The moving ‘If I Leave Here Tomorrow’ chronicles Lynyrd Skynyrd

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“Musicians are a rare breed — once it gets in their blood, they have to go after it” — Judy Van Zant, widow of Ronnie Van Zant

Are you in the market for an incredibly well-made, super professional, smartly-edited, fully licensed and extremely unlikely to be controversial documentary about an interesting musician or group?

Then, brother, Stephen Kijak is your man.

Starting with his outstanding “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” (2006), Kijak has made excellent docs on the Backstreet Boys, Jaco Pastorius, the Rolling Stones and X Japan. He works his slick magic again with the moving “If I Leave Here Tomorrow,” bankrolled by CMT and likely airing on the network later this year.

Rising out of a Jacksonville, Fla., garage band called One Percent, Lynyrd Skynyrd took their name from both the name “Leonard Skinner” from “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” and a high school coach who happened to have the same name.

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The band honed its chops the old-fashioned way, rehearsing and writing morning, noon and night at “Hell House,” a cabin in the middle of nowhere where the band could work out music. It was also close enough to water than Ronnie could go fishing while writing lyrics in his head, Biggie Smalls-style. These were the salad days — as one member puts it, “Hell House was the reward.”

Al Kooper, who helmed the first two albums, was floored by the band’s airtight prowess on even the guitar solos. Those records cut like butter, while the rest of their output was sometimes marred by writing-in-the-studio and, um, lifestyle choices.

Kijak talks to folks who are around and gets tremendous archival footage (and stunning bell bottoms) of those who are not. There’s guitarist Gary Rossington and Ronnie’s brother Johnny Van Zant, who lets us see the Jacksonville neighborhood where the band was born.

There’s the fascinating Artimus Pyle, the “left wing liberal hippie” who replaced original drummer Bob Burns (who all but had a nervous breakdown due to, well, the hazards of being in Skynyrd).

PHOTOS: “If I Leave Here Tomorrow” red carpet

“I think they felt (the band was) supposed to smoke every cigarette and drink everything provided and eat whatever they wanted and throw the rest against the wall,’ Pyle says. “That was our road manager’s duty – to carry a briefcase with probably $250,000 in cash to bail people out of jail and placate hotel owners.”

There’s Ed King, the California kid who hailed from the Strawberry Alarm Clock, co-wrote “Sweet Home Alabama,” and filled out the three guitar lineup until he bounced in ’75 after Van Zant’s temper got to be a bit much.

Kijak also cuts between band history and an inevitable look at the October 1977 plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant, King’s replacement Steve Gaines and Steve’s sister Cassie (as well as assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray), effectively ending the band for a decade. Surviving members recount the horror of crashing in the middle of nowhere in the farmland of Gillsburg, Mississippi (“like hearing 10,000 baseball bats on the side of the fuselage” as they started to hit the trees).

“The one thing I want the world to know about my band is how bravely my band met their death,” Pyle says in the documentary. “Everyone knew it was gonna end badly. There was no panic, no chaos; everybody was in prayer, in deep thought.”

“If I Leave Here Tomorrow” plays again at 1:45 p.m. March 17 at Alamo Ritz 1. Grade: A-

‘As I Walk Through the Valley’ shines light on South Texas music scenes

Catastrophe performing at Trenton Point in Edinburg, Texas, in 1999. Contributed by Donner Maldonado

Along the longest stretch of international borderland in one state exists the Rio Grande Valley, where the convergence of Spanish guitar, German accordion and African-American and Anglo-European rhythms gave birth to innovative and eclectic music scenes. “As I Walk Through the Valley,” by directors Ronnie Garza and Charlie Vela, documents the power of a do-it-yourself-attitude converging at a delta of seemingly opposite scenes, creating a unity of creativity.

The work is a study of a collective consciousness, innovators asking, “Where is my place in this microcosm?” From South Padre Island to Brownsville on over through Rio Grande City, Tejano, conjunto, country, rock ‘n’ roll, punk, pop-punk, new wave, metal and soul-Chicano-funk musics and scenes converged and coexisted in the predominately Mexican-American area.

In the oral tradition of Gillian McCain’s and Legs McNeil’s “Please Kill Me” (1996), “As I Walk Through the Valley” is told primarily through interviews new and old interspersed with live concert footage. The documentary is a true testament to the universal language of music and the universality of how things that may seem disparate are actually deeply interwoven, unable to wax or wane without one another.

Anybody who grew up supporting or involved in a fringe music scene can appreciate “As I Walk Through the Valley,” and for the uninitiated this may be the introduction you need.

Three movies at SXSW that treat music very differently

From left, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling star in Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song.” Contributed by Van Redin / Broad Green Pictures

Movies. Music. They’re at the core of the South by Southwest Conference and festivals, and music plays a big part in several movies that screened this year. Or, in one case, music is supposed to play a big part…

“Song to Song”: The SXSW opening night movie is out of tune with the Live Music Capital of the World. The Terrence Malick film was billed as “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas, music scene,” but as critic Joe Gross puts it, “It is a movie about the real world of popular music the way ‘Star Wars’ is a samurai flick or a Western — a thematic and visual influence, perhaps, but that’s about it.” But hey, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara and the rest of the cast look great.

Michael Fassbender on the red carpet for the world premiere of ‘Song to Song” at the Paramount Theatre.

REVIEW: The gorgeous ‘Song to Song’ has little to do with music or Austin

“T2 Trainspotting”: Music was integral to 1996’s “Trainspotting”; the sequel, which was this year’s SXSW secret screening, features “a moment from a song from the original here, a remix there. This one has an actual score, which the original did not — it was all needle-drop pop song cues. This fits: We are older, they are older, our relationship to that music is different.”

REVIEW: ‘T2 Trainspotting is an emotional wipeout for fans of the original

“Baby Driver”: Edgar Wright’s latest film stars Ansel Elgort as a getaway driver obsessed with music. “From Beck and Young MC to Carla Thomas and T-Rex … ‘Baby Driver’ is an ode to those who need a stream of tunes in their heads, everywhere, all the time.”

REVIEW: The insanely fun ‘Baby Driver’ celebrates turning up the tunes and hitting the gas

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