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. The band released its first album, (pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd)
, in 1973 — and, in the process, 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).
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.)
In 1977, a plane crash killed Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines (who had performed on the band's just-released Street Survivors
album), his sister Cassie (a member of the band's backup singers, The Honkettes), and several members of the band's production staff. (The crash also injured bassist Leon Wilkeson, who needed over two years of physical therapy to recover.) The band disbanded after the tragedy, but reformed ten years later with Ronnie's younger brother Johnny and a rotating cast of new blood. Of the original members, only Rossington remains; Van Zant and Collins have both passed on, Larry Junstrom plays bass for .38 Special
(led by Ronnie's other brother Donnie), and Bob Burns quit after the road life overwhelmed him.
The band Lynyrd Skynyrd and its music provide examples of the following tropes:
- 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"
- Breakup Song: "Tuesday's Gone" and "Free Bird" are both about relationships coming to an end.
- 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), "Sweet Home Alabama" 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.
- 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.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz