following article was conceived, edited &
outlined by Leon Tsilis & written with love by
the Late, Great "Ann (Coyote Red) Bixby"
for Skymarshall Productions.
was in the summer of 1964 that Gary Rossington, Allen Collins,
and Ronnie Van Zant began playing together for the first
At the time, Rossington (guitar) was in a band called "Me,
You, and Him" with Bob Burns (drums) and Larry Junstrom
(bass). Van Zant was singing with a band called "Us",
and Collins played guitar in a band called the "Mods".
Rossington and Collins were about 14, Van Zant two years
story of their original meeting is a fitting one for a band
that carried a reputation as roughnecks throughout their
career. All three played Little League baseball. One day
when Rossington and Burns were watching the older boys play,
Van Zant hit a line drive that caught Burns in the head
and knocked him out. After the game Van Zant looked them
up to be sure Burns was all right. They A Tribute to introduced
themselves, went over to Burns' house still in their
uniforms and played some songs together. Rossington
said,"That was it, that was the start of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
So if Ronnie wouldn't have hit that foul ball, there wouldn't
be no Skynyrd."
a while, the group decided that they needed another guitar
player because, as Rossington put it, "I didn't know
barre chords real good, and the little amp built into my
guitar just wouldn't cut it. We knew this little skinny
kid, Allen Collins, who had a big amp and knew barre chords.
He was good, you know." So they went looking for him.
When they found him he was afraid that Van Zant, who had
a reputation as a brawler, was going to beat him up. He
ran from them, and they had to chase him down. When he realized
that they just wanted to talk, he was so relieved that he
agreed to try playing with them. They took his amplifier
over to the Burns' garage, where, according to Rossington,"We
stuck both of our guitars in the bright channel, and Ronnie
put his microphone in the normal, so we were all three on
one amp, and Bob played drums. That was how it started."
the next few years, under a variety of names (The Noble
Five, The Wildcats, The One Percent, among others), the
new band played teen dens, church socials, and local juke
joints. Influenced by the British bands the Beatles,
the Stones, the Yardbirds the boys grew their hair
long, which in those days meant barely brow-or ear-length.
It was still long enough to get them in trouble at school.
To comply with the dress code, they would slick it back
with vaseline for class, and comb it out after school. But
they had to shower after gym, and their coach, Leonard Skinner,
often caught them literally with their hair down. That resulted
in so many trips to the principle's office, and so many
suspensions, that eventually the boys quit school. They
wanted to escape the hassles, and to be able to devote themselves
full-time to the band. A
few days after Rossington, the first to quit, left school,
they played a gig at Jacksonville's Forest Inn. When he
introduced the band, Van Zant said, "We're the One
Percent, but we're gonna change our name tonight. Everybody
who wants to change it to Leonard Skinner, applaud."
The crowd knew the story, and they knew Skinner the
applause was deafening. So the band kept the name, changing
the vowels to Ys in a token attempt at anonymity.
band's search for a place to work led them to an isolated
farm south of Jacksonville, near a town called Green Cove
Springs. The 99 acres of "cows and mushrooms"
contained a little wooden house with a tin roof, which became
known as the "Hell House", with good reason. It
gets very hot in Florida in the summer, especially under
a tin roof with no air conditioning. (When the band later
worked under stage or screen lights, they took it in stride,
and didn't seem to sweat as much as other groups. They were
used to the Hell House temperatures of two hundred or so
degrees, and could, so to speak, take the heat.) It was
here in the Hell House that the sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd
sun-up to sun-down, writing and rehearsing, the band began
to take shape. They won a Battle of the Bands in Jacksonville,
and landed their first tour, as the warm-up band for Strawberry
Alarm Clock. The $50 a week that they earned on that tour
was twice what they had been making in Jacksonville (for their
very first gig, a private party in a barbecue joint, the five
members of the band had made a grand total of $10, from which
they had to furnish gas money). For the first time, the band
assembled a road crew. It included Kevin Elson, who later
produced "Journey", and mixed "Lynyrd Skynyrd
the fall of 1970, Skynyrd had not only a road crew but a
manager,Alan Waldon, brother of Capricorn Records' Phil.
He arranged for them to record their first demos, at Quinvy
Studios outside Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The band was trying
to find its own voice, and they did - one of the songs they
recorded at Quinvy was the original version of "Free
Johnson of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was so taken with
the Quinvy demos that he offered to produce an album for
a percentage of the profit, if and when it was sold. So
Skynyrd borrowed money, and drove to the tiny northern Alabama
hamlet of Sheffield to record for him. There were two series
of sessions, in the spring and fall of 1971. Bassist Leon
Wilkeson joined them toward the end of the second series.
Powell was one of their original roadies, until Ronnie heard
him playing the piano between sessions one day. Asked why
he had never mentioned that he was a player, Powell responded
that he was happy to have a job as a roadie, and had no
ambition to play in the band. Van Zant, however, had other
ideas and before long Billy joined Lynyrd Skynyrd. Powell
was one of the most musically educated of the group, having
taken piano lessons most of his life. Although Skynyrd was
essentially a guitar band, Powell was the one who laid down
the musical backgrounds on most of their songs. It's hard
to imagine, for example, what "Freebird" would
sound like without his unique keyboards.
the Qinivy sessions, Johnson and his partner Tim Smith taught
the band how to record, starting with such basics as putting
the bass and drums together to form a rhythm section. Skynyrd
had to work whenever there was studio time free, even if
it was in the middle of the night, but they were finally
recording. During those sessions they laid down the first
multi-track version of "Free Bird", as well as
"One More Time", "I Ain't the One","Trust",
"Gimme Three Steps", and twelve other songs. Ronnie
affectionately dubbed the Muscle Shoals studio crew "The
Swampers", and paid tribute to them on "Sweet
Alan Waldon shopped the Muscle Shoals tapes around, he found
no takers. Skynyrd returned discouraged to Jacksonville,
only to find that they weren't even welcome to local bookers.
They began to commute to Atlanta, where they found a home
base at Funnuchio's, one of the roughest bars in the city.
Although shootings and stabbings were nightly occurrences,
the band began to play there regularly. They borrowed the
money for these trips from Van Zant's wife, Judy.
had met her in 1969, when the band were still calling themselves
the One Percent, and were playing mostly Cream and Creedence
covers. She was with him throughout his career, and had
this to say about marriage to a dedicated musician; "I
understood that his music was what was most important to
Ronnie. When you marry a musician, you have to understand
that their music is first and foremost. It's a different
way of life.")
was at Funnuchio's in 1972 that Skynyrd ran into Al Kooper,
who was in the process of launching his MCA-backed Sounds
of the South label. Kooper had played with Bob Dylan's first
electric band on "Bringing It All Back home",
and was one of the forces behind Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
He also worked with Steven Stills and Mike Bloomfield on
the "Super Session" album. Gary Rossington said,
"Kooper was big-time to us, so we were honored and
freaked out that he was out in the club listening to us.
Then the next night, we looked out and he was in the same
seat, so after the gig we stopped and said, "Hey, what's
going on?" The upshot was that Kooper offered the group
a contract, and after some initial hesitation, they accepted.
of his ability to handle the big time, bassist Leon Wilkeson
left the band. In the search for his replacement, Ronnie
remembered Ed King of Strawberry Alarm Clock, and somehow
located him at the small bar in North Carolina where he
had been working. King came down to the Hell House for a
series of frenzied rehearsals, and entered the studio with
the others for the Kooper-produced demos. These were recorded
at Studio One in Atlanta in one live session that lasted
until 3:00 AM. Of this session, Kooper said,"We recorded
everything in one day onto two-track. They were so good,
so well-rehearsed, that we ended up using the stuff that
didn't go on the album for the B-sides of the singles."
this point, the band had a catalogue of almost twenty songs.
Deciding which ones to perform, and how, made Skynyrd's
sessions with their new producer fairly tense. Kevin Elson
remembered that "there was always a touch of tension.
Al had a lot of arrangement ideas and keyboard ideas that
the band didn't agree with initially but I think
that the tension and arguing made for a better record in
the end. The band would never back down from what they wanted,
and Al didn't tend to back down anyway."
himself said,"I taught them how to use the studio.
I also taught them how to use the bass and the bass drum
in a competitive way. But of all the bands I ever worked
with, they were the best-arranged. What they did with guitar
parts was truly amazing - they had the pulse of the street.
They absolutely had it. What fights we had were over my
editorial decisions, and I was often outvoted. Ronnie ran
that band with an iron hand."
knowledge of modern recording techniques gave the band new
tools. A stand-out example is the overdubbed track of "Free
Bird", where Collins added a second guitar part slightly
behind his solo. This created the dual guitar sound, reminiscent
of Wishbone Ash's "Phoenix", that climaxes the
'leh-nerd skin'-nerd)" was recorded at Studio One in
Doraville, Georgia,(home base for the Atlanta Rhythm Section)
and engineered by the brilliant Rodney Mills. Mills specialized
in getting guitars to speak for themselves, and no band
ever offered him a better opportunity. His work with Skynyrd
began with "Simple Man", and continued throughout
their career. Al Kooper was practically a member of the
band on "(pronounced)"; under the pseudonym of
"Roosevelt Gook" he played bass and mellotron
andsang back-up. Leon
Wilkeson returned to the group after the recording of "(pronounced)",
which allowed Ed King to move from bass to guitar. When
they had worked out the new division of labor, they found
that Collins' stabbing Gibson Firebird, Rossington's whining
Les Paul, and King's metallic Strat chops complemented each
other amazingly well. Although they had already written
most of the songs that would make up the album, "Second
Helping", the new line-up resulted in a burst of creativity.
"Sweet Home Alabama" was written even before the
first album was released.
July of 1973, Kooper's Sounds of the South label gave a
party for the music industry at Richard's, an up-scale club
in Atlanta, to introduce three southern bands. One of them
was Lynyrd Skynyrd. They had written a song, "Workin'
for MCA", just for the occasion, which went over well
with the crowd. MCA signed them for $9,000, almost all of
which they spent on new equipment.
Who's Peter Townsend had heard and liked "(pronounced)",
and he got Who manager Peter Rudge to sign Skynyrd to open
for them on the "Quadrophenia" tour. Skynyrd were
used to playing small clubs, to audiences of two to three
hundred people, and opening night found them facing a crowd
of 20,000 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. They were
terrified, and decided to cope with it by getting as drunk
as possible. They tore through their five-song, twenty-minute
set in a state of panic, but the crowd liked them, and they
got good write-ups. The band did well on that tour, and
even managed to earn encores, which was quite a feat for
a little-known band in the face of a rabid Who crowd. About
halfway through the tour, Peter Rudge approached the group
with an offer to become their manager. They agreed, and
left Alan Waldon.
spite of the fact that "Free Bird" was dominating
the FM stations, and in spite of the critical success of
their first album, neither "(pronounced)" nor
its single, "Gimme Three Steps", made any impact
on the charts. When Kooper took the band into the Record
Plant studio in Los Angeles to begin recording the second
album, everyone was feeling the pressure to produce a Top
Forty hit. It didn't help that the atmosphere in the LA
studio was very different from what they were used to. Kevin
Elson recalled,"The problem was that we were in one
studio, the Eagles were in another, Stevie Wonder was recording
in a third, and John Lennon and Jackson Browne were walking
around. The band just felt really unnerved a lot of the
time, especially the day that John Lennon walked into our
control room. They all froze that was the end of
work that day."
Zant wanted to record "Sweet Home Alabama" as
"Second Helping"'s single, but both Kooper and
the MCA brass thought it was too regional. They opted for
"Don't Ask Me No Questions" instead. In fact "Don't
Ask Me ..." didn't do well, and three people from the
MCA promotion department decided to push "Alabama".
MCA's southern promotion team of Jon Scott, Mike Scherlock,
and Leon Tsilis got Top Forty stations to start playing
the song, and it became an enormous hit in the southern
states. The popularity of the song kept growing, and eventually
MCA couldn't ignore it any longer. They released "Alabama"
as a single in June of 1974, and it became Skynyrd's only
Top Ten single, peaking at number 8. By September, both
"Alabama" and "Second Helping" were
gold records, followed in December by "(pronounced)."
success of "Alabama" had another consequence;
it identified Skynyrd as a "Southern Band"; MCA's
decision to add a Confederate flag to their live stage backdrop
completed the image. The common conception is that Ronnie
Van Zant was some kind of Dixie reactionary, but the truth
is that his lyrics express the frustrations and aspirations
of the downtrodden everywhere, not just of the South. There
is something traditionally Southern, however, about the
way his outrage was often mixed with humor, a wry blend
that has been characteristic of the region since the loss
of the War of Northern Aggression.
Lynyrd Skynyrd toured extensively in support of their first
two albums, and it became too much for Bob Burns. Pleading
exhaustion, he left the band, and was replaced on drums
by Artimus Pyle.
the group went into Webb IV Studios in Atlanta in January
of 1975, they had only one song ready for recording. This
was "Saturday Night Special", which Burns had
recorded with them before his departure. In 21 days, averaging
16 hours a day, they managed to crank out seven more songs,
but the quality of the material was a sad falling-off from
the previous albums. There was a reason that Van Zant named
this one""Nothin' Fancy."
band went on a 90 day, 61 date, "Torture Tour"
in support of the album. Although it was a commercial success,
the tour left a trail of fistfights, wrecked hotel rooms,
sloppy performances, and cancelled dates. Van Zant said
of this tour,"We were doing bottles of Dom Perignon,
fifths of whiskey, wine, and beer. We couldn't even remember
the order of the set; some guy sat crouched behind an amp
and shouted it at us. We made the Who look like church on
Sunday. We done things only fools would do." Halfway
through the tour, Ed King left the band, unable to cope
with the pace and the lifestyle. Collins and Rossington
divided King's parts for the remainder of the tour.
Skynyrd's fourth album, Rudge arranged for Tom Dowd (producer
of Aretha Franklin, Cream, and the Allman Brothers, among
many others) to take over the controls. Dowd's approach
involved rehearsing and recording each song with the band
as a unit, in contrast to Kooper's penchant for overdubbing.
They learned things from him about arrangements and chord
patterns, but the resulting album, "Gimme Back My Bullets",
lacked energy. It was, in fact, a low point in the band's
career, the worst-selling album they ever put out. Part
of the problem was lack of time; they had had years to prepare
the material that went into the first two albums, and the
third and fourth were virtually written in the studio. There
were problems with the title track as well.
Zant said,"We had to quit doin' that song, because
almost every audience would throw a handful of bullets,
you know, like .38 slugs. We wrote it about the bullets
in the music industry trade magazines, but I'd say "Gimme
back my bullets", and they'd let me have it."
the "Bullets" album, Skynyrd added a trio of female
gospel-type singers to their act; Jo Billingsley, Leslie
Hawkins, and Cassie Gaines. With the next recording session
set for July of 1976, the band set about finding a third
guitarist before then. They had auditioned players like
Leslie West and Wayne Perkins when Cassie Gaines mentioned
that her younger brother Steve was a guitarist. They agreed
to audition him more as a favor to Cassie than anything
else, but once he started jamming with them it was clear
that a match had been made. Van Zant said of him,"This
kid is a writing and playing fool. He's already scared everybody
in the band into playing their best in years". Gary
Rossington said,"He was a freak of nature, he was so
good. He inspired us tremendously. He was a great singer,
too, and it sort of kicked Ronnie in the ass a little bit.
He had to try harder because Steve was there."
was familiar enough with Skynyrd's work that his band, Crawdaddy,
played "Saturday Night Special" as part of their
regular set, but there was only a month before recording
was to start. He spent the month of June in marathon "cramming
and jamming" sessions. The album was recorded live
in the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, a small venue chosen specifically
for its acoustics. With the addition of Steve Gaines, and
the direction of Tom Dowd, the band turned in a classic
performance. Dowd described the working arrangements that
resulted in "One More for the Road": "Each
night after the show I'd make them listen to the whole thing.
I'd say,"We have to do this song again. This one over
here, we have to change this way", and so on. We changed
two or three songs a day, so that no two shows were the
same, and in the end we had more than ten or twelve songs
to pick from."
the live album was good, it could not convey the excitement
of an actual gig. Skynyrd was by now one of the premier
performance bands in the world. At the Gator Bowl benefit
for President Jimmy Carter in July of 1976, Skynyrd was
the main attraction; in August they performed at Britain's
Knebworth Festival, earning rave reviews at the expense
of the headlining Rolling Stones. Still, "One More
for the Road" quickly entered the Top Ten, earning
gold and then platinum status. In part to celebrate this
success, the band traded their touring bus for a private
and Tom Dowd went into Miami's Criteria Studios in April
of 1977 with enough material to complete an album. Once
the recording was done, however, disagreements broke out
over the post-production values, and the band went on tour
none too satisfied with the results of the sessions. In
spite of those problems, the band's summer tour in 1977
was their most impressive ever. The San Francisco Examiner
said that they "overpowered most of the other acts"
and that "a tidy mixture of country standards, hard-rocking
originals, and unconcerned euphoria gained for Skynyrd what
none of the other bands were able to match: a straight-forward
the end of the tour, the band booked themselves into Doraville's
Studio One to finish the album begun at Criteria. Tom Dowd
was committed to a project in Toronto, and sent engineer
Barry Rudolph to Georgia as his surrogate. Rudolph had engineered
Waylon Jennings' classic "Are You Ready for the Country?"album,
and those credentials made him welcome in the Skynyrd studio.
Zant had often said that Lynyrd Skynyrd were just "street
people". From this, and from their reputation for brawling,
came the title of this next album, "Street Survivors".
It contained some of the most concise writing Van Zant had
ever done, in part because MCA had decreed that this album
was to produce at least three hit singles - that is, songs
no more than three minutes long. At the time, that was as
long as a song could be and still expect popular airplay.
Tom Dowd remembered how difficult this was for Van Zant;
"He'd come to me with a song, and say,"How long
is that?", and I'd say," About 3:45", or
whatever. Ronnie would say,"I can't cut no more out
of that", and I'd say,"We'll speed it up and shorten
the intro." When the whole thing was over, Ronnie said
to me,"That's the last time I ever write a three-minute
song, as long as I fuckin' live. If I want to write a book,
I'm going to write a book and not a piece of toilet paper."
matter how Van Zant felt about it, "Street Survivors"
was a fantastic success. It was the first Skynyrd album
to be certified gold upon release, and all indications were
that it would become the most popular in their twelve year
career. The album cover, showing the band standing tall
while surrounded by flames, seemed likely to become an American
Survivors" was released on October 17, 1977. On October
20, Lynyrd Skynyrd's private 1947 Convair 240 plane ran
out of gas due to "an engine malfunction of undetermined
nature", and crashed in a forest near McComb, Mississippi.
Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and Ronnie Van Zant were killed
upon impact. The rest of the band suffered serious injuries
that, in some cases, caused permanent physical damage. The
final irony was that this had been billed, after the album,
as the "Tour of the Survivors."
two long years of physical healing, the surviving members
of Lynyrd Skynyrd also began to recover musically. Their
first public appearance came in January of 1979, when they
reunited for a special appearance at Charlie Daniels' Volunteer
Jam V, where an instrumental performance of Skynyrd's signature
tune, "Free Bird," served as a fitting eulogy
for the lost members and, seemingly, for the band itself.
After that they carried on in various configurations, the
best known of which was probably the Rossington-Collins
Band. In addition to Rossington and Collins, it contained
keyboardist Billy Powell, third guitarist Barry Harwood,
bassist Leon Wilkeson, and Rossington's wife, Dale Krantz,
on vocals. The line-up originally called for Artimus Pyle
to resume his duties on drums, but he suffered a severely
broken leg in a motorcycle accident. The band had planned
on recording in late 1979, but these dates were pushed back
to allow time for Artimus to heal. In fact, however, Pyle
did not return to the project. Leon Wilkeson explained,
"With Artimus in the condition he was in, having to
play with his left leg to rehearse, it was kind of like
we were all at the Indianapolis 500 squealing tires and
just couldn't run the track. I guess Artimus could see that
frustration, could see that we were ready to go."
band called on Derek Hess to replace Pyle. He remembered,
"It happened all of a sudden, like over a weekend.
I was just doing another straight job, as a ship's chandler.
I was extremely frustrated and about ready to hang it up.
Billy Powell called me and said this is a good chance, and
it kept me awake the rest of the night."
band then entered about a month's worth of heavy rehearsals
to bring Derek up to date on the material. The band gelled,
and Rossington Collins debuted at a series of concerts in
Orlando, Gainesville and New Orleans. Although the band
entered these shows with a great deal of trepidation, the
audiences not only accepted the them, they "nearly
tore the theater apart with their wild cheering, stomping
and demands for more encores." Of course, there could
be only one encore. According to Phil Kloer, who reviewed
the show for the Florida Times Union, 'Freebird' was the
"most intense, moving, musically brilliant quarter
hour of rock I have ever heard."
Stone published an account of the "Collins Rossington
Band" that quoted Gary saying, "We're not copying
Lynyrd Skynyrd. We're not using the name and we're not falling
back on it at all, but we did write the music and play it,
so I guess it will sound like that. It's good as shit music."
next project was a Lynyrd Skynyrd greatest hits album. There
are at least two stories about how this album got its name.
According to Rossington, he and Collins met at his house
in Jacksonville to discuss their options for the future.
As they talked, Gary absently picked up Steve Gaines' gold-top
Les Paul guitar, which Steve's widow, Teresa,had given him.
Sitting there idly strumming the guitar, he noticed an old
platinum dobro and thought, "Wow! Gold and platinum.
At the time, Allen was talking about the need for a Skynyrd
greatest hits album. He said,"Let's get all the best
songs and put them out on a record." So that's what
we did. We came up with the cover, but it was kind of simple."
the other hand, MCA rep Leon Tsilis insisted the name came
about when he, Allen and Gary met at Allen's home to discuss
a "Best of ..." album. Leon recalled the three
of them looking at Allen's wall of Lynyrd Skynyrd RIAA awards.
"I looked up and said, 'Christ, you guys got a lot
of gold and platinum records up here.' And that's were it
came from Gold & Platinum."
records did not initially support the project. The Skynyrd
catalog sales had drastically declined and the sales department
felt the release of a "Best of..." compilation
would kill the remaining single album sales. They argued
that MCA would never sell an original "Second Helping"
or "Street Survivors" because the new "Gold
& Platinum" would contain all the premium cuts.
Tsilis took the case directly to MCA's president who reluctantly
approved the project. In the event, Leon was proved right.
"Gold & Platinum" quickly went multi-platinum,
and as a bonus succeeded in shooting the rest of the Skynyrd
catalog back onto the charts.
MCA's 1980 annual meeting, Tsilis received several awards
for providing the label with the album that made the year.
He laughed, "Everybody was patting me on the back and
these were the same people who tried to stop the album from
coming out." Asked about MCA's reluctance on the Gold
& Platinum project, Gary Rossington bluntly replied,
"Well, they're stupid, 'cause it just helped it, didn't
Although it was introduced with a great deal of fanfare,
the Rossington-Collins band released exactly two albums
("Any Time, Any Place, Any Where" and "This
Is the Way") before it fell apart. There are various
explanations for the break-up; the fact of the matter is
that during a 1982 concert, Collins threw his guitar to
the stage floor and walked out, not to return. The band
had been drunk, drugged, and sick for so long that someone's
collapse was inevitable - Collins' just happened to come
first. A 1979 article on RCB includes the following quote
from Rossington, which gives some idea of their state of
will compare our guitar army with any guitar army, past
or present. We are the best and we will show it. We issue
a challenge to any others like us in the world, and, being
Southern gentlemen, we will tip our hats if beat, slip back
into a cypress swamp, and emerge again ten-fold better.
There's too many 'gators in those swamps, so we'll stay
out here, because we won't be surpassed by any guitar army,
the demise of RCB, the band members worked on various individual
projects. Rossington and his wife, Dale Krantz, formed the
imaginatively-named "Rossington-Rossington", which
released a lackluster album for MCA Records. After being
dropped by MCA, they pulled up their roots in Jacksonville,
Florida, and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They secured
a contract with Atlantic Records and,under the name of the
"Rossington Band", put out another two lackluster
albums. Artimus Pyle formed a band which made two albums
without achieving much commercial success. Leon Wilkeson,
Billy Powell, and Ed King each spent time playing with various
Collins went on to form a band called - can you guess by
now? - the Allen Collins Band. Although this was the most
Skynyrd-like of the post-crash bands, by this time Collins'
relationship with MCA had become too strained to recover.
They released one ACB album, but there was a management
shake-up at MCA during this time and the new boss, Irving
Azoff, wanted nothing to do with Collins.
1986, Collins was involved in an automobile accident that
killed his girlfriend and left him permanently paralyzed
from the waist down. His injuries were so severe that he
only had limited use of his upper body and arms. In 1989,
Allen developed pneumonia as a result of decreased lung
capacity from the paralyzation. On January 23, 1990, in
a Jacksonville Hospital, Allen passed away.
the tenth anniversary of the plane crash approached, several
former Skynyrd members began discussing the possibility
of a reunion concert. Joining Rossington, Powell, Wilkeson
and Artimus Pyle were original guitarist Ed King (who had
left the band in 1975) and new guitarist Randall Hall, a
long-time friend of the Skynyrds who had played in the Allen
Collins Band. Collins personally picked Hall to take his
place in the band and served as a consultant on the tour.
Perhaps most significantly, Johnny Van Zant - brother of
Ronnie and an accomplished recording artist in his own right
- was enlisted to take over the lead vocal spot. "It
took me a long time to make up my mind that I was going
to do it," Johnny said. "Ronnie was my brother,
he was my hero, he was my everything. He's the reason I
got into the music business. I'm not trying to be Ronnie.
Only Ronnie was Ronnie; he was one of a kind." But,
as Gary said, "You know, they're brothers; they talk
alike,and they look alike, and so they're going to sound
alike." In fact, it is safe to say that it was Johnny's
presence that not only made the Tribute Tour possible, but
validated the eventual re-establishment of the band.
the Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour made its debut in September,1987,
at the Charlie Daniels' Volunteer Jam XIII. What had originally
been planned as a single show grew to a week, then into
a full-fledged 1987 tour (documented on the live album "Southern
By the Grace of God"). The audience response was overwhelming,
as hard-core Skynyrd fans of all ages greeted the band with
the Tribute band got more shows under their collective belt,
the Lynyrd Skynyrd spirit was rekindled, the passion restored.
What had started out as a tribute to the past quite naturally
became part of the present, and held out prospects for the
future. "You know, at first we weren't going to do
anything but the Tribute Tour," Gary recalled, "but
it was the people who came to see us that made us realize
it was all right to go on. It was like they were saying,
'It's okay, go for it.' We got a lot of mail from fans while
we were on the road, and they didn't want us to stop."
first, I figured it was going to be just a tour", Johnny
concurred, "and that we would do the best we possibly
could, and then put it to rest again. But we had so much
fun, that we decided to start writing, too. We all got caught
up in it, and we said, 'Well, gosh, should we do a record?'
So we decided to just keep writing and see what would happen."
new Lynyrd Skynyrd signed a deal with Atlantic Records in
1990, then moved to Capricorn in 1994. With the release
of their Capricorn debut album, "Endangered Species",
Lynyrd Skynyrd produced a unique and refreshing project
a completely acoustic album, a first for the band.
"We'd wanted to do an acoustic album for years. All
of the songs we write start out just with us sitting around
jamming," said Johnny Van Zant. "This is like
a whole new outlook on Skynyrd, kind of more intimate and
behind-the-scenes album. It's like inviting everyone into
our living room and playing for them, and having a good
time. That's the feel."
the last weekend of December, 1995, Lynyrd Skynyrd returned
to Atlanta for the premiere of "Freebird - the Movie",
a concert film of the original band's landmark Knebworth
performance. It was preceded by "Freebird - the Jam",
a four-hour concert featuring more than forty different
artists. At the end of Al Kooper's set, several members
of Skynyrd came onstage to jam with him. Powell, Wilkeson,
and Rossington were well-received by the crowd, but the
real surprise came when Bob Burns sat down behind the drums
the first time in twenty-one years that he had played
with the band.
Fever Entertainment is planning to tour "Freebird -
the Movie" around the country in the winter of 1996-97,
and arrangements have been made with MCA Records to release
the soundtrack. It has been digitally re-mastered by Tom
Dowd, and its quality is reportedly excellent. Lynyrd Skynyrd
was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
2006 Lynyrd Skynyrd line-up:
Gary Rossington - guitar
Billy Powell - keyboards
Ean Evans - bass
Rickey Medlocke - guitar
Johnny Van Zant - vocals
Michael Cartellone - drums
Dale Krantz Rossington and
Carol Chase - background vocals
(as usual) by Special Agent Coyote Red. Source materials
provided (as usual) by the Tsilis Archives. Special thanks
to the Webmaster for sharing his professional recollections
to M-Files |