DON'T MISUNDERSTAND ME
Barry Lee Harwood On Life After The Rossington Collins Band
by Scott Greene
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, next month, 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.
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 time. 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.
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.
Tell me where you were born and did you come from a musical family?
I was born in Lenoir, N.C. and my dad and mom were both musicians. My dad was a bass player, 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". My whole family was tight-knit and, when I was around two, my family moved to Jacksonville so I really grew up there.
Tell me how you came to play guitar and was that your first choice of instrument to play?
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.
Any special childhood memories you want to share?
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.
Must have been so cool with parents who understood and supported you in your playing.
Yes, I have to say, it fits the category of "blessing" because they supported and encouraged me all the time.
Tell me how you learned to play.
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.
Did you ever play any other musical instrument?
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.
So you and Derek have known each other for a long time?
Yes, Derek and I have known each other almost our whole lives and he is a dear friend.
Were you always in a band with Derek or how did you come to play together?
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.
How long did that first band stay together and did you and Derek stay in band together all the way through?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tell me about your work on the "Street Survivors" album.
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.
How did you take the news of the plane crash?
Well, it was tough as those guys were my friends and we had a special relationship.
How did the call come for you to play in the Rossington Collins band?
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. I 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.
How was the mood in that band and what was the motivation for them to still play?
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.
How was the move back to Jacksonville and how did the band come together?
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.
Tell me the feeling walking on that stage for the first time with what was some of the most talented players of the time?
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.
Tell me about the process of writing the songs for RCB and who was the main songwriter?
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.
I love the song "Pine Box" off the second album. Can you tell me about the writing and recording of that song?
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.
Tell me about Allen's mood and the mood of the band at this time?
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.
I 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.
What did you do after that band ended?
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.
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.
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. We really do reap what we sew and I had sewn seeds of rebellion against God’s love for me. I made bad decisions in my career and personal life and, I made poor business choices, which left me in financial straits when it was all over. I could have approached MCA records with my material and secured a deal; I’m sure of that. I could have started another band, I could have continued on with
Music but that wouldn’t have healed my heart, that wouldn’t have fixed the problem. I had to walk away from a childhood “dream come true” and do what I knew in my heart, was my only option. Every time I hung a gold album, every time I signed an autograph, I was more miserable than the day before. Sometimes I’d cry while I was on stage ‘cause I was livin’ a double life and I knew it. Even if RCB had been preachin’ the gospel, it still was not the dream that God put in my own heart. Everybody has a place to shine; this wasn’t mine. I didn’t belong there. Sad commentary on my ability to choose and commit; but that’s what I’m in the process of correcting still. 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 Derek Hess and some of the other guys in town but I felt like my music had become my God, guitars were wooden idols and I used them to get glory for myself and I knew that was wrong so I had to find the peace in my heart that was missing.
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.
Yes, it is, but I’ve spent most of my life out of God's will. All through my playing days I felt God's tug on my heart and never answered it with a firm commitment and as I look back, I see the misery it caused, for me and everyone connected to me.
Can you tell me where this all led?
Well, I have a lot more to share and I want folks to know where I am now and what I have going on. The years that make up the interim period that everyone wonders about are pretty “dark” and I’d just as soon “forget those things that are behind”… but if it helps people understand, and if it opens a door to Heaven in anyone’s life, then it's all part of God’s plan for my life, so, I’ll pull back the curtain. At every concert, Jesus was the
“best kept secret” in my heart. God gave me an audience of millions of people, but they never heard me say a word about the Gospel. After RCB & ACB, I remember telling the Lord that I was sorry for blowing the opportunity and that if He ever gave me the stage again (like Samson between the columns) this time, I’d tell the story of Jesus, I’d preach
the gospel. I have the blueprint to a vision that no one else can build and, “if it is
to be, it’s up to me.” My dreams are bigger than my trials and situations.
That had to weight heavy on your mind and add that to the fact that of the musical life you had been living was changing I bet you were mixed up.
Mixed up is an under statement, I was so distracted, running from what I knew was right. I had given in to ways of “numbing myself out” as I tried to move forward and that’s what caused all the trouble. My life became a battle ground, between churches and living by faith, and compromising my integrity through bouts with drugs and alcohol. I was able to play some and maintain my writing / playing skills but mostly I was searching for a
way to get back to where I knew God wanted me and where he was calling me to be. It’s one thing to not “see” your purpose; it’s quite another to see it, and not do it.
Dave Hlubeck and I formed the Hlubeck/Harwood Band around 1988. I did quite a bit of session work, I had a bit part in a movie with Rob Lowe I co-wrote and produced the theme song for the “Rainbow Drought Relief” effort for the farmers in the Heartland. Tim Lindsey and I co-founded the bands “TimePiece” and “The Little Maggie Band.” I also played benefits and club gigs w/local artists in and around Jacksonville. The songs I wrote during that time were like a diary; it boils down to "the process" I was going through to build mytestimony; the drama that takes place; the learning curve that puts the "test" in testimony. Pursuing a dream requires character, not only to make it happen, but to keep it.
Like Moses, next in line to the throne of Egypt one day, herding sheep the next, but God didn’t take his talent and ability away…He used it to free His chosen people but because Moses had “been there, done that,” he was the man for the job. God didn’t want me give my talent up, He wanted me to give it to Him. I also worked as a session guitarist on the Mercury album release "Contraband" by "Alias". But still, I didn’t wanna’ “leave the party” so I was taking two steps closer to God and then one-step back into the world. Ya’ can’t move forward with one foot in the grave, and, the Most High God will not party down with ya’. It was strange, I went from playing to huge stadium's full of people to working in a warehouse and only playing here and there but it was all in God's plan and timing for me to find my way back to him and his purpose for my life. A lot of my pain came
from the “man in the mirror” because I felt guilty and ashamed for living a lie and I couldn’t forgive myself …and I wouldn’t change.
Allen Collins and Barry Lee Harwood.
Did I not hear at one point that you were offered the 3rd guitar spot in on the Tribute tour in 1987?
Yes and as hard as it was I knew that if I took it I would be right back where I was trying so hard to get away from. I had so many people mad at me for turning them down; even close friends who couldn’t understand “what I was lookin’ at.” I mean, who in their right mind would say “no” to Lynyrd? But in my heart I knew it was the right thing for me and that God would honor my decision.
Tell me about your mind set and mood at this time.
I was angry and bitter / happy and enthused but there was no guarantee which emotion would be in control on any given day! Drugs and alcohol caused me to miss opportunities. I went through the obligatory car crashes, hospitals, and jail; suicide attempts and of course, divorces. Does this happen to everyone who answers God’s call? NO. Only to those who, like myself, who give in, give up and quit. I’m pretty stubborn and it's taken so long to come home because … I’ve taken my time trying to justify my actions and ways.. But, know this, God WILL bring His plan to pass; you can do it the easy way, or you can do it the hard way but either way, you will honor your commitment. A lot of the substance abuse started in RCB, continued through ACB and when it was all over I was left alone with some addiction demons to deal with. I had been running from God for so long through drugs and alcohol that my memory of ACB is very vague. One thing I want to make clear Scott, as I said last month, I accepted Jesus in 1971. I was “churched” from childhood. I was a child of God through it all so this is not a new thing in my life. Now my service and willingness to be used by God is a new thing but God has always been in my heart and I have always been his child.
How did you get from this point to where you at least had an idea where God wanted you?
I had the vision. I had the blueprint. I was clear on what needed to be done, so that part was easy. How did I learn to play guitar? I got off by myself and practiced, over and over. I knew how to play; I didn’t know how to pray. I needed to learn, so I just dropped out of sight because anytime I had a guitar in my hand it became my God and I lost all the ground I had gained. I was reaping the negative rewards from my actions. We all plant seeds, good and bad and when they grow we gotta’ deal with the harvest of both and that’s where I was at this time dealing with seeds I had sown.
How did you move forward from there?
I had took my acoustic guitar and played churches and rehab centers, youth groups etc; sharing my testimony and experience, what God had done for me. I exposed my life; where I came from, where I was and where I was going and the most amazing thing happened. People got saved and started giving their lives over to God and I knew right there that God's plan for me was to take my gift and share it with the masses and help them see God through me. I started going to New Life Christian fellowship in Jacksonville and was ask to play in their worship band. It was there that I first saw the total power of music in its relationship to God and his moving in his people.
How did you come to be in that church?
Well Jack Grondin (original drummer for 38 special) was a close friend and he was a part of that family of believers. Jack came from the same “school” and his own commitment to Jesus was a challenge to me. He and his wife Beverly were like a compass in my life and helped me see just what I needed to do to stay in Gods will. Jack had been just like me only when he felt the call on his life he turned and walk right to it and never looked back. I see now where he is a shining star and witness in my life to what God wants and where God wants me to be.
So you were doing that ministry and seeking where God would have you be full time and then what happened?
I went home to Lenior, N.C. to be close to family and while there I felt like God wanted me to be in Nashville. I was talking to some friend's in Nashville and they said that Ed King had asked about me in relation to a project that he wanted to get going. They gave me Ed's number and I jumped on a bus and rode over and hung out with Ed for a few days. He gave me some music and I took it back to NC with me and wrote the lyrics and headed back to Nashville. Ed had some health issues and the project never happened but God used it as a stepping-stone, a “carrot” dangling in front of me to lead me to Nashville, which is where the big picture would begin to unfold.
So what about now what are you doing and what do you have coming up?
I am in the studio both in my home and in Nashville with my new band. Billy Prince, a lifelong best bud and brother in the Lord is engineering the project. Remember in the 1st innerview I was in a Christian rock n’ roll band in Jacksonville … 1972? Well, God wants to “finish” what we started then! The music is everything that RCB / Skynyrd fans will love because the “taproot” is still there so the branches are gonna’ be from the same tree. But also, I believe this is where RCB was headed; if we could’ve just made the turn. I mean, Skynyrd’s “Street Survivors” album showed a more vulnerable side, a more controlled and disciplined side of themselves.
RCB took it a step further. “Prime Time” was good ol’ southern rock; but then ya’ had “Teshauna,” a very tender picture; “One Good Man” was straight outta’ the Bible. I’m 20 years older, but so are the RCB fans and I believe we’ve all dealt with our demons and done some growin’ up and THAT is why I’m sure this new music will not only bring you to your feet but, it’ll bring you to your knees. You know, I listen to the old stuff
and as good as it is, I know I’m a better player, singer, writer, producer and performer so I can’t wait for everyone to get a taste. A release date is not set Scott but you’ll be the first to know! This ain’t “Barry Lee got reliegon,” this is “Barry Lee following a vision!”
The name of the new band is “Chariot” and it’s a full on ministry. This project is a combination of all phases of my musical life. It will have something for every heart; from pure Southern Rock to songs of worship that would be at home in any church. My goal and prayer is to bring this band out soon and allow people to see what God is doing; to make dreams come true for a world of people.
Hopefully, Chariot will be at the Final Tribute event in Jacksonville this coming October, but the arrangements for that are not yet final so we’ll see. In the mean time I hope people will read my story and see the power of God in their own lives and continue to seek the dream He’s put in their heart. We’ve lost too many good hearts over the last 20+ years .. It’s time to take a closer look at “us” who remain.
Scott, there’s so much more to be said and I don’t want this to be the end of the story. I appreciate the “inner-view” of a blessed lifetime and … I ain’t scared no more!
I’d like to check in from time to time and I’ll keep you and your readers posted about the future of Chariot.
I want to thank Barry Lee for his time and willingness to share both the good and bad times he has had with us. I join so many others in praying for this new endeavor and we will be there in October to share the story with the world should God allow you that stage to bring it to life.