Lynyrd Skynyrd was a rock band from Jacksonville, Florida, known for their unique blend of Southern rock and blues. The band was formed in 1964 and quickly gained popularity in the 1970s with hits such as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.”
Unfortunately, the band’s success was cut short on October 20, 1977, when their chartered airplane crashed in Mississippi, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines, and several others. The tragedy shocked the music world and left fans mourning the loss of some of their favorite musicians. Despite this devastating event, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music continues to be celebrated and enjoyed by fans around the world.
Formation and Early Years
Lynyrd Skynyrd was formed in Jacksonville, Florida in 1964. The band was originally called My Backyard and was composed of Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Larry Junstrom, and Bob Burns. They played at various local venues and eventually changed their name to Leonard Skinner, after a gym teacher at Robert E. Lee High School who had given them a hard time for their long hair.
In 1970, the band changed their name to Lynyrd Skynyrd, a deliberate misspelling of Leonard Skinner’s name. The band’s early years were characterized by a strong work ethic and a commitment to their craft. They honed their skills playing in clubs and bars, and eventually caught the attention of producer Al Kooper, who signed them to his label, Sounds of the South.
Their debut album, “Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd,” was released in 1973 and featured the hit single “Free Bird.” The song became a staple of classic rock radio and established the band as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry.
The band’s second album, “Second Helping,” was released in 1974 and featured the hit song “Sweet Home Alabama.” The song was a response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and became an anthem for the South. The band’s success continued with subsequent albums, including “Nuthin’ Fancy” and “Gimme Back My Bullets.”
In 1977, tragedy struck when a plane carrying the band crashed in Mississippi, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines. The band took a hiatus after the crash, but eventually reunited with new members, including guitarist Rickey Medlocke. Today, Lynyrd Skynyrd continues to tour and perform, keeping the legacy of their music alive for new generations of fans.
Rise to Fame
Lynyrd Skynyrd was a Southern rock band that emerged in the early 1970s. The band was formed in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1964, and it took almost a decade for them to gain mainstream success. The band’s rise to fame began with their first album, “Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd,” which was released in 1973. The album was a commercial success, reaching No. 27 on the Billboard 200 chart and going Platinum.
One of the album’s most famous tracks was “Free Bird,” a song that became a staple of classic rock radio and one of the band’s most recognizable songs. The song’s iconic guitar solo has been covered by countless artists and is considered one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.
The band’s next album, “Second Helping,” was released in 1974 and contained another hit song, “Sweet Home Alabama.” The song was a response to Neil Young’s criticisms of the South in his songs “Southern Man” and “Alabama.” The song became one of the band’s most popular songs and is still played frequently on classic rock radio.
Lynyrd Skynyrd continued to release successful albums throughout the 1970s, including “Nuthin’ Fancy,” “Gimme Back My Bullets,” and “Street Survivors.” The band’s success was not limited to the United States, as they also gained a large following in Europe.
The band’s popularity came to a tragic halt in 1977 when a plane carrying the band crashed in Mississippi, killing several members of the band, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. The band’s last album, “Street Survivors,” was released just days before the crash and contained songs such as “That Smell” and “You Got That Right.”
Despite the tragedy, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legacy lives on. The band has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and their music continues to be played on classic rock radio stations around the world. The surviving members of the band have continued to tour and record music, with Johnny Van Zant taking over lead vocals for his late brother. The band has also collaborated with other rock legends such as ZZ Top and Aerosmith, cementing their place in the pantheon of hard rock.
The Tragic Plane Crash
On October 20, 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd experienced a devastating tragedy. The band was on tour and traveling from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Louisiana when their plane crashed in a wooded area near Gillsburg, Mississippi. The crash claimed the lives of six people, including three members of the band: Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines.
The cause of the crash was determined to be fuel exhaustion, which caused the plane to lose power and crash. The National Transportation Safety Board conducted an investigation and released an accident report detailing the events leading up to the crash.
In addition to the band members, the crash also claimed the lives of the assistant road manager, the pilot, and the co-pilot. The survivors included guitarist Allen Collins, drummer Artimus Pyle, bassist Leon Wilkeson, keyboardist Billy Powell, and guitarist Ed King.
The loss of three talented musicians was a devastating blow to the music industry and Lynyrd Skynyrd fans around the world. The band’s legacy, however, continues to live on through their music and the memories of their fans.
Post-Crash and Reformation
After the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band went on an indefinite hiatus. Surviving members struggled to come to terms with the loss of their friends and bandmates, and it seemed unlikely that they would ever perform together again.
However, in 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited for a tribute tour in honor of their fallen bandmates. The tour was a massive success, and it seemed that the band had found a renewed sense of purpose. They continued to tour throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, playing to sold-out crowds around the world.
In 2003, Lynyrd Skynyrd embarked on a farewell tour, which was intended to be their final tour. However, the band’s popularity continued to grow, and they soon found themselves back on the road. They continued to tour and record new music, and in 2018 they released their latest album, “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour.”
Throughout the years, Lynyrd Skynyrd has undergone many changes. Original members have come and gone, and the band has experienced numerous lineup changes. In the late 1970s, after the plane crash, surviving members formed the Rossington Collins Band, which released two albums before disbanding.
Today, Lynyrd Skynyrd is still going strong, with original member Gary Rossington still at the helm. The band continues to tour and perform, and they remain one of the most beloved American rock bands of all time.
Health Issues and Losses
Lynyrd Skynyrd has faced numerous health issues and losses throughout their career. In recent years, guitarist Gary Rossington has undergone multiple heart surgeries, including an emergency heart procedure in July 2023. However, the band remains optimistic about his recovery and looks forward to his return.
Tragically, Lynyrd Skynyrd has also suffered losses due to accidents and health issues. In 1977, the band’s plane crashed, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, and pilot Walter McCreary. This event had a profound impact on the band and the music industry as a whole.
Despite these challenges, Lynyrd Skynyrd has continued to create music and inspire fans around the world. The healing power of music has been a source of joy and comfort for both the band and their fans.
Legacy and Influence
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legacy and influence continue to be felt in the music industry today. Their unique blend of rock, blues, and country music has inspired countless musicians and bands over the years.
In 2006, Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, recognizing their significant contribution to the genre. Rolling Stone magazine also named them one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Al Kooper, who produced some of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s early recordings, has spoken about the band’s influence on his own music. He praised their ability to blend different genres and create something new and exciting.
Judy Van Zant Jenness, the widow of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, has been instrumental in preserving the band’s legacy. She has worked to ensure that their music is still heard and appreciated by new generations of fans.
JoJo Billingsley, one of the band’s backup singers, also played an important role in their legacy. She was known for her powerful voice and her dedication to the band, even after leaving to pursue a solo career.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s impact on the music industry cannot be overstated. Their unique sound and powerful lyrics continue to resonate with fans around the world, and their influence can be heard in countless songs and artists today.
Controversies and Legal Issues
Lynyrd Skynyrd has faced several controversies and legal issues throughout their career. Some of these controversies and legal issues are as follows:
The Confederate Flag: The band has been associated with the Confederate flag, which has been a controversial symbol in the United States. In 2012, the band’s Facebook page was flooded with comments after they used the flag during a performance. The band later issued a statement saying that they did not endorse the flag and that it was used to honor their Southern heritage.
Drug Use: The band was known for their drug use, particularly cocaine and Quaaludes. In an interview, guitarist Gary Rossington admitted to using cocaine and Quaaludes during the recording of the album “Nuthin’ Fancy.”
Legal Disputes: After the death of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and several other members of the band in a plane crash in 1977, the surviving members agreed not to perform as Lynyrd Skynyrd again. However, in 1987, surviving members of the band reformed for a reunion tour, which led to a lawsuit to enforce the blood oath. The band eventually settled out of court.
Prince Lawsuit: In 2018, the band filed a lawsuit against the estate of Prince for using an unauthorized recording of their song “Sweet Home Alabama” during a concert. The lawsuit was later dropped after the estate agreed to stop using the recording.
Despite these controversies and legal issues, Lynyrd Skynyrd remains a beloved band with a dedicated fan base.
Discography and Popular Songs
Lynyrd Skynyrd has released a total of thirteen studio albums, four live albums, and twenty-nine singles. The band’s debut album, “Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd,” released in 1973, is considered a classic in the Southern rock genre. The album featured popular songs such as “Gimme Three Steps,” “Simple Man,” and “Free Bird.” The latter song, which has become an anthem for the band, is often played at concerts and has been covered by numerous artists.
Their second album, “Second Helping,” released in 1974, included the hit songs “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Don’t Ask Me No Questions.” The former song has become a cultural icon and is often associated with Southern pride. The song’s opening riff is instantly recognizable and has been featured in various films, TV shows, and commercials.
In 1977, the band released their fifth studio album, “Street Survivors.” The album featured hit songs such as “That Smell” and “What’s Your Name.” Unfortunately, just days after the album’s release, a plane carrying the band crashed, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines. The tragedy led to a hiatus for the band.
After a decade-long hiatus, Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited in 1987 with a new lineup. They released their tenth studio album, “Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991,” which included the hit song “Good Lovin’s Hard to Find.” The band continued to release albums throughout the 90s and 2000s, including “Twenty” in 1997 and “Vicious Cycle” in 2003.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s discography is a testament to their influence on the Southern rock genre. Their popular songs, such as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird,” have become cultural icons and continue to be played on classic rock radio stations.