Few lyrical references to a city are as memorable as the first line of Lynyrd Skynyrds honky-tonking ode to a groupie, Whats Your Name.
Well, its 8 oclock in Boise, Idaho, Ronnie Van Zant declares famously, as if being in Boise circa 1977 is entirely awesome.
Oozing Southern charm and swagger, Van Zant tells the tale of a limo ride to a concert, a hotel bar fight afterward and a nameless little girl he fancies. Van Zant asks his little queen up to his room for a drink. And when he puts her in a cab the next morning, he makes it clear he wants to see her again when Skynyrd rolls through town the next year.
Boise women have this effect, right?
Wikipedia says that Whats Your Name is based on a true incident, but that it did not actually occur in Boise. It takes this stance based on a website called Songfacts.com, which claims the line originally was, Its 8 oclock, and boys its time to go. Supposedly, Van Zant changed it when he found out that his brother, Donnie, was opening his first national tour with his band .38 Special in Boise. The first line then became Its 8 oclock in Boise, Idaho.
Theres no source for this claim. Its just stated as if its fact. I call B.S.
So when I heard that Lynyrd Skynyrd was headed to town next week (7 p.m. Sept. 28, Idaho Center Amphitheater, $29.50-$59.50, ICTickets), I knew my chance had come.
It was time to get to the bottom of Skynyrds tribute to Boise.
Ronnie Van Zant, of course, is long dead, a victim of that tragic 1977 plane crash that killed three band members.
But Johnny Van Zant, who took over lead vocals when the group reformed a decade later, has to know the story behind this classic-rock hit, right? Hes Ronnies younger brother. Hes been singing these lyrics for 25 years.
Johnny, Im certain, will be very impressed when I inform him that the Idaho Statesman even received a letter once from a crazy, er, credible woman claiming to be that little girl in the song.
Oh, really? Van Zant, 53, says when I finally reach him by phone. Hey, I wouldnt doubt it, dude.
A-ha! I knew I was onto something.
An easygoing, friendly man with a Jacksonville, Fla., twang, Van Zant patiently plays along with my line of pestering.
I can only go on what Ive heard, he explains. And, you know, there was a young lady out there in Boise, and, you know, they got to be good friends and did whatever grown-ups do, and (Ronnie) had to leave.
So thats what Ive kind of heard, you know? But I cant say for sure.
Wait he cant say for sure?
Only God and him knows, I guess, Van Zant says with a laugh.
Ah, man. This is no laughing matter. What about the hotel fight?
That definitely is true, Van Zant says. There was a guy that used to work for the band named Craig that got in an altercation with one of the patrons there at the hotel.
A hotel in Boise, right? Not one of the other billion towns with a billion groupies that Skynyrd toured through?
And what about that letter from the little girl we received years ago in the newsroom? (And why didnt I keep it?)
Yeah, you know, dude, I cant tell you.
Im getting the sense that Van Zant might be feeling a little sorry for me.
He volunteers to quiz Ronnie about the Boise reference in Whats Your Name just as soon as he dies, too.
I can ask him. If I go before you, I can send you a message back, Van Zant says, laughing good-naturedly.
OK, thats a deal. And while youre there, ask Phil Lynott to confirm the line about Dinos Bar n Grill in Thin Lizzys The Boys are Back in Town.
Its obviously about that bar that used to be on Emerald Street.
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
Michael Deeds column runs Fridays in Scene and Sundays in Life. He appears Thursdays on Channel 6 News and co-hosts The Other Studio from 9-10 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.