In the mid-1960s the nucleus of what would become one of the most popular southern boogie bands of the 1970s, Lynyrd Skynyrd, were students at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida. Impressed by the sounds of the Yardbirds and Blues Magoos, buddies Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, and Allen Collins formed a band and played dances under a variety of names, including My Backyard and later, One Per Cent. By the early 1970s the group had begun attracting regional attention and settled on the name Lynyrd Skynyrd, immortalizing a high school gym teacher named Leonard Skinner who had persecuted Van Zant and others for their long hair. This gentle revenge must have satisfied the band, for in later years they invited Mr. Skinner to introduce them in concert.
Lynyrd Skynyrd reached national prominence in 1973 opening for the Who’s Quadrophenia tour and issuing their debut album, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd. The release featured Van Zant’s grainy-voiced rendering of the band’s trademark and somewhat mournful “Freebird.” Performer/producer Al Kooper, best known
Early members included Allen Collins (born in Jacksonville, FL, c. 1949), guitar; Steve Gaines (born in Seneca, MO [one source says Florida], early 1950s; replaced Ed King , 1974; died in a plane crash, October 20, 1977, in Gillsburg, MS), guitar; Billy Powell (born in Florida, early 1950s), keyboards; Artimus Pyle (born in Spartanburg, SC; replaced Bob Burns , 1975), drums; Gary Rossington (born in Jacksonville, c. 1949), guitar; Ronnie Van Zant (born in Jacksonville in 1949; died in a plane crash, October 20, 1977, in Gillsburg), vocals; and Leon Wilkeson (born in Florida, early 1950s), bass.
Later members include Randall Hall (guitar), King, Powell, Pyle, Rossington, Johnny Van Zant (vocals), and Wilkeson.
Group formed in Jacksonville, FL, 1966; initially called My Backyard and later, One Per Cent; signed with MCA, and released debut LP, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd, 1973; disbanded after 1977 plane crash; reformed, 1987.
Awards: Gold record for Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd, 1973.
Addresses: Record company —Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
for his work with Blood, Sweat and Tears, produced the album on his Sounds of the South label for MCA, and it went gold. Later Skynyrd hits included 1974’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and 1977’s “That Smell.” The former, a retort to Neil Young’s southerner-bashing in his hit “Southern Man,” appeared on the band’s second album, Second Helping, and reached the Top Ten. In recognition of the song, Alabama governor George Wallace sent the group plaques conferring on them the status of honorary lieutenants in the state militia, a conscription the band regarded with marked ambivalence.
During most of its tenure, Lynyrd Skynyrd boasted three lead guitars—bettering the two guitars of their fellow southerners, the more-popular Allman Brothers Band. Piling the third guitar atop those of Rossington and Collins, beginning in 1973, was Ed King, formerly of the Strawberry Alarm Clock and co-writer of that band’s Number One hit “Incense and Peppermints.” Billy Powell played keyboards, Bob Burns drums, and Leon Wilkeson bass. King left in late 1974 amid the band’s inveterate use of drugs and alcohol and because of interpersonal tensions—at the end of the infamous “Torture Tour,” some 64 dates in 83 days, Van Zant had knocked out the keyboardist’s two front teeth. King was replaced by Steve Gaines. Artimus Pyle replaced Burns on drums in 1975 and fired away on the band’s 1976 album Gimme Back My Bullets. This offering featured three female backup singers, among them Steve Gaines’s sister, Cassie. By the time Bullets was released Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the largest concert draws in the U.S.
Critics persistently characterized the group as the voice of the southland’s working class. Rolling Stone’s John Swenson asserted in December of 1977 that the Skynyrd tune “Things Goin’ On,” from the album Skynyrd’s First and … Last, which begins “They’re gonna ruin the air that we breath/They’re gonna ruin us all by and by,” represented “the characteristic cry of the broken post-Reconstructionist South against the technological imperialism of the industrial North.” Lynyrd Skynyrd certainly tried to play the southern rebel, routinely unfurling the confederate flag as a stage backdrop. How deep musical southemness actually ran is open to question. Dave Marsh, in his book of criticism Fortunate Son, noted the group’s redneck bent but found in their music’s “brash vulgarity” and lack of discipline the very definition of “male belligerence”—certainly not a quality limited to the South.
In fact, the band’s belligerence was no stage act. Van Zant was arrested five times for drunkenness-related offenses in 1975 alone. In this he was in tune with his followers. As the singer noted in a 1976 Time profile, the band attracted “mostly drunk people and rowdy kids who come to shake.” The Time piece went on to chronicle various Skynyrd exploits, among them the band’s destruction of half the exercise machines in a Nashville hotel and Van Zant’s heaving of an oak table out a fifth floor window in a British hostelry. If explaining to hotel management that the boys’ behavior was merely “the characteristic cry of the broken post-Reconstructionist South” failed to appease, reparations were made by the band’s road manager, who found himself paying damage bills averaging $1,000 a month. Eventually, hotels in many cities refused to accommodate Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The hard partying and hitmaking came to a horrifying end on October 20, 1977, when the Convair 240 propeller plane carrying the band to a performance in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, crashed in swampy ground in Gillsburg, Mississippi. Killed were Ronnie Van Zant, Steve and Cassie Gaines, and road manager Dean Kilpatrick. The pilot and co-pilot were also killed, and the rest of the band sustained serious injuries. Apparently the plane, which had exhibited mechanical problems and was due for retirement, ran out of fuel. The aircraft was a Dallas-based charter similar to the one that had crashed four years earlier, killing singer Jim Croce in Louisiana.
Southern man Ronnie Van Zant was buried in Florida with his favorite fishing pole. A memorial service was attended by, among others, Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band, country-rock bandleader Charley Daniels, Al Kooper, and members of the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Shortly before the crash, MCA had released the Skynyrd album Street Survivors, which featured cover art depicting the band standing amid flames. This sleeve was replaced promptly after the accident. The album contained the song ’That Smell, “co-written by Van Zant and Collins, a reference to the” smell of death”and essentially a plea for less self-destructive behavior. The song was written partly in reaction to the events of the 1976 Labor Day weekend during which both Rossington and Collins injured themselves in separate car accidents.
In the emotional devastation following the plane crash, the surviving members of the band swore a “blood oath” not to capitalize on the death of Van Zant and the others by continued use of the name Lynyrd Skynyrd. After a year of grieving, the remaining bandmembers, except for drummer Artimus Pyle, formed a new entity called ’The Rossington-Collins Band, “taking a female vocalist, Dale Krantz, from the band. 38 Special, an outfit fronted by Van Zant brother Donnie. Rossington-Collins concerts featured the by now anthemic” Free-bird, “performed without vocals as a tribute to Ronnie Van Zant. This was the second such duty for the song, which was originally written in tribute to Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band after the 24-year-old guitar hero was killed in a 1971 motorcycle accident. The Rossington-Collins Band produced an album entitled Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere, which reached Number Thirteen on the charts in 1980. But the band broke up within a couple of years. Artimus Pyle went his own way, emerging with the Artimus Pyle Band in 1982.
In 1986 keyboardist Billy Powell, following his release from a 30-day jail stint, joined a Christian rock group called Vision. Powell quickly realized that the band’s covers of Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes consistently proved more popular than Vision’s born-again fare and quit to join Rossington, Pyle, Wilkeson, King, and Ronnie’s brother Johnny Van Zant in forming a new Lynyrd Skynyrd. Collins did not join, owing to an auto accident the previous year that had left him paralyzed from the waist down and had killed his girlfriend. Ronnie Van Zant’s widow sued the new bandmembers for violation of the blood oath proscribing the use of the name Lynyrd Skynyrd. In settlement of the case, the new band appended to their name the distinguishing phrase “Tribute Tour.” The Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour hit the road in 1987.
The group attracted renewed attention in 1991 when they embarked on a world tour, kicking off the expedition at the venue to which the band had been flying 14 years earlier. Anyone still holding a ticket to the unperformed October, 1977, Baton Rouge concert was admitted free, along with a guest, and presented with the tour record Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991. A hundred people produced such tickets and attended along with some nine thousand others to hear an incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd that consisted of Johnny Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Ed King, Randall Hall on guitar, Billy Powell, and Artimus Pyle, who split percussion duties with a co-drummer known simply as “Custer.” A Rolling Stone reviewer attending a concert that year reported that the performance seemed largely an oldies show for southern rockers, an impression duly reinforced by the superiority of the old songs to the new. Nonetheless, a quarter-century after its inception and 14 years since the band’s seeming demise, the guitar-heavy born bast of Lynyrd Skynyrd was making the 1990s safe for southern rock.
Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd (includes “Freebird” ), MCA, 1973.
Second Helping (includes “Sweet Home Alabama” ), MCA, 1974.
Nuthin’Fancy, MCA, 1975.
Gimme Back My Bullets, MCA, 1976.
One More for the Road, MCA, 1976.
Street Survivors (includes “That Smell” ), MCA, 1977.
Skynyrd’s First… and Last (includes “Things Goin’ On” ), MCA, 1978.
Gold and Platinum, MCA, 1979.
The Best of the Rest, MCA, 1985.
Legends, MCA, 1987.
Southern by the Grace of God: The Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour, 1987, MCA, 1987.
Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991, Atlantic, 1991.
Last Rebel, Atlantic, 1993.
Marsh, Dave, Fortunate Son, Random House, 1985.
Pareles, Jon and Patricia Romanowski, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
Rees, Dafydd and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard Books, 1991.
Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martin’s, 1989.
Walker, Dave, American Rock & Roll Tour, Thunder’s Mouth, 1992.
Amusement Business, July 29, 1991.
Creem, August 1975; March 1976.
Rolling Stone, October 9, 1975; April 22, 1976; December 1, 1977.
Time, October 18, 1976.
—Joseph M. Reiner
Formed: 1964, Jacksonville, Florida
Members: Michael Cartellone, drums; Ean Evans, bass; Rickey Medlocke, guitar; Billy Powell, keyboards (born 3 June 1952); Gary Rossington, guitar (born Jacksonville, Florida, 4 December 1951); Hughie Thomasson, guitar; Johnny Van-Zant, lead vocals. Former members: Bob Burns, drums; Allen Collins, guitar (born Jacksonville, Florida, 19 July 1952; died 23 January 1990); Steve Gaines, guitar (born Seneca, Missouri, 14 September 1949; died Gillsburg, Mississippi, 20 October 1977); Randall Hall, guitar; Larry Jungstrom, bass; Edward King, guitar, Artimus Pyle, drums (born Spartanburg, South Carolina, 15 July 1948); Ronnie Van Zant, lead vocals (born Jacksonville, Florida, 15 January 1948; died Gillsburg, Mississippi, 20 October 1977); Leon Wilkeson, bass (born 2 April 1952; died Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, 28 July 2001).
Best-selling album since 1990: All Time Greatest Hits (2000)
Hit songs since 1990: "You Got That Right," "Red, White and Blue"
Lynyrd Skynyrd's driving three-guitar boogie attack made them the most prominent southern rock band of the 1970s. Although they dissolved in 1977 after a plane crash killed two core members, Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited ten years later. Lynyrd Skynrd has had to revamp their musical lineup several times, but their signature sound remains virtually untouched as they continue recording and performing into the new millennium.
Southern Rockin' Freebirds
After trying many other names, guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins took fellow founding member, singer Ronnie Van Zant's suggestion to use Lynyrd Skynyrd. The name was a sarcastic homage to a notorious and despised high school gym teacher named Leonard Skinner. Following the success of the Allman Brothers Band, a prolific southern group who found fame in 1970, Lynyrd Skynyrd quickly gained a regional reputation as a freewheeling southern rock act. In 1972 they added a third guitarist, Ed King, which rounded out the band's initial foundation that included Billie Powell on keyboards, Leon Wilkeson on bass, and Bob Burns on drums. Their debut album contains "Free Bird," a tribute to legendary guitarist Duane Allman, who died in a motorcycle crash in 1971. Lynyrd Skynyrd would soon grapple with similar misfortunes. "Free Bird" became one of rock's classic anthems, thanks mostly to a spirited live version on their multiplatinum-selling live release, One More for the Road (1976).
However, it was the band's hit song "Sweet Home Alabama" from the follow-up album Second Helping (1974) that defined their image as swaggering country boys who stood fiercely protective of their southern roots. They wrote "Sweet Home Alabama" in response to singer/songwriter Neil Young's "Southern Man" and "Alabama," which were interpreted as slights against southern life. In one of the verses Van Zant belted, "I hope Neil Young will remember, Southern man don't need him around anyhow, oh, sweet home Alabama." In actuality, the band's aura as rednecks was somewhat overblown. Closer inspection of several songs finds them siding on issues more in tune with liberal mind-sets, such as environmental preservation, gun control, and desegregation. Regardless, an undeniable aspect to their image was as hard-partying rogues. The wreckage that Lynyrd Skynyrd left in the wake of their 1970s substance abuse is legendary.
After scoring hits such as "Saturday Night Special," "Gimme Three Steps," "That Smell," and "What's Your Name?" and releasing their fifth studio album, Street Survivors (1977), the band's fate took a tragic twist. On October 20, 1977, en route to a concert in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a fuel miscalculation on their private jet caused the aircraft to crash in a marshy swamp near Gillsburg, Mississippi. Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines (who had recently joined the band while Rossington recovered from injuries sustained in a serious car accident) were killed, as was Gaines's sister, Cassie, a backup singer for the group. Also killed were the band's road manager and the aircraft's pilot and co-pilot. Almost every other member of Lynyrd Skynyrd was severely injured. Without Van Zant, the band dissipated. An offshoot featuring guitarists Rossington and Collins, called the Rossington-Collins Band, formed from 1980 to 1983. A car accident in which he was the driver paralyzed Collins from the chest down in 1986. His girlfriend died in the accident and Collins died of complications from pneumonia in 1990.
New Southern Faces, Same Sweet Sound
In 1987, the tenth anniversary of the crash, members of Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited for a tribute tour. After some legal haggling with Van Zant's widow, wherein she relinquished use of the band's name as long as at least three founding members of Lynyrd Skynyrd remained, the band reformed. Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie's younger brother (and the only one who hyphenates his surname), took over on vocals. The younger Van Zant looks and sounds eerily identical to the prolific Ronnie Van Zant, who was a head-strong, free-spirited individual with an earthy blues voice. Although the rest of their musical lineup frequently changed hands, it remained true to its roots by sticking with a trio of lead guitarists. For the most part, the band's lineup has Ricky Medlocke and Hughie Thomasson joining Rossington in their trademark style where, at times, all three guitarists solo simultaneously, trading and feeding guitar licks off one another. Another guitar arrangement in Lynyrd Skynyrd is having one guitarist chugging rhythms while the other two play note-for-note harmonies. All three get their due in every song. However, even on long "jams" like the relentless "Free Bird" where the temptation to freely improvise is immediate, the new guitarists, for the most part, stay close to the note patterns set in the solos of original creators. This is a characteristic differentiating Lynyrd Skynyrd from their southern counterparts, the duel guitar-driven Allman Brothers Band, who thrive on free improvisation.
Their first "reunion" album release, Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991 (1991), offers more of the lively blues boogie characteristic of southern rock in general and specific to the band's original sound. Lynyrd Skynyrd does not attempt to reinvent themselves in any of their following six studio releases, with the exception of an all-acoustic album, Endangered Species (1994), which contains softer reworkings of past hits.
Interspersed between new studio albums and concert appearances, Lynyrd Skynyrd has released a plethora of compilation albums. Wilkeson died in his sleep in 2001 and King retired due to recurring heart failure in 1995, leaving the band with only two founding members, Powell and Rossington. (Rossington underwent triple-bypass surgery in early 2003, but toured later that year.) Nevertheless, they continue playing and their release Vicious Circle (2003) includes their first big hit in years, "Red White and Blue," a patriotic paean in support of the United States' post–September 11 activities. Lynyrd Skynyrd's identity and sound is so well defined that it would be difficult—even if they wanted to—for the band to change musical directions. Hence, they seem most at ease rehashing the music of their past, which makes up a large share of their concert material.
Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd (Sounds of the South/MCA, 1973); Second Helping (Sounds of the South/MCA, 1974); Nuthin' Fancy (MCA, 1975); Gimme Back My Bullets (MCA, 1976); One More from the Road (MCA, 1976); Street Survivors (MCA, 1977); Skynyrd's First . . . and Last (MCA, 1978); Southern by the Grace of God/Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour—1987 (MCA, 1988); Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991 (Atlantic, 1991); The Last Rebel (Atlantic, 1993); Endangered Species (Capricorn, 1994); Southern Knights (CBH, 1996); Twenty (CMC/SPV, 1997); Lyve (CMC/SPV, 1998); Skynyrd's First: The Complete Muscle Shoals Album (MCA, 1998); Edge of Forever (CMC/SPV, 1999); Then and Now (CMC, 2000); Christmas Time Again (CMC, 2000); Collectybles (MCA, 2000); Vicious Circle (Sanctuary, 2003).
After several years as an incendiary but unsigned Florida bar band, Lynyrd Skynyrd emerged in 1973 to supersede the Allman Brothers as the most popular exponents of Southern rock. Though Lynyrd Skynyrd's use of the Confederate battle flag ensured that the Stars and Bars became a symbol of the rebellious attitude central to contemporary rock 'n' roll, the group's defiant celebration of a particular Southern white cultural identity was inextricably related to the racial politics of the South in the post-Civil Rights period. In 1977, the group disbanded after a plane crash killed two of its members. However, the Lynyrd Skynyrd mythology grew precipitously over the next decade, culminating in an emotional and rapturously received reunion of the remaining bandmates in 1987.
Lynyrd Skynyrd's nucleus of vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, drummer Bob Burns, and guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins came together at a Jacksonville, Florida, high school. Though the influence of Jacksonville's black bluesmen was acknowledged in Skynyrd's 1974 song "The Ballad of Curtis Loew," the band's distillation of country, rock 'n' roll and blues derived largely from England's Muddy Waters acolytes, The Rolling Stones. In 1969, Van Zant, Rossington, Collins, and Burns left high school—though not before a strait-laced gym coach called Leonard Skinner inadvertently inspired the band's lasting moniker—and began to play the club scene in Florida and Georgia. The following year the group was offered a contract with Capricorn Records, the label which had established Southern rock as a genre. However, Van Zant refused the deal, not wanting his band to be overshadowed by Capricorn's premier act, the Allman Brothers. Lynyrd Skynyrd remained unsigned until 1973, when Al Kooper acquired them for his fledgling MCA offshoot, Sounds of the South.
The Kooper-produced debut, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd, was released that year, and its final track, the guitar epic "Free Bird," received extensive radio airplay. On such songs as "Poison Whiskey," "Mississippi Kid," and "Gimme Three Steps," the album introduced the staple character of Skynyrd lyrics, the hard drinking, gun toting, and womanizing "good ole boy." A prestigious support slot on The Who's 1973 U.S. tour was followed by the hit single "Sweet Home Alabama," from the gold-selling follow-up album, Second Helping (1974). The song was written in response to Neil Young's "Southern Man" (1970) and "Alabama" (1972), in which the Canadian singer-songwriter scathingly criticized the South for the patriarchal racism which had endured beyond the end of slavery. Opening with the image of the rock 'n' roll rebel returning "home" to his "kin" in "the Southland," "Sweet Home Alabama" was an attempt to reconcile, to use Paul Wells's terms, rock's "codes of the road" with "the conservative notions of family and community championed within a southern ethos." However, by including an overt endorsement of segregationist governor George Wallace, the song invoked and defended a Southern white cultural identity constructed upon racism and social inequality.
Burns was replaced on drums by Artimus Pyle for the third album, Nuthin' Fancy (1975). "Saturday Night Special" and "Whiskey Rock and Roller" were further paeans to the good ole boy's penchant for guns and liquor, but the more problematic politics of Southern nationalism were evident on "I'm a Country Boy." Like the earlier "Simple Man" (1973) and "Swamp Music" (1974), "I'm a Country Boy" advocated an agrarian way of life, but extended rural romanticism to the extent of depicting cotton-picking "on the Dixie line" as a labor of love, conveniently ignoring the actual historical toil of black Southerners. Guitarist Ed King left the group during the 1975 tour, and it was apparent from 1976's predictably titled Gimme Back My Bullets that the musical virtuosity of the first two albums had palled. Replacement guitarist Steve Gaines joined the band in early 1976, and with the further addition of a regular female backing group, the Honkettes, the band sounded revitalized on their 1976 tour (captured on the double live set, One More from the Road). The sixth album, Street Survivors, was released in October 1977. Only days later, the group's private plane plunged into a Mississippi swamp, killing Van Zant, Gaines, and the latter's sister Cassie (a member of the Honkettes), as well as seriously injuring Rossington, Collins, bassist Leon Wilkinson, and keyboardist Billy Powell.
Lynyrd Skynyrd's legacy overshadowed the reunion of Rossington, Collins, Wilkinson, and Powell in the Rossington Collins Band (1980-83), as well as the plethora of post-Skynyrd Southern rock outfits such as.38 Special, Confederate Railroad, Molly Hatchet, and Blackfoot. Led by the initially reluctant Rossington, and with Van Zant's brother Johnny on vocals, Lynyrd Skynyrd rose again in 1987 for a tribute tour which paid moving homage to Ronnie Van Zant and the group's 1970s heyday. The group's neo-Confederate posturings remained unreconstructed, typified by the tacky sleeve art for the 1996 live album Southern Knights, and "The Last Rebel" (1993), an ode to the heroic warriors of the Lost Cause. Somewhat appropriately, the deification of Ronnie Van Zant, notably in Doc Holliday's "Song for the Outlaw" (1989), fed into the larger mythology of "Johnny Reb" taking his stand for Dixie.
Two Lynyrd Skynyrd songs were tellingly employed in the Oscar-winning fable Forrest Gump (1994). As Forrest's childhood sweetheart, Jenny, descends into drug addiction, the film utilizes the intense fretwork of "Free Bird" to soundtrack the giddying experience of the heroin rush. In stark contrast, when Jenny abandons her Californian sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll lifestyle and returns home to Forrest and the virtuous, rural South, the reunited pair are seen dancing ecstatically around their living room—to the strains of "Sweet Home Alabama."
The Lynyrd Skynyrd Songbook. N.p., Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 1985.
Wells, Paul. "The Last Rebel: Southern Rock and Nostalgic Continuities." In Dixie Debates: Perspectives on Southern Culture, edited by Richard King and Helen Taylor. London, Bloomsbury, 1995.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, perhaps the most popular Southern-rock band of the 1970s. membership:Ronnie Van Zant, lead voc. (b. Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 15, 1949; d. near Gillsburg, Miss., Oct. 20, 1977); Gary Rossington, gtr. (b. Dec. 4, 1951); Allen Collins, gtr. (b. July 19, 1952; d. Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 23, 1990); Ed King, gtr.; Billy Powell, kybd.; Leon Wilkeson, bs.; Bob Burns, drm. Artimus Pyle replaced Bob Burns in 1974; Ed King left in 1975. Brother-and-sister team guitarist Steve (b. Sept. 14,1949) and vocalist Cassie Gaines (both d. near Gillsburg, Miss., Oct. 20, 1977) joined in 1976.
Superseding progenitors the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd helped reclaim blues-based rock from British groups like Cream and Led Zeppelin. Often propelled by a three-guitar front line (a format otherwise utilized by only the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac) and featuring the strong vocal presence and prolific songwriting of leader Ronnie Van Zant, Lynyrd Skynyrd established themselves as a dynamic touring act by opening for the Who’s 1973 Quadrophenia tour. Scoring a number of aggressive hits between 1974 and 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd may be best remembered for the jam-style FM radio classic “Free Bird.” However, the group disbanded in late 1977 after Van Zant and two other band members were killed in an airplane crash on Oct. 20, 1977. During the 1980s guitarist Gary Rossington persevered with the Rossington Collins and Rossington bands. In 1987 many band members regrouped with Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant’s brother Johnny for a tribute tour that eventually led to a new version of Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1991.
Vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins formed My Backyard, the first of a series of rock bands, in 1965. Experiencing numerous personnel and name changes, the band toured the Southern club circuit for seven years. In 1970 the group adopted the name Lynyrd Skynyrd, and by 1972 the band’s membership had stabilized with Van Zant, Rossington, Collins, guitarist Ed King, keyboardist Billy Powell, bassist Leon Wilkeson, and drummer Bob Burns. (King had cowritten the 1967 psychedelic top hit “Incense and Peppermint” for his group the Strawberry Alarm Clock.)
By 1972 Lynyrd Skynyrd were making occasional forays into Atlanta, Ga., where they were “discovered” by producer/keyboardist Al Kooper. He signed the band to MCA Records and produced their debut album, usually referred to as Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd. Supported by a rigorous touring schedule and major promotional campaign by MCA, the album featured “Gimme Three Steps” and the underground favorites “Simple Man” and “Free Bird,” all cowritten by Van Zant. “Free Bird” became a major hit when released as a single in late 1974.
Opening for the Who’s late-1973 American tour supporting their album Quadrophenia, Lynyrd Skynyrd were exposed to their largest audiences to date, performing creditably. The Al Kooper-produced Second Helping contained “Workin’ for MCA” and J. J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze,” and yielded a near-smash with the Southern anthem “Sweet Home Alabama,” ostensibly a reply to Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” Touring exhaustively, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s so-called Torture Tour of 1975 resulted in the departures of Ed King and Bob Burns. Kooper’s final production for the band and King’s final album with the band, Nuthin’ Fancy, introduced drummer Artimus Pyle and included “I’m a Country Boy” and “Whiskey Rock-a-Roller,” producing a major hit with the gun ode “Saturday Night Special.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd continued with a two-guitar front line augmented by the female backing group the Honkettes, consisting of Cassie Gaines, Leslie Hawkins, and Joe Billingsley, in early 1976. Gimme Back My Bullets, produced by Tom Dowd, fared less well than Kooper’s productions, and Cassie Gaines’s guitarist-brother joined the group in June 1976. The live set One More for the Road produced a moderate hit with “Free Bird.” After a touring respite, Lynyrd Skynyrd were back on the road in fall 1977, but on Oct. 20, 1977, their chartered plane crashed near Gillsburg, Miss., when it ran out of fuel, killing Ronnie Van Zant and Steve and Cassie Gaines and injuring the others. Street Survivors, issued only three days before the crash, featured a ghastly cover (showing band members engulfed in flames) that was quickly withdrawn by MCA as being in poor taste. The album contained “I Know a Little,” “I Never Dreamed,” and the ominously ironic “That Smell,” as well as the major hit “What’s Your Name” and the minor hit “You Got That Right.” As band members recovered, convalesced, and attempted to return to a normal lifestyle, MCA issued Skynyrd’s First... and Last, recorded in 1970 and 1971, before the band had secured a recording contract.
In fall 1979, four surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd—Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Billy Powell, and Leon Wilkeson—reunited as the Rossington Collins Band, augmented by guitarist Barry Harwood, vocalist Dale Krantz Rossington (Gary’s wife), and drummer Derek Hess. Formally debuting in June 1980, the group scored a minor hit with “Don’t Misunderstand Me,” only to disband in 1982. Collins subsequently formed the Allen Collins Band with Powell, Wilkeson, Harwood, and Hess. Collins was paralyzed in an automobile crash in 1986 and died of pneumonia on Jan. 23, 1990, at age 37.
Gary Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant’s vocalist brother Johnny reassembled members of Lynyrd Skynyrd for a tribute tour in 1987, including Ed King, new guitarist Randall Hall, Powell, Wilkeson, and Pyle, plus Honkettes Dale Krantz Rossington and Carol Bristow. In 1988 Rossington formed the Rossington Band with wife Dale for a single MCA album. In 1991 Lynyrd Skynyrd officially regrouped with Rossington, Johnny Van Zant, King, Hall, Powell, Wilkeson, and Pyle for touring, and for recording Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991 and The Last Rebel for Atlantic, and the acoustic Endangered Species for Capricorn.
lynyrd skynyrd:Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd (1973); Second Helping (1974); Nuthin’ Fancy (1975); Gimme Back My Bullets (1976); One More for the Road (1976); Street Survivors (1977); Skynyrd’s First... and Last (1978); Gold and Platinum (1979); The Best of the Rest (1982); Legend (1987); Southern by the Grace of God: The L. S. Tribute Tour, 1987 (1988); Skynyrd’s Innyrds (1989); L. S. Box Set (1991); L. S., 1991 (1991); The Last Rebel (1993); Endangered Species (1994). tribute album:Skynyrd Frynds (1994). the rossington-collins band:Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere (1980); This Is the Way (1981). the rossington band:Love Your Man (1988).