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With more than 50 years of playing behind him and a CV that includes working with several major acts across a range of genres, Stephen Wrench comes to Monroe’s Live on Wednesday, September 16. As a writer, producer, performer and manager, he has been involved with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Toto, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Ozzy Osbourne, to name but a few. His work also caught the ear of Bill Clinton, who used Stephen’s song We Rule the Nation as part of his early campaigns.
At the age of 19, on his way home from college, Stephen saw a sign on the road that said ‘concert here’. Following the signposts, he found himself at Woodstock – which is where he met some of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“They sent a letter to my parents’ house and said ‘we’re forming a band, come on down to Jacksonville’. So I did.” Stephen says. “I worked with them in all kinds of capacities, but I mainly produced the shows. I also played with them, sang with them and wrote with them. The last time we did that was probably about 10 years ago, when we put together most of the living members and did a couple of tours.”
In 1970, Skynyrd created a genre called Southern Rock and wrote the seminal Sweet Home Alabama. They also performed in front of a Confederate flag, which has now become an emblem for the far-right in the US. Although he hasn’t been part of their set-up for a decade, would Stephen perform in front of that flag today?
“It was never my choice to begin with, to be honest with you,” he says. “I mean, Lynyrd Skynyrd used that as a background for Southern Rock for years. And I had nothing to do it. I wouldn’t, put it that way. There’s no way I’d do that.
“Of course, you’ve got to remember that they used that in 1970, when they started Southern Rock. That’s what they used, and there were no points towards racism or anything else back then. But no, I would not [perform in front of the flag].”
Stephen has spent a lot of time working in production and management, and his emergence as songwriter is more recent. In 2005, he released Smokin’ Tokin Rollin Man, which sounds like a song from the mid-1970s – and it is!
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.