He strokes the strings of his Gibson Explorer with surgical precision, working the neck with blinding fury as he leads the guitar assault of rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd. With his chiseled features and long white hair blowing in the wind, Rickey Medlocke is an imposing figure on the stage of the Sturgis Buffalo Chip as he delivers the power chords of the band’s most famous songs. Chipsters show their appreciation with revving engines from motorcycles parked center stage and throughout the Wolfman Jack Amphitheater. The crowd sings along with every song, the words wringing out long lost memories and the flood of emotions that accompany them. With a staple of anthems including "Sweet Home Alabama," "Simple Man" and of course "Freebird," the band’s music is a long-standing favorite with motorcyclists and hearing one of their tunes on the radio is like running across a long lost friend. Bikers love Skynyrd, and Skynyrd loves them back.

That love will be on full display Sunday, August 9, at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip as self-proclaimed house band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, takes the Wolfman Jack Stage for the final time. Chipsters will undoubtedly be out in force eager to rev their engines loudly for the beloved Southern rockers. Lynyrd Skynyrd has been performing at the Buffalo Chip since 1998 and are primed to deliver an unforgettable set Sunday night of this year's Sturgis Rally as the legendary rockers head into the final leg of its Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour.

“It’s a great celebration of people coming together because bikes and Lynyrd Skynyrd, they kinda go together, you know what I mean,” said guitarist Rickey Medlocke.

If you've ever seen Lynyrd Skynyrd play at the Buffalo Chip, you know it's a special thing! 

The talented guitarist remembers the first time Skynyrd played at The Chip well.

“There were a couple of poles that went through the middle of the stage and we had to be real careful not to hit our guitar necks or run into them or run into each other,” laughed Medlocke.

Not only did the old wooden stage have its endearing qualities, the band also had to play through a thunderous South Dakota storm that night. Story goes after that first performance the guys in the band let Woody know they wouldn’t be back until he built a new stage. So that’s what exactly what the Buffalo Chip owner did, and Skynyrd came back again in ’99 to help break in the Wolfman Jack Stage.

“I’ve watched The Chip grow from a little place on an open field to what it is now. It’s quite the facility and quite the place to play. It’s a hoot in there because you get the biker guys and gals and get about a dozen bikes in front of the stage and they rev ‘em up. Sometimes it’s been so loud we didn’t even hear the count off to the tunes,” chuckled Medlocke.

Medlocke has actually done two stints with the band, first as a drummer, then as a guitarist. He grew up with the fellas and frequented some of the same musical circles in Jacksonville, Florida, and pounded drums for them when they first hit the scene in 1970. Medlocke can remember when “Simple Man” was written and played “Freebird” before it even made it to recording.

But his musical journey started long before that. His grandfather was Delta blues musician Shorty Medlocke who taught him how to play a miniature banjo by age three.

"When I was six, almost seven years old, Elvis came to Jacksonville. My grandfather new Mae Axton (aka Queen Mother of Nashville, co-wrote Heartbreak Hotel). Mae Axton and a guy named Tommy Durden along with another guy, they ended up writing a song for Elvis and meeting in a hotel in Jacksonville. Elvis loved the song and struck a deal with them. He gave them some tickets from the show at the Florida Theater," said Medlocke.  

"Well, even at a young age I was already listening to rock & roll radio starting when I was like five, six years old and Elvis was "The King" then. So my parents knew I’d probably love to go to that show and so my grandparents took me to the Florida Theater. We sat on about the fourth or fifth row in the middle and out comes The King. And Scotty Moore, that’s when Scotty Moore was the guitar player and I mean they were rockin’! When it was all over with I remember thinking when I was that young what he did to the audience, the effect, I look back at it now, the effect he had on everybody. I remember going home with my parents and me riding in the middle of their ’54 Chevrolet and I remember my granddaddy looking down at me and asking me “Well son, what did you think of that tonight?” And I remember, my parents would tell you if they were here right now, I looked at my granddaddy and said “That’s what I want to do.” In my heart, I always knew one way or another it’d work out."

No sooner had Medlocke learned to play than he started appearing on a local TV show called “The Toby Dowdy Show,” where he'd jam with his grandpa Shorty. He would later honor his grandfather by recording a song Shorty wrote with his band Blackfoot, “Train Train” becoming a hit in its own right. Music is in Medlocke’s blood and watching him play you can see that his guitar is an extension of his soul.

Joining Skynyrd, though, took a circuitous route.

Medlocke and Gary Rossington tearing it up at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. 

"It goes back to my first go-round with Blackfoot," Medlocke said. "Blackfoot was up in the NY/New Jersey area. I had kind of gotten frustrated with my situation so I made a phone call to Alan Collins, talked to Alan about being a crew guy or set up their equipment or driving the truck, basically being a roadie. Alan said “Do you still play drums?” and I said yeah, I can still play drums. He said “You need to give Ronnie (Van Zant) a call.”

"So I called up Ronnie and we talked for several minutes and struck up a good conversation. Ronnie and I, Alan and Jerry, we’d always hung around the same clubs in Jacksonville, same youth centers and teen clubs and all that, so we were already friends."

"Bob had left them, and the band was due to be in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in two weeks to start their first album. Ronnie asked, "Do you want to give this a shot?"

"I said absolutely. Sold off some equipment and other stuff, and Ronnie and them sent me a plane ticket to Jacksonville."

Medlocke went to rehearsal that night and started learning the material that would later appear on what is called “Lynyrd Skynyrd’s First and Last Album.”

"It was released after the plane crash happened. I played drums on all those tunes, did background vocals and played some acoustic guitar and sang lead on several songs during that first go-round in ’71."

"When all of a sudden the house lights go down, right before you step out there you’re hearing them, and you’re feeling the energy start to build and then when you step out there and you hit that first chord to the song and the lights go up, man, there’s no other greater high than that.”

Medlocke would eventually leave the band in part because he believed they needed a stronger, better drummer. He returned to being the frontman for Blackfoot and remained with the band for many fruitful years. After a good run with Blackfoot, he received a phone call in 1996 from Gary Rossington inviting him to rejoin Lynyrd Skynyrd as lead guitarist and songwriter. Initially Ronnie Van Zant wondered if Medlocke was OK being a guitarist after his tenure as the lead of Blackfoot. For his reply, Medlocke relied on sage advice from mentor Shorty.

"My granddaddy told me one time you can never get to be the driver of the Cadillac until you can ride in the back seat first. Let’s go, I’m in the back seat.”

Fast forward to 2020 and Medlocke is still strumming his Gibson guitar on the band's Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour. When asked why bikers love Skynyrd so much, Medlocke said he believes their music resonates so deeply with riders because it strikes common chords.

“When you’re out there rolling down the road on your motorcycle, it’s the freedom. Skynyrd music resonates with that freedom. Lynyrd Skynyrd, man, is one of those kinds of bands that emulates the freedom of America. I mean, we got “Freebird,” and I think the songs speak to everybody in a different way. If people get their own meaning out of the songs, the songs are timeless. We feel very blessed and fortunate that it touches people in so many different ways, especially on the biker side of fans.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s guitarist said that when he’s up on stage, there’s nothing like the one-on-one between the band and the audience.

“When all of a sudden the house lights go down, right before you step out there you’re hearing them, and you’re feeling the energy start to build and then when you step out there and you hit that first chord to the song and the lights go up, man, there’s no other greater high than that,” he said, adding, “One thing that I really appreciate, I appreciate the fans. I know without the people, the fans, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

With such an illustrious career, we asked Medlocke what he would his legacy to be.

"Oh, I don’t know man. I guess, that’s a hard thing, I guess that I brought some joy and some happiness to people. As far as like music, I gave my life to this art and to this life and I gave my whole self to it and I have never questioned that and have never second-guessed it. And I love it. And I guess I’d like to be remembered for being a musician, a musician that brought a lot of happiness and joy to people."

Emotions will be undoubtedly be sky high when the band takes to the Wolfman Jack stage for its last gig at the Buffalo Chip. To commemorate Skynyrd’s final appearance, The Chip plans on setting up a 10-foot-tall farewell card near Miss Chippie the day of the concert so fans can come by and sign it, take pictures with it, and blow up social media with them. Hopefully the planets align, things work out, and we get back to the business of music and motorcycles because if they do, Sunday night, August 9, is going to be a show people talk about for years to come. And while knowing it will be the last time the legendary band graces the main stage of the Buffalo Chip, we thank Lynyrd Skynyrd for laying down the soundtracks of our lives and for the lasting memories their songs will forever conjure.

Bikers love Skynyrd, and Skynyrd loves them back.