Lynyrd Skynyrd

  • Southern rock band formed in 1964 from Jacksonville Florida. The founding members were Ronnie Van Zant (frontman, lead vocals), Gary Rossington (guitars), Allen Collins (guitars), Larry Junstrom (bass guitar) and Bob Burns (drums). Junstrom left in 1971, and the band had several bassists since, with Leon Wilkeson the longest-running bassist. Burns left in 1974, and there were many drummers since – current drummer Michael Cartellone has been there the longest, since 1999. Billy Powell was added on keyboards in 1972 – he performed with the band until his death in 2009. Other key members were Ed King, who became a third guitarist in 1972, Artimus Pyle, who was the third drummer for the band, and Ricky Medlocke (guitars, vocals). All members contributed to songwriting.
  • Van Zant, Burns and Rossington met each other while playing on separate baseball teams in 1964. One afternoon, they decided to jam together in the garage of Burns’ parents, playing Time Is On Our Side by the Rolling Stones. They enjoyed the session, and they immediately formed a band. They recruited Junstrom and Collins and named themselves My Backyard. Soon, their name was changed to The Noble Five, and then to The One Percent in 1968. The following year, Van Zant wanted to change their name again, since audiences would mock them, claiming that they had 1% talent. They chose a variation of the name Leonard Skinner – the physical education teacher at their high school. The name also appears in the lyrics of the 1963 novelty hit Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah. The band stylized the name by adding ‘y’ for vowels and adding a ‘d’ at the end.
  • By 1970, they were a favorite band in Jacksonville, opening for several national acts. They toured throughout the south, and they were discovered by a record producer. They signed a recording contract, and their debut album, (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd), was released in 1973. The album reached #27 on the Billboard album chart and eventually was certified 2x platinum and was ranked #381 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Albums list in 2020. It included the iconic songs Free Bird, Gimme Three Steps and Tuesday’s Gone. Free Bird was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 songs that shaped rock & roll, and it was ranked #407 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs list in 2021.
  • In 1974, they released their second album, Second Helping. It was certified 2x platinum, thanks to their best selling single, Sweet Home Alabama, which peaked at #8 on the Hot 100 chart. By the next year, the stress of touring and recording began to take a toll. Burns left after a mental breakdown while on tour, and he was replaced by Pyle. When touring to support their third album, Nuthin’ Fancy, King left after an argument with Van Zant. After release of their Gimme Back My Bullets album in 1976, both Collins and Rossington were in car accidents due to drug and alcohol use. Steve Gaines replaced King on guitar, and the band continued to tour, record and party.
  • They released their fifth studio album, Street Survivors, in 1977. It included the single What’s Your Name?, which peaked at #13 on the Hot 100. Three days after the release of the album, the band boarded a private plane for a concert in Louisiana. The plane crashed, killing Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, a back-up singer and their assistant road manager, along with the pilot and co-pilot. The rest of the members were seriously injured, and Lynyrd Skynyrd immediately disbanded.
  • Ten years passed, and in 1987, the band reformed with Rossington, Powell, Wilkeson, King and Pyle. Ronnie Van Zant was replaced by his younger brother, Johnny Van Zant. Collins was unable to rejoin, as he was paralyzed in a car accident in 1986 (he died in 1990 at the age of 37). The reunited Lynyrd Skynyrd had eleven tours between 1987 and 2021. Their last tour was originally named The Last of the Street Survivors Tour because it was to be their last. However, after Covid canceled the last 24 shows, the rescheduled shows were called the Big Wheels Keep On Turnin’ Tour, hinting that the band might continue to do shows in the future.
  • The reunited band released nine studio albums between 1991 and 2021, as well as many live and compilation albums. Singles from these albums charted on the US Mainstream Rock chart, with their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning peaking at #2 and Good Lovin’s Hard to Find reaching #6. As of 2021, Rossington is the only original member still with the band.
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. The inductees were Collins, Pyle, Powell, Burns, King, Rossington, Wilkeson, Gaines and Ronnie Van Zant. Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Artists of All Time in 2010 included Lynyrd Skynyrd at #95.
  • When you think “southern rock,” Lynyrd Skynyrd likely is the first group that comes to mind. I remember buying their (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) album and loving it – especially Free Bird, which as a thirteen-year-old (and today), I thought was an absolute masterpiece. Free Bird in concert goes way over ten minutes, so here’s a shorter clip of the band performing Sweet Home Alabama in 1977, three months before their fateful plane crash.

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