If you live in the American 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 (one of the band's backup singers, known as The Honkettes), and Dean Kilpatrick, a member 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 Joel "Taz" 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 went on to spend more than 35 years as the bassist for 38 Special (led by Ronnie's other brother Donnie - yes, the brothers' names are Ronnie, Johnny and Donnie), retiring in 2014 and passing in 2019. 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 of 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 (19641974, died 2015)
- Michael Cartellone drums (1999present)
- Allen Collins guitar (19641977, 1979; died 1990)
- Johnny Colt (Charles Brandt) bass, backing vocals (2012present)
- Kurt Custer drums (19911994)
- Mike Estes guitar (19941996)
- Donald "Ean" Evans bass, backing vocals (2000-2009; died 2009)
- Steve Gaines guitar, backing vocals (19761977; died in the plane crash)
- Randall Hall guitar, backing vocals (19871993)
- Larry Junstrom bass (19641970; died 2019)
- Peter Keys (Peter Pisarczyk) keyboards (2009present)
- Ed King guitar, bass (19721975, 19871996; died 2018)
- Rickey Medlocke drums, mandolin, guitar, backing vocals (19711972, 1996present)
- Mark Matejka guitar, backing vocals (2006present)
- Jeff McAllister drums (19981999)
- Billy Powell keyboards (19721977, 1979, 19872009; died 2009)
- Thomas "Artimus" Pyle drums (19741977, 1979, 19871991)
- Gary Rossington guitar (19641977, 1979, 1987present)
- Hughie Thomasson guitar (19962005; died 2007)
- Johnny Van Zant lead vocals (1987present)
- Ronnie Van Zant lead vocals (19641977; died in the plane crash)
- Greg T. Walker bass (19711972)
- Leon Wilkeson bass (19711977, 19872001; died 2001)
"If I trope here tomorrow, will you still remember me?":
- 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.
- Young especially played it the night after the plane crash.
- Author Tract:
- "All I Can Do Is Write About It" talks about destruction of the Southern enviroment.
- "God and Guns" takes a stand about anti-gun politicians.
- "Saturday Night Special" talks about the dangers of readily-available cheap guns.
- "Simple Man" extols the virtues of simple, humble living.
- "Things Goin' On" shines a light on poverty in the United States and claims it doesn't have enough attention from politicians.
- 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.
- Break-Up 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 awayAnd I began to prayAnd the water fell on the floor
- Cool Old Guy: The titular Curtis of "The Ballad of Curtis Loew". A fun loving Bluesman who'd play for a sip of wine.
- Drugs Are Bad: "That Smell" was written by Ronnie Van Zant after an incident where Gary Rossington narrowly survived a car crash while drunk and high. The band was abusing drugs heavily at the time, with Van Zant drinking heavily to deal with nerves when performing for large crowds; after the accident, he penned the song as a warning to his bandmates and their audience that abusing drugs could mean that "Tomorrow might not be here for you".
- 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!
- Evil Smells Bad: "That Smell" chorus, with the whole song being about drug addiction.Ooh, that smell.Can't you smell that smell?Ooh, that smell.The smell of death surrounds you.
- Generation Xerox: Years before, drummer Artemus Pyle's father died in a plane crash leaving from the Greenville airport, where the band's fatal crash took off from.
- Homesickness Hymn: For all the controversies surrounding some of the verses in "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, the song is at least partly about a traveller who is eager to get back to his family and his (likely rose-colored) image of his home state.
- 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".
- Longest Song Goes Last:
- (Pronounced_'Leh-nerd_Skin-nerd) closes with "Free Bird" (9:09).
- 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. Billy Powell recalled the injuries on an episode of Behind the Music.
- Fearless Fool: Some stories hold that Ronnie died because he didn't like wearing seatbelts and decided to sit in the middle of the plane's aisle. This appears to be an Urban Legend, however; while accounts of Ronnie's last moments differ on the details, pretty much everyone agrees that while he had been napping in the aisle earlier in the flight, he was at least in a seat at the moment of impact, and most say that he was buckled in at the time.
- Properly Paranoid: After an earlier incident where an engine appeared to catch fire, many of the band members were reluctant to board their plane on the day of the crash. Family members and loved ones also expressed concerns, and a few tried to persuade some of the band members not to fly on that plane again.
- While in his late 20s, Ronnie Van Zant repeatedly stated that he was certain he would not live to see his 30th birthday. The date of said birthday? January 15, 1978 — three months after his death.
- After the plane crash, it came out that Aerosmith had initially intended to charter that very aircraft, but one of the operations managers saw some things he didn't like and vetoed it, over the objections of the band members. When news of the crash reached Aerosmith, they were shaken by the realization of what they had narrowly avoided.
- Raised Lighter Tribute: Originated at performances of "Free Bird".
- Screams Like a Little Girl: The narrator of "Gimme Three Steps" does this in the song's climax as he flees the bar.Well he turned and screamed at Linda Lou
And that's the break I was looking for.
And you could hear me screaming a mile away
As I was headed out towards the door.
- Shout-Out: The lyrics of Railroad Song mentioned Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard with the reference being that the singer is riding a train to figure out what those two musicians were talking about in their music.
- 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.
- Survivor Guilt: Many of the survivors of the plane crash experienced this, but it was particularly difficult for Allen Collins and Gary Rossington because they survived while the people sitting on either side of them did not. As Rossington explained:"It was always weird for Allen and me because we were up front. And it was Steve and me and Ronnie and I was in the middle of them. And on the other side [of the aisle] it was Allen in the middle of Dean [Kilpatrick] and Cassie. They all died and we didnt and we always wondered why, you know."
- 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.
- Take That!: The band put Neil Young "on blast" in "Sweet Home Alabama". Subverted, as the members and Neil Young were friends and Young would publicly say that the criticism was justified.Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her
Well I heard ol' Neil put her down
Well I hope Mr. Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow
- 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.
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