Music / Lynyrd Skynyrd

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"If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?"
Free Bird

If you live in the South, you damn well better know Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Jacksonville friends Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Larry Junstrom, Gary Rossington, and Bob Burns formed the band in 1964 under the name "The Noble Five". They later renamed themselves "My Backyard" in 1965, "Leonard Skinner" (a rather authoritarian teacher at their former high school who disapproved of male students with long hair) in 1970, and "Lynyrd Skynyrd" in 1972. During their early years, Junstrom left the group and Greg T. Walker replaced him, while Rickey Medlocke joined the band as a second drummer and mandolinist. In 1972, Walker and Medlocke left the group to perform with the band Blackfoot and Leon Wilkeson took Walker's place as the bassist. Meanwhile, roadie Billy Powell joined the group as the keyboardist. The group was eventually discovered by producer Al Kooper and recorded its first album, (pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd), in 1973 — in the process, the album forever cemented the song "Free Bird" as a permanent part of the rock'n'roll lexicon. (The next time you hear someone shout "Play 'Free Bird'!" at a concert, you now know who to blame).

Tragedy struck on October 20, 1977, three days after the band recorded their Street Survivors album, when their chartered plane crashed in Mississippi. Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister Cassie (a member of the band's backup singers, The Honkettes), and several members of the band's production staff were killed. The band disbanded after the tragedy, with the group reuniting at Charlie Daniels's Volunteer Jam V to perform an instrumental version of "Free Bird" accompanied by Daniels and some of his band members (bassist Charlie Hayward and keyboardist Joe DiGregorio). Rossington, Collins, Wilkeson and Powell formed the Rossington-Collins Band, but Collins was prone to alcoholism and drugs. The band reformed in 1987 with Ronnie's younger brother Johnny and a rotating cast of new blood.

Allen Collins died in 1990 of pneumonia resulting from a serious car accident four years earlier due to his drug abuse. In 2015, Bob Burns was killed in a car accident at his Georgia home. Larry Junstrom plays bass for .38 Special (led by Ronnie's other brother Donnie - yes, the brothers' names are Ronnie, Johnny and Donnie) and Rossington is the only founding member still performing with the band.

Although the group never topped charts (their biggest hit, "Sweet Home Alabama", topped out at #8 on Billboard), Skynyrd remains beloved by tons rock fans, especially in the South, where fans embraced the band as a counter to the "protest bands" that popped up in the '60s. ("Sweet Home Alabama" even took a few direct shots at Neil Young for some of his protest songs, despite the off-stage friendship between Young and Van Zant.)


Principal Members (Founding members in bold, current members in italic):

  • Kenny Aronoff - drums (1999)
  • Bob Burns – drums (1964–1974, died 2015)
  • Michael Cartellone – drums (1999–present)
  • Allen Collins – guitar (1964–1977, 1979, died 1990)
  • Johnny Colt (born Charles Brandt) – bass, backing vocals (2012–present)
  • Kurt Custer – drums (1991–1994)
  • Mike Estes – guitar (1994–1996)
  • Donald "Ean" Evans – bass, backing vocals (2000-2009)
  • Randall Hall – guitar, backing vocals (1987–1993)
  • Larry Junstrom – bass (1964–1970)
  • Peter Keys (born Peter Pisarczyk) – keyboards (2009–present)
  • Ed King – guitar, bass (1972–1975, 1987–1996)
  • Rickey Medlocke – drums, mandolin, guitar, backing vocals (1971–1972, 1996–present)
  • Mark Matejka – guitar, backing vocals (2006–present)
  • Jeff McAllister – drums (1998–1999)
  • Billy Powell – keyboards (1972–1977, 1979, 1987–2009)
  • Thomas "Artimus" Pyle – drums (1974–1977, 1979, 1987–1991)
  • Gary Rossington – guitar (1964–1977, 1979, 1987–present)
  • Hughie Thomasson – guitar (1996–2005)
  • Johnny Van Zant – lead vocals (1987–present)
  • Ronnie Van Zant – lead vocals (1964–1977)
  • Greg T. Walker – bass (1971–1972)
  • Leon Wilkeson – bass (1971–1977, 1987–2001)


The band Lynyrd Skynyrd and its music provide examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: Bob Burns, Mark Matejka and Ean Evans.
  • Antagonistic Governor: Sweet Home Alabama, whilst a fiery defence of Southern values, does accept that Alabama having one of these (George wallace) and the fact he was loved by enough people to ensure he remained Governor, was not an especially helpful or progressive thing. It's the only part of the song that comes close to admitting Neil Young might have a point - although the lines about the regressive Wallace are followed up by a dig at the fact a bigger political scandal, Watergate, did not happen in the South.
  • Answer Song: "Sweet Home Alabama" serves as one of these (and a Take That!) to Neil Young's 1970 Protest Song "Southern Man," which criticized the rampant racism in the American South at the time. The song defends the South, directly calls out "Mr. Young", and dismisses his criticism. Young, a friend of Ronnie Van Zant, didn't take the song personally — hell, he's even performed it on occasion.
  • Ballad of X: "Ballad of Curtis Loew"
  • The Band Minus the Face: Probably the most extreme example in popular music; Gary Rossington is the only original member still with the band.
  • Bowdlerize: Apparently the intended lyric in "Gimme 3 Steps" was "Wait a minute mister I didn't even stick her" but it was changed to "kiss her" in the radio version. Ronnie would still sing the "stick her" line in concert.
  • Breakup Song: "Tuesday's Gone" and "Free Bird" are both about relationships coming to an end.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Implied to happen to the narrator of "Gimme 3 Steps" as he's staring down the gun of Linda Lou's boyfriend.
    Well the crowd cleared away
    And I began to pray
    And the water fell on the floor
  • Empty Chair Memorial: After the plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant, their next concert had a spotlight shining on an unmanned microphone.
  • Epic Rocking: "Free Bird" (naturally) and "Tuesday's Gone" qualify. Live versions of "Free Bird" often run over thirteen minutes!
  • It Is Pronounced Tro Pay: The title of their debut album (Lynyrd Skynyrd (pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd)) notes this.
  • Location Song: "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd is an Answer Song about what makes the South wonderful, in reaction to Neil Young's more pessimistic "Alabama".
  • Long Runner: One of the longest running southern rock bands, having been founded in 1961
  • Mercy Lead: "Gimme 3 Steps" is about begging the a very pissed off boyfriend whose girl the narrator unknowingly hit on to give one of these.
  • No One Could Survive That!: The litany of injuries the surviving band members suffered in the 1977 plane crash, along with the utter devastation of the crash itself, makes a lot of people wonder how the hell anyone could have survived the crash.
    • Fearless Fool: Ronnie reportedly died because he didn't like wearing seatbelts and decided to sit in the middle of the plane's aisle
  • Raised Lighter Tribute: Originated at performances of "Free Bird"
  • Song Style Shift: "Free Bird" shifts from a mournful Southern Rock ballad to pure Guitar Attack rock.
  • Southern Rock: The Trope Codifier.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Steve Gaines sings "Ain't No Good Life" and splits "You Got That Right" with Van Zant.
  • Sweet Home Alabama: The band's song serves as the Trope Namer, and many fans think of the band as the musical embodiment of the South.
  • There's No Place Like Home: "Sweet Home Alabama" expresses the joy of being in their home state.
    • Even though they were actually from Florida.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz
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