Lynyrd Skynyrd is a rock band from Jacksonville, Florida. It was a long road to success, from their inception as The Noble Five in 1964 to their first album in 1973, Pronounced ‘leh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd. The band has undergone major personnel changes through the years; these are the essential seven bandmembers:
Ronnie Van Zant (1948-1977), vocals, songwriter
Allen Collins (1952-1990), guitar
Gary Rossington (b. 1951), guitar
Ed King (b. 1949), guitar
Leon Wilkeson (1952-2001), bass
Billy Powell (1952-2009), piano
Artimus Pyle (b. 1948), drums
They achieved lifelong popularity after their first album, and produced five more albums of original material before tragedy struck, an October 1977 airplane crash that took the lives of Van Zant, plus five members of the band and entourage. Lynyrd Skynyrd is a story of triumph and excess in an era of naīveté.
Lynyrd Skynyrd was part of my high school experience. By the time I entered college in the fall of 1976, I had moved on. Three Southern rock bands were very popular throughout my high school years: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band and The Allman Brothers Band. I knew and liked lots of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs; curiously, I have owned few of their albums, with only one CD and one LP on the bookshelves at home.
Lynyrd Skynyrd is the quintessential country rock band. They owe a debt to the Allman Brothers Band, another Florida band that preceded them by a couple of years. Skynyrd songs are simple, well-executed songs about sex and drugs and rock and roll, with driving rhythms, and often featuring long instrumental passages. A hot band that played its songs well in concert, though they lacked the ability to improvise significantly from the song’s template. The band is a reflection of singer Ronnie Van Zant, who grew up in the poor part of Jacksonville, and became lead singer because nobody wanted to fight him for it. They were a volatile group, with numerous drug and alcohol related incidents. Today their talent might have taken them to Nashville, and the tightly controlled environment of country music hit-making. Or, Skynyrd might have been marginalized into the underground “jam band” genre, though many of these bands do well without mainstream exposure. Either way, the band’s politics were proudly Southern, and their musical sentiments would still ring true.
My interest in hard rock music is now quite limited. The early seventies were filled with guitar bands that emphasized soloing. Other rock bands I enjoyed included Montrose, Robin Trower, Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton. By the time Van Halen came along, my tastes had changed and I more or less ignored them. My knowledge of post-1980 hard rocking guitar bands after this period is spotty, which is fine with me. As a result, bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd may be over-represented in my collection, but they satisfy a need for shit-kicking rock and roll.
The All Music Guide suggests that Street Survivors, their final album with Van Zant, may be their strongest, but I prefer the first two albums. Lynyrd Skynyrd also has some good alternate and demo recordings that were previously unavailable.
Call Me The Breeze
J.J. Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze” is a personal favorite, a blues shuffle with high lonesome lyrics and a great, raw sound. Lynyrd Skynyrd popularized the song into a rock standard.
Free Bird and Loan Me A Dime
It’s hard to overestimate the popularity of “Free Bird”. For many years, it was the most famous and popular of the long guitar jams, and a ubiquitous presence on FM radio. The song is an early composition of the band, and, in my opinion, a direct descendant of Boz Scaggs’s thirteen minute opus, “Loan Me A Dime”, recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in early 1969, with Duane “Skydog” Allman on guitar. Guitarist Gary Rossington even pays tribute to Allman by employing the same guitar, and the same Coricidin bottle to slide notes on “Free Bird”. I never listen to the song anymore; maybe ten times in the last thirty years. Here’s a good live rendition of “Free Bird”:
Lynyrd Skynyrd Song Notes:
1. These less familiar versions of Skynyrd songs can be found on these albums, all, except the last, available on iTunes.
“Call Me The Breeze (Live)”
Pronounced ‘leh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd (Remastered)
“Tuesday’s Gone (Demo)”
“Gimme Three Steps (Demo)”
Skynyrd’s First – The Complete Muscle Shoals Album
“Free Bird (Demo)”
Street Survivors (Deluxe Edition)
“That Smell (Alt)”
King Biscuit Flower Hour, Wales, 6-11-1975 (Unauthorized Live Recording)
“The Needle And The Spoon (Live)”
2. Guitarist Ed King helped to write and perform Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense And Peppermints”, a one hit psychedelic wonder in 1967.
Lynyrd Skynyrd Songs:
Call Me The Breeze, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭✭✭
Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭✭✭
The Needle And The Spoon, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭✭
Simple Man, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭✭
Call Me The Breeze (Live), Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭✭
Gimme Three Steps, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭✭
The Needle And The Spoon (Live), Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭✭
Tuesday’s Gone (Demo), Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭
Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭
Free Bird (Demo), Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭
The Ballad Of Curtis Loew, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭
I Ain’t The One, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭
Gimme Three Steps (Demo), Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭
Saturday Night Special, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭✭
That Smell (Alt), Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
You Got That Right, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
Was I Right Or Wrong, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
Swamp Music, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
Workin’ For MCA, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
Whiskey Rock-A Roller, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
Am I Losin’, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
On The Hunt, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
Gimme Back My Bullets, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
I Know A Little, Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
Woman Of Mine (Live), Lynyrd Skynyrd ✭
Call Me The Breeze, J.J. Cale ✭✭✭✭✭
Incense And Peppermints, Strawberry Alarm Clock ✭✭