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"Innerviews With Barrylee Harwood"

"Don't Misunderstand Me"

By: Scott Greene
Gritz Magazine (

When the Skynyrd plane went down in the swamps of Mississippi, like so many of you, I thought the music had died along with those we all loved and respected. But when the surviving members decided they were ready to show the world that they had unfinished business, it made perfect sense that they chose one of the guys who had been a part of their music all along. Barry Lee Harwood was a huge part of the Jacksonville music scene and had played on many of the Skynyrd recordings. Barry Lee was the only person to fill the void left by those no longer with us. For months, I searched for a way to get in touch with Barry and see what this talented and humble player has been up to since dropping out of the public eye so many years ago. Through a dear and wonderful friend (all the way across the big pond in England - Thanks, Claire, love ya!), I am proud to be able to reintroduce you to this musical hero and let him tell you his story. Then, I hope to catch you up on what has been going on in his life since the end of the Allen Collins Band and let you know all the wonderful things he has coming in the near future.

[SG] Barry Lee, first, thanks for allowing me to be the one to do this interview, as you are by far one of my favorite singers/players of all times. It's always a thrill to hear my heroes tell their stories in their words and to learn some insight on the songs that mean so much to my life.

[BLH] Thanks, Scott, it's my pleasure and I am grateful for fans who have supported me in my career. At times I am amazed at the powerful impact my music has had on so many lives.

[SG] Tell me where you were born and did you come from a musical family?

[BLH] I was born in Lenoir, N.C. and my dad and mom were both musicians. My dad was a bass player, smithwoodtriosm.jpg - 19920 Bytes my mom played lap steel and my Uncle Glen played Guitar/mandolin and together he and mom won talent contests and were on the road playing music at age 6. Later they( mom, Dad and Uncle Glen) had a gospel trio and my Uncle and Dad had a comedy act as well. I guess I just grew up with entertainers and never knew any different. . . from early on I just thought everyone played. I have pictures of my grandfather and his band from back in the 30's and everyone in my family has played music my whole life. I never even thought of doing anything else and when I decided to pick up an instrument, it was like “Welcome to the family”. grandsm.jpg - 17868 Bytes My whole family was tight-knit and, when I was around two, my family moved to Jacksonville so I really grew up there.

[SG] Tell me how you came to play guitar and was that your first choice of instrument to play?

[BLH] Well, when I was a small boy, I told my dad I wanted to play bass and he said he thought I would make a better guitar player (how he knew that is beyond me, but he did) and he bought me my first guitar and a chord book. My childhood was very happy - I was raised with my family's love and the understanding that God loved us all and that’s something I never forgot.

[SG] Any special childhood memories you want to share?

[BLH] I pitched a no hitter one time in Little League and I enjoyed playing football till I quit growing and everyone else kept going and I started getting hurt. I think some of the best childhood memories are the times I would hold my grandmother's hand while watching my father and mother take the stage and play music. For me, that’s part of what drives me, it’s not so much just to play but to carry on the legacy left me by my father and carry on in his memory.

[SG] Must have been so cool with parents who understood and supported you in your playing.

[BLH] Yes, I have to say, it fits the category of “blessing” because they supported and encouraged me all the time.

[SG] Tell me how you learned to play.

[BLH] I never took any lessons at all, I just figured it out and if I had a question, my uncle was a guitar player and he would help me out.

[SG] Did you ever play any other musical instrument?

[BLH] I was around 12 and I was playing saxophone and clarinet in the school band; in fact, that’s where I met Derek Hess. He was also playing saxophone.

[SG] So you and Derek have known each other for a long time?

[BLH] Yes, Derek and I have known each other almost our whole lives and he is a dear friend.

[SG] Were you always in a band with Derek or how did you come to play together?

[BLH] Well, Derek and some other guys had a band and there was this talent show and they were entered in it. I went and saw them play and when the girls went wild, I knew I wanted to be in that band, so I talked to Derek and ended up joining that band and we called ourselves the Rockers. I look back and see how special my friendship with Derek is and how he is the first person I ever played in a band with. We were then able to take the ability to play together from that to the level of playing to huge stadiums full of people with the RCB.

[SG] How long did that first band stay together and did you and Derek stay in band together all the way through?

[BLH] That band did not last long and then Derek and I played in many different bands together. We also had the first contemporary Christian band in Jacksonville. We recorded two records for Bell records but they had no idea how to market us so we got shelved.

I started making trips to Atlanta doing session work; I had some success and ended up moving there to work. The producer of Lobos noticed me and when they went out on the road and needed a guitar player, I got that job and went out on tour with them. I have to say that was an awesome time in my life: here I was 19 years old and we are touring Australia and New Zealand, playing in front of huge crowds. I ended up hooking up with the singer/songwriter, Melanie, and we did two albums together and a tour of Europe.

Right before I did that tour with her, I was in Atlanta and Skynyrd was recording “Nuthin’ Fancy” and they were looking for a dobro player, the people at the studio said, “We have this guy named Barry Lee Harwood who can do that.” Well, Ronnie said, "What? We know that guy, get him over here" so I went and did some recording on that album with them. I also got to play on “Gimme Back my Bullets” in Macon. Right before we left with Melanie for Europe, Dean Kilpatrick called one night and said, "Ed just quit the band and the guys want you to come and be the third guitar player." I told him I was committed to go with Melanie and we would talk when I got back. I was gone for a couple of months and when I got home they had hired Steve Gaines. I look back on that now and think I could have very well been on that plane but I believe I am here today because God has a plan for my life and a purpose for me to still be here.

[SG] That must have been very hard to turn Skynyrd down at that time since they were one of the hottest bands going at that time.

[BLH] Yes, but I had given my word that I would tour with Melanie and I am a man of my word so I stuck by it.

[SG] Tell me about your work on the “Street Survivors” album.

[BLH] In May of 1977, I was in a car crash and I was almost killed. I suffered broken bones in my leg and left wrist and was pronounced dead. I was so scared to do that session as I had no lateral movement in my left arm but I could hold a bar and play a dobro. I will never forget, after that session, Ronnie and I went out to a bar and he was telling me he wanted to do a country music project and he wanted me to be a part of it. Ronnie was a special man and he always had a song he wanted to sing for ya and tell him what you thought.

[SG] How did you take the news of the crash?

[BLH] Well, it was tough as those guys were my friends and we had a special relationship.

[SG] How did the call come for you to play in the Rossington Collins band?

[BLH] They healed up and when they figured out that they still had music to share with the world, they called me and offered me the job. dale gary barryleesm.jpg - 21080 BytesI was free at the time and this time I jumped at the opportunity to play with these guys and help them get back what had been taken from them in the crash.

[SG] How was the mood in that band and what was the motivation for them to still play?

[BLH] They felt like they had been robbed and were missing out on sharing their music with the world. I guess it’s hard to end like that - having the last thing you did as a band was have a plane crash. The mood was upbeat and like we were on a mission to show the world that even though it was not Skynyrd, that this band was just as good and had a lot to say.

[SG] How was the move back to Jacksonville and how did the band come together?

[BLH] Well, I was married at the time so I had to move my whole family back with me, but since I had lived there most of my life it was no big deal and kind of like coming home. The band was for the most part together; we just had to find a drummer as Artimus had broken his leg in a bad motorcycle wreck. We all agreed to call Derek and offer him the job, which of course he took and the band was complete. We locked ourselves in the rehearsal room and started writing and getting ready. Our first warm up gig was in Gainesville and it went great: the people responded very well to what we were doing.
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[SG] Tell me the feeling walking on that stage for the first time with what was some of the most talented players of the time?

[BLH] Well, it was an honor to play with them but I had played many big shows before so I was not as nervous as I had been at other gigs. It was a thrill to be part of that music and a band that has such a huge place in history and peoples’ lives. Our official coming out party was at the Super Dome and I have to admit that it was a huge rush to play that show and know that I was part of something that to this day is a huge part of the musical history.

[SG] Tell me about the process of writing the songs for RCB and who was the main songwriter?

[BLH] Well, we all had a part of it - since this was a brand new project we all had to learn our place in the band. Gary was great for coming in with just a lick on the guitar and it would turn in to a song by us adding parts to it. This band was Southern but when you add myself and Dale in to that mix, it was different and that’s what we were going for. The powerful songs and that Skynyrd feel but with a different twist. This band was just about to turn a huge corner after the second record but we never made it and the world was robbed of what I believe would have been some of the best music ever to come out of the south.

[SG] I love the song “Pine Box” off the second album. Can you tell me about the writing and recording of that song?

[BLH] We were in Miami mixing the second record and I was back in my room and I felt like Satan was in my face laughing at me for the life I was living. I was not following God in my life and was living for my own glory and it was a physical battle waging for me that night. I got back up and drove back to the studio and told the engineer to set me up one mic, that I had something to sing. “Pine Box” was written in 1972 during the days of the Christian Rock band Derek and I had. I felt like that night the next best thing to hitting Satan was to sing that song and I went through all 24 tracks singing part after part and when it was done I knew I had gotten him off my back. The next morning Gary wanted to know what I had done and I played it for him. He then asked if Dale and I could sing "that" and it ended up being on the record.

[SG] Tell me about Allen's mood and the mood of the band at this time?

[BLH] Well, it was a time of changes in our lives and with Kathy's death, Allen was in a deep dark depression and it affected the band in a very negative way. Gary tried to help Allen by getting us back to writing and recording but it was more then he could bear and he was lost in his own sadness. This caused them to drift apart and, as a band, we just knew it was coming to a close. When Allen's wife, Kathy, died it broke his spirit and we all knew it was coming to an end. I never got a call that it was over, it was just a known thing, we all knew it was over and we all accepted it as being finished. Gary and Allen went in two different directions with two different bands and as sad as it was, we just went along and knew we had enjoyed the ride.

rcb-allenblsm.jpg - 24988 BytesI went to Nashville and when Allen decided to get his band together, he called and I rejoined them but I knew it would never make it. This was a time in my life where I was very "fuzzy". I think the reason for this was to deaden the Spirit’s call on my heart. See, I was raised with God in my heart and I had run as far as I could, trying to do things my way. God allows us to do things our way and all the while, He is calling us back to where He wants us to be and one way or the other, we will answer that call. We did that one album together and a small tour but we never had the success we had had before and Allen's heart was never in it and we knew it would be short-lived.

[SG] What did you do after that band ended?

[BLH] I stayed in Jacksonville and got a day job. I had to just lay my music down and find my way back to where God wanted me to be. I did play a little with Randall Hall and some of the other guys in town but I felt like my music had become my God and I knew that was wrong so I had to find the peace in my heart that was missing.

[SG] That’s a powerful thing - to have to handle God's call and give up all you know how to do in order to answer it.

[BLH] Yes, it is, but my whole life I have known I was not in the center of God's will, all through my playing days I felt God's tug on my heart and never answered it and as I look back, I see the misery it caused.

[SG] Can you tell me where this all led?

[BLH] Well, Scott I have a lot more to share and I want folks to know where I am now and what I have going on. I also have some things I would like to share and will do that in the next segment of this interview.

[SG] I want to thank you, Barry Lee, for allowing me to be the one to do this and I look forward to hearing the rest of your story and what you have going on now. I also want to let everyone know that Barry Lee writes our Southern Spirit column this month and it’s truly a wonderful testimony of God’s grace to his children. Also, be sure to check back next month as we continue our talk with Barry Lee and see what decisions God led Barry to make and where he is now and what he has coming up.

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