around in his Confederate flag-draped casket.

Lynyrd Skynyrd perform at the Grove Of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700. Sun., 8 p.m. $52. all ages.
 
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