Lynyrd Skynyrd Biography

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In the Beginning
Ronnie van Zant was the oldest of 3 and hailed from the tough west side of Jacksonville, Florida, in an area where fighting was a normal pastime. He first started singing in a Gospel Church Women's Choir, but there was another type of music that Ronnie Van Zant wanted. One he pieced together from various musical influences in his life: Shorty Medlocke (Father of Rick Medlocke of the band Blackfoot) was a former sharecropper who played a scrappy style of "Swamp Music" that Ronnie Van Zant became familiar with.

At the age of 16, Ronnie Van Zant was approached by the Band called Us. They needed a lead singer for their Rhythm and Blues Band. "US" was a local favorite that had competed in "Battle of the Bands" Contests. Another such band was called the Mods, which catered to the then rampant British Invasion and featured a young man named Allen Collins. Ronnie Van Zant was also influenced by a new long-hair band called The Rolling Stones. The high-energy music of The Rolling Stones and the Southern influences of Shorty Medlocke had created a dream in the young Ronnie Van Zant.

Ronnie first approached Bob Burns, who had a drum set, and 13 year-old guitar player Gary Rossington. Rossington then recruited Larry Junstrom, the guy with the bass. The final member of what was to be known as "The Noble Five" was Allen Collins, who had the only amplifier! They began playing "Psychedelic Rock", patterned after the Yardbirds and Hendrix, among other notable names.

While in High School, their Gym teacher and local Real Estate Agent Leonard Skinner would often hand out suspensions because they had long hair. At the age of 16 or 17, they dropped out of school and began their musical careers. Then, while playing at local high schools, the Band (as a joke) announced itself as "The Leonard Skinner Band". Members of the crowd that knew about the gym teacher laughed and cheered at the joke, but it was the nucleus they needed. With a few alterations, they would eventually become the " Lynyrd Skynyrd Band "

The Burns Family driveway was the hangout and practice area, which drew complaints of "loud music" from the area neighbors. To escape this problem, the Band practiced at a farmhouse they dubbed "Hellhouse", located 20 miles from Jacksonville, Florida. Fishing was one of the favorite pastimes of Ronnie Van Zant. Many of the songs from the "Pronounced" album would be "created" during this time.

..........After winning a Battle of the Bands Contest in Jacksonville, they landed a spot opening for Strawberry Alarm Clock and went on their first tour! In 1970, they cut their first demos at the Quimvy Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This was where the first recordings of Freebird originated. The song had little response until Allen Collins added a frenetic guitar ending. Freebird eventually became Lynyrd Skynyrd's Anthem.

Jimmy Johnson of Quinvy Studios was sure that Lynyrd Skynyrd had a sound worth promoting and talked them into going to the studio in Sheffield, Alabama to begin recording again. Later, in the fall of 1971, they were joined by Rick Medlocke (Blackfoot) and Leon Wilkinson. The songs One More Time, Freebird, and Gimme Three Steps were among the ones they recorded. Returning to Jacksonville, the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band found the booking agents cold to their brand of music. They eventually commuted to Atlanta to play, borrowing gas money and then repaying the loans.

Enter Producer/Performer Al Kooper, who realized the Southern Rock scene was taking off, and Lynyrd Skynyrd seemed like the right choice. His contacts with MCA Records enabled Kooper to start the "Sounds of the South" Label. They had 3 groups already, and with the endorsement of Mose Jones, Lynyrd Skynyrd was added to the list as the fourth group to sign.

At this point, Leon Wilkinson leaves the band, and they round up bassist Ed King to replace him. Utilizing Al Kooper's abilities as a producer, Lynyrd Skynyrd learns a few tricks of the trade and release their debut Album: "Pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd". Shortly after the release of their album, Lynyrd Skynyrd was re-joined by Leon Wilkinson and moved Ed King to guitar. It was a way to bring the recorded music to life by reproducing the double guitar effect added in the studio by Allen Collins. Sweet Home Alabama was a message to Neil Young after his slander of the Southern was of life on his "Harvest" album (Southern Man). It was meant as a joke, really, because they were actually big fans of Neil Young!

..........Soon after recording Sweet Home Alabama in 1973, Lynyrd Skynyrd met with the Press, who were amazed at what they heard. They stood on tables and chairs to just to get a glimpse !! They were then contacted by Peter Rutledge of "The Who" to be the opening act for the 1973 Quadrophenia tour. On Opening Night, they were scared out of their wits and got drunk. It was enough to loosen them up, and the premiere was a success! Even with that experience under their belts and Freebird at the top of the charts, Lynyrd Skynyrd was still looking for the recognition they craved. Ronnie Van Zant was sure Sweet Home Alabama was the top 40 song they were looking for, but Al Kooper disagreed. Ronnie Van Zant then made a deal: if the single with Gimme Three Steps didn't make it, they would release Sweet Home Alabama.

So in June 1974 they released it to help the faltering "Second Helping" album. The controversy involving Neil Young and Watergate made it an instant hit. In September, only 3 short months after it's release, "Second Helping" became a certified gold record followed by "Pronounced" shortly thereafter. MCA then included the Civil War Confederate Flag as a backdrop, and the Band's "look" was cemented. Ronnie Van Zant was not a big fan of the term "Southern Rock", but the band's new face was in place. Lynyrd Skynyrd then went on tour themselves, playing one night shows, and then headed to Europe to continue their attempt to rise to the top. Exhausted from the constant travelling, Bob Burns left Lynyrd Skynyrd for health reasons, and Artimus Pyle was his replacement.

This inspired Ronnie Van Zant to write the song Am I Losin'. Lynyrd Skynyrd returned to Atlanta and continued touring with Artimus on drums. In 1975 they went into the studio and came up with "Second Helping" which included the feature song Saturday Night Special. To promote this album, they again went on tour. Many drunken nights during this 90 day gig resulted in Ed King splitting during the night. The "Torture Tour", as it became known to the band was completed by Allen Collins and Gary Rossington sharing Ed Kings job.

Often, a guy behind the amplifiers would remind them of which songs they were supposed to play. Still, the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band was not happy. Their new manager, Peter Rutledge, recruited Tom Dowd to take control. The first four songs on "Gimme Back My Bullets" were recorded in Los Angeles, and after another tour, they returned to Georgia in November to complete the album. The huge fan support for Gimme Back My Bullets resulted in the band not playing it, mostly due to the reference to a . 38 Special handgun. Fans a t their concerts would actually throw LIVE bullet s on stage whenever they played the theme song! ( Fearing one might go off caused them to not play it )

..........In July 1976 Lynyrd Skynyrd released their first live album entitled "One More From The Road". Not having to go into the Recording Studio gave them a chance to look for the elusive third guitarist they needed. They found the answer in The Honkettes, a female gospel band. Lynyrd Skynyrd had toured with this group of Gospel singers, and Cassie Gaines, a member of this group, made plans for her brother to play, even before he was introduced to the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band. His name was Steve Gaines. But it seems Cassie forgot to tell him! His familiarity with the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band had influenced Crawdaddy, the band he was in. One of the songs they performed was Saturday Night Special. While Steve was surprised at this turn of events, his guitar-playing ability soon had Ronnie Van Zant and the rest of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band in shock themselves. At the age of 26, Steve Gaines was already a veteran in the music industry, and it showed when he stepped on the stage to jam to T for Texas.

It was the influence of Allen Collins that eventually landed Steve Gaines the job, and he was called two weeks later to accompany the band to Myrtle Beach, NC for a gig. Following this concert, the band began rehearsing for the live album concert. They only had a month before this concert, but it was all they needed. "One More From the Road" is truly a Lynyrd Skynyrd Band classic. Lynyrd Skynyrd then went to the Knebworth Festival in Great Britain to play. They stole the show from another group of long-hairs (and lips) known as The Rolling Stones. Even though they had some problems, when "One More From the Road" was finally released, it climbed to the Top 10 level in no time, and went to Gold and Platinum Record status. This elevated them into the upper echelon of the music business. The Lynyrd Skynyrd Band had finally made it! Lynyrd Skynyrd again entered the studio to record their next album, but they were not satisfied with it. They again hit the road to tour, playing with such artists as Santana, Frampton
and "The Outlaws".

The newly found prestige was well accepted and earned. Shortly after the end of the tour, they again went into the Miami Recording Studios -- only to find Tom Dowd unavailable. However, he sent a replacement, Barry Rudolph, to fill in. Rudolph's previous recording experience with Waylon Jennings was well received, and the band was able to re-do You Got That Right and That Smell. Tom Dowd did not return to finish the project, and if you look, you'll see there are no producer credits on the album. The Lynyrd Skynyrd Band released "Street Survivors" in October 1977. It was only 3 days later that the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band's private jet ran out of fuel and crashed in a wooded area near McComb, Mississippi as it attempted to land. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines and Dean Kilpatrick were all killed instantly. The remaining band members were also injured, but survived the ordeal.

The Lynyrd Skynyrd Band was the premiere Southern Rock band that had yet to reach their pinnacle.

We can only dream of what they might have done...

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A little known fact | Reviewer: JVZ | 7/29/14

Just a few days before his death Ronnie was in a motel room watching the PTL Club (Jim and Tammy Faye) and called their prayer line and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

Not A Fan | Reviewer: Mucous | 4/20/12

Never was a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. I am from Texas so don't stereotype me as being some inbred tobacco chewing Nascar kook racist, either. Skynyrd just never did it for me. They always sounded like a bunch of guys in a southern dive pool hall bar somewhere that wanted to start a fight with you for no reason. Their lyrics always seemed to embrace intolerant retro racist value systems and they never sounded like people that I would care to hang around with or associate with. Redneck rock just doesn't do it for me, it never has. People can listen to whatever they want to listen to, I don't care. If you want to listen to Freebird all day long over and over again, go ahead. Just don't count on me being there for very long.

when we were youg | Reviewer: Anonymous | 2/18/12

I go back in time to 74.Seen them 15 times over the years.they are the best. I rember the day I first heard them.I'm 55 and still rocking.Just seen them feb 11 Hard Rock Biloxi Great show.THANK YOU ALL.

Orange Park Florida | Reviewer: Robert | 1/6/12

I just want to say that Orange Park Florida will always have songs of the south embedded into their memories forever...... Skynyrd songs are and will be the only songs most played in Orange Park and Middleburg.... Ronnie I have many times said hello to you in Winn Dixie......... Dixie on my good friend.

DOCTOR'S INLET | Reviewer: JAMES | 1/4/12


Turn It Up Book | Reviewer: Ron Eckerman | 12/9/11

Turn It Up has just been released on Amazon and at the turnitupbook website. It is the story of the last two years of the band, and particularly the relationship between myself, the tour manager that hired the plane, and Ronnie Van Zant, my closest friend who died in the crash. It was a tragic moment in life, one that will haunt me to the end. It's taken me 34 years to gather the courage to tell this story, but I wanted to get it out before my time is up. A heartfelt and highly charged tale about life on the road and at home while managing the band.

Lynyrd Skynyrd was an iconic band, the definition of southern rock, with an uncanny ability to touch the lives of all who listened to their timeless music. This is the compelling story of the final years of Ronnie Van Zant's Lynyrd Skynyrd, and of the ironic events leading to the tragic plane crash, told in masterful fashion.

Readers have responded:

"Great read, learned the inside story on what it takes to roll a machine like Lynyrd Skynyrd. A story of friends and family!"

"This is truly an inside view of a world few can imagine, from the viewpoint of a man who's seen it all. Well-written and revealing, 'Turn It Up!' is truly a page turner; I couldn't put it down."

"... he makes us feel that we are right there with him, in the heart of the excitement and the belly of the chaos. Whew... what a ride!"

There's a new band in town. | Reviewer: Anonymous | 12/5/11

The Southern Rock Band, RAMBLER has now taken a place in Southern Rock history. A blend of awesome lyrics and unmatched musical talent is taking off like a wild fire. With copies of their album "First Things First" flying off the shelves and a second album in progress, they are sure to be the next Southern Rock stars. Keep your eyes open for their appearances, but hold on to your socks cause they will definitely blow them off!

AKICK ASS CONCERT | Reviewer: David Norman | 12/4/11

My wife and i are in our sixties and love skynyrd.We saw them a year ago in oklahoma and loved the show.I think Johnny,Gary,Ricky,and the guys are as great as the original band.Johnny is one hell of a front man-Long live the Skynrd Nation;

Skynyrd | Reviewer: Bernie | 11/20/11

THE total definition of "Southern Fried Rock", a sound, a time, and a mind set that defines the unique type of music started by The Allman Brothers Band, but perfected by Lynyrd Skynard. The "inter-play" with Blackfoot, .38 Special and others only reinforced the sound and meaning of the style of music coming from that part of this great country. As American as pure Country Music, BUT updated and crossing over to Rock. I will be a listener of Lynyrd Skynyrd forever.... I miss all the members now gone.

the 'Second Helping' is really 'Nuthin' Fancy' | Reviewer: Anonymous | 5/26/11

The BIOGRAPHY is nice and informative but the mention of their third album is incorrectly named in the bio as SECOND HELPING....It's mistakenly given credit for the album titled NUTHIN' FANCY. That's the one that has Saturday Night Special on it. I should know! It was my first Skynyrd LP. But as most people that are introduced to this genre of music will attest to, this was far from the last of my Skynyrd purchases. Too bad their lineup was destroyed in the crash, I sure wouldda liked to have heard Skynyrd as the music changed over the years and see how they/with songwriter Ronnie Van Zant would have altered their sound to have kept themselves relavent in the music industry.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is #1 | Reviewer: Eloy | 10/29/10

The best band ever. For all you LS fans, i recommend you buy their tribute DVD made in 1996. The old footage will absolutely blow you away! Make sure you see it in a big screen TV & turn it up real loud. The new LS band doesn't even come close to the original. Too bad that we will never know all of their awesome songs, yet to be born. The real band died on Oct.20, 1977.

God bless Ronnie.. | Reviewer: Jessica Hudson | 10/16/10

I just recently got really into Lynyrd Skynyrd. I wasn't even born when they created such classics as free bird and sweet home alabama. Thanks to the internet, I have discovered many more classic songs that aren't appreciated today (well at least they are by the true fans) Ronnie was definitely something special. What a great front man. He really sang with passion. I love it becase he didn't jumpt around all over the stage. He had amazing stage presence, and a lot of heart. It saddens me that he was taken so early. He could have done so much more. Even though I recently discovered how great LS was back then, I thinks they died along with Ronnie. It would have been incredible to grow up in that generation and to watch LS live.

GIMME BACK MY...... | Reviewer: Don Reynolds | 9/28/10

Lynyrd Skynrd! they were a band that would have been the best band to ever grace the stage. They were just starting to hit their stride when the accident happened. I agree with a few statements, Why is Allen and Gary and Steve never mentioned as great Axe men? Why is Ronnie not mentioned as one of the best song writers? I also know that Ronnie hated the term Southern Rock,to him it was just good old Rock and Roll. We can all argue all we want to but the fact is that even with this new line up with Johnny fronting the band and Ricky Medlock picking up for Allen it is not as good as the real deal! Johnny had a pretty good band back in the early 80s and we all know about Blackfoot and their kick butt sound and then with Hughie and the Oulaws all good bands in their own right do not equal Ronnie,Stevie,Cassie,Billy and Leon the Madhatter. But still we have to give props to the newer line up for keeping the sound of Lynyrd Sknyrd alive.
The Best way to explain it is with out Bono in Led Zep the soud is not the same. But we still listen on! I am not knocking Skynyrd just saying the are not the orginal Noble 5 or 1% of their hey-day I am 51 and I saw them too many times to count back in the day. So I know of what I speak.
I Have their last alumb with the flames bought it the day it was released!Sept 77
Yesterday's Skynyrd = the best ever
Today's Skynyrd = the best they can do!
Still entertaining.

Lynyrd Skynyrd | Reviewer: Zach Mitchell | 6/1/10

The best band the world has ever seen. They are so unappreciated it makes me fucking sick. All people know is "Freebird", "Sweet Home Alabama", "Saturday Night Special", "Gimmie Back My Bullets", and "What's Your Name". What about "Poison Whiskey", "I Need You", "On the Hunt", "I Got the Same Old Blues", and "Ain't No Good Life" (just to name a few)? All I hear about is Jimmy Page and Angus Young. What Allen Collins and Steve Gaines? I might as well stop typing now before I go into a page-long rant. I've spotted multiple errors in this so-called biography but one thing is for sure, "We can only dream of what they might have done..." Because at least I know, the difference between Lynyrd Skynyrd then and Lynyrd Skynyrd now, is a whole other universe. It isn't Lynyrd Skynyrd anymore, that band died on October 20th, 1977. God bless Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson, and Billy Powell.

Skynyrd are real men | Reviewer: moonmac | 12/2/09

This country has become so pussified, I'm glad I can still hear real men play rock! Nowadays you don't know if your listening to a pole smoker or not! Even though I'm glad I'm from Chicago, I sometimes wish I would have been born on the west side of Jacksonville! The biggest reason I love LS is because Yuppies don't like them.

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