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Lynyrd Skynyrd Biography

Last updated: 07/29/2014 08:19:16 PM

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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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