Lynyrd Skynyrd (pronounced ) is an American rock band, formed in Jacksonville, Florida in 1964. The band became prominent in the Southern United States in 1973, and rose to worldwide recognition before several members died in an airplane crash in 1977, including lead vocalist and primary songwriter Ronnie Van Zant. The band reformed in 1987 for a reunion tour with Ronnie's younger brother Johnny Van Zant as the frontman and continues to record music today. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 13, 2006.
In the summer of 1964, teenage friends Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington, formed the band "The Noble Five", which then changed in 1965 to "My Backyard", when Larry Junstrom and Bob Burns joined in Jacksonville, Florida. Their early influences included British Invasion bands such as Free, The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles, as well as Southern blues and country & western music. In 1968, the group won a local Battle of the Bands contest and the opening slot on several Southeast shows for the California-based psychedelic rock band Strawberry Alarm Clock.
In 1970, roadie Billy Powell became the keyboardist for the band, and Van Zant sought a new name. "One Percent" and "The Noble Five" were each considered before the group settled on Leonard Skinnerd, a mocking tribute to a physical-education teacher at Robert E. Lee High School, Leonard Skinner, who was notorious for strictly enforcing the school's policy against boys having long hair. The more distinctive spelling was adopted before they released their first album. Despite their high school acrimony, the band developed a more friendly relationship with Skinner in later years, and invited him to introduce them at a concert in the Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum.
The band continued to perform throughout the South in the early 1970s, further developing their hard-driving, blues-rock sound and image. In 1972, Leon Wilkeson replaced Larry Junstrom on bass, but left just before the band was to record its first album (Wilkeson rejoined the band shortly thereafter at Van Zant's invitation). Strawberry Alarm Clock guitarist Ed King filled in as bass player, later switching to guitar after the album's release, allowing the band to replicate the three-guitar mix used in the studio.
In 1970, the band auditioned for Alan Walden, who would later become their manager on the newly formed Hustler's Inc. Walden worked with the band until 1974, when management was turned over to Pete Rudge.
Peak years (1973?1977)
In 1972 the band was discovered by musician, songwriter, and producer Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat, and Tears, who had attended one of their shows at a club in Atlanta. They changed the spelling of their name to "Lynyrd Skynyrd", (pronounced 'l?h-'n?rd 'skin-'n?rd) and Kooper signed them to MCA Records, producing their first album "Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd". Released January 1st, 1973, the album featured the hit song "Free Bird", which received national airplay, eventually reaching #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and is still considered a rock and roll anthem today.
Lynyrd Skynyrd's fan base continued to grow rapidly throughout 1973, largely due to their opening slot on The Who's Quadrophenia tour in the United States. Their 1974 follow-up, Second Helping, was the band's breakthrough hit, and featured their most popular single, "Sweet Home Alabama" (#8 on the charts in August 1974), a response to Neil Young's "Alabama" and "Southern Man." (Young and Van Zant were not rivals, but fans of each other's music and good friends; Young even wrote the song "Powderfinger" for the band, but they never recorded it. Van Zant, meanwhile, can be seen on the cover of Street Survivors wearing a Neil Young t-shirt.) The album reached #12 in 1974, eventually going multi-platinum. In July of that year, Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the headline acts at The Ozark Music Festival at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, Missouri.
In 1974, Burns left the band and was replaced by Kentucky native Artimus Pyle on drums. Lynyrd Skynyrd's third album, Nuthin' Fancy, was released the same year, though guitarist Ed King left midway through the tour. The album has the lowest sales and Kooper was eventually fired. In January 1976, backup singers Leslie Hawkins, Cassie Gaines and JoJo Billingsley (collectively known as The Honkettes) were added to the band. Lynyrd Skynyrd's fourth album Gimme Back My Bullets was released in the new year, but did not achieve the same success as the previous two albums. Van Zant and Collins both felt that the band was seriously missing the three-guitar attack that had been one of its early hallmarks. Although Skynyrd auditioned several guitarists, including such high-profile names as Leslie West, the solution was closer than they realized.
Soon after joining Skynyrd, Cassie Gaines began touting the guitar and songwriting prowess of her younger brother, Steve. The junior Gaines, who led his own band, Crawdad (which occasionally would perform Skynyrd's "Saturday Night Special" in their set), was invited to audition onstage with Skynyrd at a concert in Kansas City on May 11, 1976. Liking what they heard, the group also jammed informally with the Oklahoma native several times, then invited him into the group in June. With Gaines on board, the newly-reconstituted band recorded the double-live album One More From the Road in Atlanta, Georgia, and performed at the Knebworth festival, which also featured The Rolling Stones.
Both Collins and Rossington had serious car accidents over Labor Day weekend in 1976 which slowed the recording of the follow-up album and forced the band to cancel some concert dates. Rossington's accident inspired the ominous "That Smell" - a cautionary tale about drug abuse that was clearly aimed towards him and at least one other band member. Rossington has admitted repeatedly that he's the "Prince Charming" of the song who crashed his car into an oak tree while drunk and stoned on Quaaludes. Van Zant, at least, was making a serious attempt to clean up his act and curtail the cycle of boozed-up brawling that was part of Skynyrd's reputation.
1977's Street Survivors turned out to be a showcase for guitarist/vocalist Steve Gaines, who had joined the band just a year earlier and was making his studio debut with them. Publicly and privately, Ronnie Van Zant marveled at the multiple talents of Skynyrd's newest member, claiming that the band would "all be in his shadow one day." Gaines' contributions included his co-lead vocal with Van Zant on the co-written "You Got That Right" and the rousing guitar boogie "I Know A Little" which he had written before he joined Skynyrd. So confident was Skynyrd's leader of Gaines' abilities that the album (and some concerts) featured Gaines delivering his self-penned bluesy "Ain't No Good Life" - the only song in the pre-crash Skynyrd catalog to feature a lead vocalist other than Ronnie Van Zant. The album also included the hit singles "What's Your Name" and "That Smell". The band was poised for their biggest tour yet, including fulfilling Van Zant's lifelong dream of headlining New York's Madison Square Garden.
Plane crash (1977)
Main article: Convair 240 N55VM crash
On Thursday, October 20, 1977, just three days after the release of Street Survivors, and five shows into their most successful headlining tour to date, Lynyrd Skynyrd's chartered Convair 240 ran out of fuel near the end of their flight from Greenville, South Carolina, where they had just performed at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium, to LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Though the pilots attempted an emergency landing on a small airstrip, the plane crashed in a forest in Gillsburg, Mississippi. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray were all killed on impact; the other bandmembers suffered serious injuries.
Lynyrd Skynyrd disbanded after the tragedy, reuniting just once to perform an instrumental version of "Free Bird" at Charlie Daniels' Volunteer Jam in January 1979. Collins, Rossington, Powell and Pyle performed the song with Charlie Daniels and members of his band. Leon Wilkeson, who was still undergoing physical therapy for his badly broken left arm, was in attendance, along with Judy Van Zant, Teresa Gaines, JoJo Billingsley and Leslie Hawkins.
Rossington, Collins, Wilkeson and Powell formed The Rossington-Collins Band, which released two albums between 1980 and 1982. Deliberately avoiding comparisons with Ronnie Van Zant as well as suggestions that this band was Lynyrd Skynyrd reborn, Rossington and Collins chose a woman, Dale Krantz, as lead vocalist. However, as an acknowledgment of their past, the band's concert encore would always be an instrumental version of "Free Bird." Rossington and Collins eventually had a falling out over the affections of Dale Krantz, whom Rossington married and with whom he formed the Rossington Band, which released two albums in the late 1980s and opened for the Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour in 1987-1988.
The other former members of Lynyrd Skynyrd continued to make music during the hiatus era. Billy Powell played keyboards in a Christian Rock band named Vision, touring with established Christian rocker Mylon LeFevre (who, like Skynyrd, had once opened for The Who). During Vision concerts, Powell's trademark keyboard talent was often spotlighted and he spoke about his conversion to Christianity after the near-fatal plane crash. Pyle formed The Artimus Pyle Band in 1982, which occasionally featured former Honkettes JoJo Billingsley and Leslie Hawkins.
In 1980 Allen Collins' wife Kathy died of a massive hemorrhage while miscarrying their third child. He formed the Allen Collins Band in 1983 from the remnants of the Rossington-Collins Band, releasing one tepidly-received album, but many around him believed that the guitarist's heart just wasn't in it anymore. Most point to his wife's death as the moment that Collins' life began to spin out of control; he spent several years bingeing on drugs and alcohol. In 1986 Collins crashed his car while driving drunk near his home in Jacksonville, killing his girlfriend and leaving him permanently paralyzed from the chest down. Collins eventually pled no contest to DUI manslaughter, but was not given a prison sentence since his injuries made it obvious that he would never drive or be a danger to society again.
Reunion years (1987?present)
In 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited for a full-scale tour with crash survivors Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Artimus Pyle and former guitarist Ed King. Ronnie Van Zant's younger brother, Johnny, took over as the new lead singer and primary songwriter. Due to Collins' paralysis from the 1986 car accident, he was only able to participate as the musical director, choosing Randall Hall, his former bandmate in the Allen Collins Band, as his stand-in. As part of his plea deal, Collins would be wheeled out onstage each night to explain to the audience why he could no longer perform (usually before the performance of "That Smell," which had been partially directed at him). Collins was stricken with pneumonia in 1989 and died on January 23, 1990.
The reunited band was meant to be a one-time tribute to the original lineup, captured on the double-live album Southern By The Grace Of God/Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour - 1987. The fact that the band chose to continue after the 1987 tribute tour caused legal problems for the survivors, as Judy Van Zant Jenness and Teresa Gaines Rapp (widows of Ronnie and Steve, respectively) sued the others for violating an agreement made shortly after the plane crash, stating that they would not "exploit" the Skynyrd name for profit. As part of the settlement, Jenness and Rapp collect nearly 30% of the band's touring revenues (representing the shares their husbands would have earned had they lived), and hold a proviso which forces any band touring as "Lynyrd Skynyrd" to contain at least two members of the pre-crash lineup. Since Collins, Wilkeson and Powell are now dead, Ed King unable to tour due to ongoing heart problems, and Pyle on the outs with the others leaves Gary Rossington as the Skynyrd standard-bearer.
Wilkeson's long time friend Byron "Red" Glover, was Skynyrd's fill-in guitarist and functioned as a substitute when needed. During several concerts, Red was dragged up on stage by Wilkeson to play with the band.
The reconstituted Lynyrd Skynyrd has gone through several lineup changes and continues to record and tour today. Leon Wilkeson, Skynyrd's bassist since 1972, was found dead in his hotel room on July 27, 2001; his death was found to be due to emphysema and chronic liver disease. He was replaced in 2001 by Ean Evans. The remaining members released a double album called Thyrty which had songs from the original line up to the present. Lynyrd Skynyrd also released a live DVD of their Vicious Cycle Tour and on June 22, 2004, Lynyrd Skynyrd released the album Lyve: The Vicious Cycle Tour. On December 10, 2004, Lynyrd Skynyrd did a show for CMT, Crossroads, a concert featuring country duo Montgomery Gentry and other genres of music.
In the beginning of 2005 Hughie Thomasson left the band to reform his disbanded Southern Rock band Outlaws. On February 5, 2005, Lynyrd Skynyrd did a Super Bowl party back in Jacksonville with special guests 3 Doors Down, Jo Dee Messina, Charlie Daniels and Ronnie and Johnny Van Zant's brother Donnie Van Zant of .38 Special. On February 13 of that year Lynyrd Skynyrd did a tribute to Southern Rock on the Grammy Awards with Gretchen Wilson, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban. On May 10, 2005, Johnny and Donnie Van Zant released a country album called Get Right with the Man which featured the hit single "Help Somebody". In the summer of 2005, lead singer Johnny Van Zant had to have surgery on his vocal cord to have a polyp removed. He was told not to sing for three months. On September 10, 2005, Lynyrd Skynyrd performed without Johnny Van Zant at the Music Relief Concert for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, with Kid Rock standing in for Johnny. In December 2005, Johnny Van Zant returned to sing for Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The band performed live at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, as a part of their 2007 tour. The concert was recorded in high definition for HDNet and premiered on December 1, 2007.
On September 9, 2007, former Skynyrd guitarist Hughie Thomasson died of a heart attack at his home in Florida. Mark "Sparky" Matejka, formerly of the country music band Hot Apple Pie, joined Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2006.
The band in 2008
On November 2, 2007, the band performed at Gator Growl, the world's largest student-run pep rally, in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium - also known as "The Swamp." The event's 50,000 person attendance marked the largest crowd that Lynyrd Skynyrd had ever played in front of in the United States, until the July 2008 Bama Jam in Enterprise, Alabama where more than 111,000 people were in attendance.
On January 28, 2009, keyboardist Billy Powell died at age 56 at his home near Jacksonville, Florida. Powell called 911 at 12:55 a.m., complaining of shortness of breath. He had previously missed his doctor's appointment on the day before his death; the appointment was for a checkup on his heart. The EMS responders found Powell unconscious and unresponsive, with the telephone still in his hand. Rescue crews performed CPR, but he was pronounced dead at 1:52 a.m. Although a heart attack was suspected, and it was originally reported that an autopsy was to be performed, none in fact was ever done.
On March 17, 2009, it was announced that Skynyrd had signed a worldwide deal with Loud & Proud/Roadrunner Records and will release their new album God & Guns September 29 of that year. They will tour Europe and the United States in 2009 with Peter Keys of the 420 Funk Mob on keyboards and Robert Kearns of The Bottle Rockets on bass in place of Ean Evans who died at age 48 on Wednesday, May 6, 2009, at his home in Columbus, Mississippi, succumbing to the cancer.
In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the group #95 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
On November 28, 2005, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that Lynyrd Skynyrd would be inducted alongside Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis, and the Sex Pistols. They were inducted in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan on March 13, 2006. Lynyrd Skynyrd had been nominated 7 times.
On March 13, 2006, Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 21st annual induction ceremony. The inductees included Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Ed King, Steve Gaines, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson, Bob Burns, and Artimus Pyle (no post-crash members of the band were inducted, nor were any of the Honkettes). The current version of Skynyrd, augmented by King, Pyle, Burns and former Honkettes JoJo Billingsley and Leslie Hawkins, performed "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird" at the ceremony, which was also attended by Judy Van Zant Jenness and Ronnie's two daughters, Teresa Gaines Rapp and her daughter Corinna, Allen Collins' daughters, and Leon Wilkeson's mother.
In 1994, various country music artists united to record a Skynyrd tribute album titled Skynyrd Frynds.
Ronnie Van Zant's widow, Judy Van Zant Jenness, operates a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute website for the educational purpose of sharing the original Lynyrd Skynyrd band's history, as well as Freebird Live, a live music venue in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
The Drive By Truckers dedicated their album Southern Rock Opera to Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Progressive metal band Dream Theater pay tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd on their live album Once in a LIVEtime, whereby the song "Take the Time" is modified to include the solo from "Free Bird".
Main article: List of Lynyrd Skynyrd band members
Johnny Van Zant ? lead vocals (1987?present)
Gary Rossington ? guitars (1964?1977, 1987?present)
Rickey Medlocke ? drums, guitars, backing vocals (1970?1971, 1996?present)
Mark Matejka ? guitars, backing vocals (2006?present)
Robert Kearns ? bass, backing vocals (2009?present)
Michael Cartellone ? drums (1999?present)
Peter Keys ? keyboards (2009?present)
Dale Krantz-Rossington ? backing vocals (1987?present)
Carol Chase ? backing vocals (1987?present)