Drummer Michael CartelloneIt’s been a little over a year since former Damn Yankees drummer Michael Cartellone joined Lynyrd Skynyrd. He came into the picture shortly after the band released Edge Of Forever, which Kenny Aronoff had recorded. Ironically, just the previous year, Michael had taken over the John Fogerty gig from Aronoff. “I had known the guys in Lynyrd Skynyrd for years,” Cartellone says, “so there’s a lot of ties there. I visited them in the studio and found myself playing percussion on Edge.”

Cartellone committed to do one tour with the band – which turned into nine months and 150 shows. “Shortly into the situation, it just started feeling good,” he says. “I was very happy being there, and they expressed that they were happy that I was there. So it became an invitation to stick around permanently. It was an easy decision for me. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a band that was as much of a family environment. Everyone gets along great, and when that’s what your work environment is, how can it not be fun?”

As for playing the music, Michael says the tours are a blast. “Playing all these classic Skynyrd tunes is so much fun. I had grown up playing a lot of these songs in cover bands, and to actually be playing ‘Free Bird’ as Gary Rossington plays his trademark slide guitar solo is a very cool experience.”

And just what does the band require of a drummer? “What they want from me is energy and creativity,” Michael says. “When playing the classic songs, they want someone to be true to the song, yet still inject a personality. That’s easier said than done. I think ‘Free Bird’ and ‘Gimme Three Steps’ are so ingrained into the listening public that you really can’t take many liberties. If you try to doll it up, you realize it doesn’t sound right. I think they were looking for someone who understood that concept, as well as someone who could come in and take the band into the future.”

Recently Skynyrd has been recording a Christmas album called Skynyrd And Friends, to be released later this year. “We’ve chosen a few classics to cover for that album,” Michael says, “and then the band is writing some new material for it as well. In fact, I’ve co-written something with Johnny Van Zandt that I’m hoping will make it on the album. That’s been another fun thing about the band for me’my inclusion and involvement in the songwriting process.”