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Lynyrd Skynyrd is the first band to mind when Southern Rock is mentioned. The band has always defined the genre from its humble beginnings to its modern rebirth. Innovative blues-rock grooves, mean triple guitar solos, a hard-rock look, and epic live shows got me into the band and why this Lynyrd Skynyrd bio is essential for every rock fan.
Sometimes a song becomes big enough to overshadow its creator. That happened with “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”
As a child and teenager, I only knew these two songs from the band and thought, “Oh, it’s those two songs everyone knows from that band with the weird name.” I didn’t realize back then who they were or how much they would influence me as a guitarist.
Lynyrd Skynyrd has seen more member changes than most rock bands. Including everyone in one bio would be difficult. Out of the multiple lineups the band had, I will focus on the essential ones and their musical legacy,
Lynyrd Skynyrd Quick Facts
|Band Members||Current: Johnny Van Zant, Michael Cartellone, Rickey Medlocke, Gary Rossington, Mark Matejka, Peter Keys, Keith Christopher
Former: Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Bob Burns, Larry Junstorm, Greg T. Walker, Leon Wilkeson, Billie Powell, Ed King, Artimus Pyle, Steve Gains, Randall Hall, Kurt Custer, Mike Estes, Owen Hale, Hughie Thomasson, Jef McAllister, Kenny Aronoff, Ean Evans, Robert Kearns, Johnny Colt.
|Genres||Southern Rock, Blues Rock, Country Rock, Hard Rock|
|Years Active||1964 – 1977; 1979; 1987 – present|
|Most Successful Album/Single||The biggest album is “Survivors”; The biggest single is “Sweet Home Alabama.”|
|Social Media||Facebook, Instagram|
|Awards||Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, included at number 95 in Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”|
|Last Updated||June 2022|
The Ultimate Southern Rock Band
All the Lynyrd Skynyrd Lineups were made up of extraordinary musicians who led the southern rock movement. However, some lineups and individuals left a bigger legacy than others.
I believe the best way to make them justice is to go through the lineups briefly from the early days to the modern Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Early Days (1964- 1973)
Ronnie Van Zart (vocals); Allen Collins (guitar); Gary Rossington (guitar); Larry Jungstorm (bass), Leon Wilkeson (bass); Billy Powell (keyboard); Bob Burns (drums); Ed King (guitar)
Lynyrd Skynyrd started as a jam band among high school friends. Van Zart, the historical leader of the band, Collins, and Rossington, were the first to kick off the band. After joining up with Jungstom and Burns, the band started playing clubs. The band changed its name multiple times, “Noble Cats,” “Wildcats,” Sons of Satan,” and “y Backyard.””
Eventually changed their name to “Lynyrd Skynyrd” when Wilkeson replaced Jungstom on bass to mock their strict high school basketball coach Leonard Skinner. Keyboardist Powell came soon after, and Ricky Medlocke replaced Buns on the drums for a few years. Medlocke ddidn’tstay much but contributed with a great groove and distinct vocal performances in some early songs.
They would land a record deal through producer Al Cooper and released their first album in 1972, years after the band had already solidified their southern rock sound and the third guitarist Ed King just joined the mix to complete the triple-guitar attack sound.
Three guitars at the time were unheard of, and still today, I can only think of a handful of bands that use the power of 3 electric guitars. This, along with the powerful live shows and deeper lyrical content than the then-popular country and blues, was why this original lineup remains so big.
Creative Peak and Place Crash (1973-1977)
Burns leaves the band again to be replaced by Artimus Pule; Ed King leaves the band, and Steve Gaines joined as the third guitarist.
The band was at its highest when Ed King left the band and forced them to record their next album, “Gimme Back My Bullets,” with only two guitars. The need to have another guitarist to stay true to their sound had them recruit wonder kid Steve Gaines, the brother of one of the three backing vocalists of the band, Cassie Gaines.
This lineup is my favorite for two reasons. The first is the musical maturity the band reached with their last classic record, “Survivors,” and the second is the Gaines, Rossington, and Collins guitar trio.
Revival and Modern Days (1987- present)
Johnny Van Zant (vocals): Gary Rossington (guitar), Leon Wilkeson (bass), Billy Powell (keys), Ed King (guitar), Randall Hall (guitar), Artimus Pyle (drums),
Later replacement: Kurt Custer (drums), Owen Hale (Drums), Mike Estes (guitar), Rickey Medlocke (drums) and Hughie Thomasson (guitar), Jeff McAllister (drums), Kenny Aronoff (drums), Michael Cartellone (drummer), Ean Evans (bass), Mark Matejke (guitar), Peter Keys (keys), Johnny Colt (bass), Keith Christopher (bass).
The tragic place crash stopped the band for one decade until the late frontman’s brother, Johnny Van Zant, recruited the surviving and able-to-play members. Many different lineup changes occurred for personal and health reasons, but the style and sound remained the same.
The original members, especially the long-time Rossington and Powell, teamed up with some of the most prominent Southern Rock Royalty of the time like their ex-drummer and “Blackfoot” founder Medlocke and ‘‘The Outlaws” frontman Hughie Thomasson.
Session pros and touring musicians were continuously part of the lineup, following mostly mmembers’deaths and some departures. Even though the band declared a farewell tour due in 2018 to Rossington’sworsening heart condition, they started touring again shortly after and still do.
The quality and authenticity of the bands are as true to the original as possible, with old classics a new tunes in their unique southern rock style.
All Lynyrd Skynyrd’searly albums are southern rock classics. The band already had an identity from the first record. They drifted away from the calmer southern rock of the time, which was more oriented towards the blues.
Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd (1973)
The debut record from Lynyrd Skynyrd is as legendary as a band’s first record can get. Years of playing shows and writing material resulted in having a hit-packed debut record.
“Free Bird” and my favorite Skynyrd song, “Simple Man,” are enough to give an idea of the record’s importance. The last-minute decision to add Ed King as a third guitarist contributed much to the sound. His contribution helped create some of the best guitar solos in rock history.
The “Free Bird” solo ranks on all the possible guitar lists in the top 10. I can only think of the solo from “Stairway to Heaven” and “Comfortably Numb” as more popular. Skynyrd challenged the more laid-back Allman Brother style of southern rock and took only the elements needed. The rest was all riffs, solos, and extended live jams.
Commercially it was successful and became even bigger once it hit the road. Apart from the songs, I love that the band shows their funny side with the title. People were wondering, “What does Lynyrd Skynyrd mean?”
Second Helping (1974)
The second album came when Skynyrd was in the middle of their heavy touring. The now legendary “Sweet Home Alabama” is the opening of what solidified the band as themost significantt Southern act.
Rock was at its peak in the mid-70s, and Skynyrd’s new heavy sound was needed. The album, though, was a treat even for die-hard country fans as songs such as “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” and “Swamp Music” are rock n roll infused country.
Guitarist Ed King tells the story of how Alabama was written. IIt’sa fascinating video showing what happened during the bband’screative process and Van ZZart’sgenius way of making straightforward lyrics sound deep and meaningful.
Lynyrd Skynyrd bandmates talk about Ronnie VanZant and life on the road as the real Lynyrd Skynyrd:
Ed King was a crucial member who defined this aalbum’ssuccess and difference from the first. His guitar work and arrangement are extremely tasteful, not to mention he co-wrote most of the hits.
The following albums would follow up on the success of the other. As an album, I find it remarkable; however, the lack of hit singles apart for “Saturday Night Special” usually ranks it lower than the previous two albums. “I’m Losin” is a typical acoustic southern ballad that will take you to swampy heaven. “Cheatin’Woman” is mostly a blues song with a country melody, while the rest of the track is full of heavy riffs.
“Nuthin Fancy” is a solid southern rock album, yet not that innovative musically. Commercially it did well, being the 1st album to reach the top 10 charts.
Gimmie Back My Bullets (1976)
The 4th record continues where the 3rd album left off but feels slightly more blues rock. It feels like a perfect old trip album with only the song “ouble Trouble” that could stand as a Skynyrd classic track. “Cry For The Bad Man” might be another song that qualifies as an all-time classic.
Ed King suddenly left the band before recording the 4th album, forcing them to record with only two guitars. The album noticeably suffered from that as there were no remarkable solos.
However, I don’t think that was the leading cause for it not standing at the same level as the next album. The songwriting became slightly generic, and even though the song would make crowds crazy, most didn’t stand the test of time.
Street Survivors (1977)
The last album of the classic lineup is widely considered their last masterpiece. It charted faster and higher than all the other albums. The new entry to the band, guitarist Steve Gains, brought back the three guitars line up with much success.
“Street Survivor” si the first album in which the band got to their roos. “What’s Your Name,” and “You Got That Right,” “I know a Little” are almost typical rock n roll tracks. Van Zan’s singing is at its pure country best, and hit tunes such as “That Smell” arent missing either.
The solos are amazing, and even if they never reached legendary status such as “Free Bird,” the overall arrangement of guitars is superior to all the other albums.
The album’s release was followed by tragedy three days after the tragic plane crash happened. The original cover featured the band in flames was pulled from the shelves and changed out of respect.
The new Lynyrd Skynyrd members from 1987’ onward were not only great performers but also talented writers. Like everyone, at first, I was skeptical about their new work, yet it turned out to be the pure southern rock you would expect from Skynyrd.
If you expect to find the same lyrical depth, the songwriting might feel a bit generic compared to the 70s Skynyrd. The same can be said about the guitar work, which is amazing yet not as remarkable and timeless.
Endangered Species (1994)
In the mid-90s, when Grunge took the scene, Johnny Van Zart and company released the stripped own album “Endangered Species.”
The record is the first acoustic album of the band. The new sound makes it feel like a proper new Skynyrd classic record, even though the original frontman is missing. King, Rossington, Powell, and Wilkenson still contributed will their style keeping most of the instrumentation in a recognizable style.
The band arranges and performs the acoustic versions of the classic songs masterfully. Not much creative input in new songs slightly hinders the album’s quality.
Last of a Dyin’ Breed (2012)
My favorite album from the new Skynyrd came pretty late in their career. It’s a straightforward Southern Rock record from start to finish executed in the best way possible. It might feel slightly generic and repetitive, yet it’s full of a good songs and not a bad one. The album is probably more classic than the classics when it comes to pure country-infused heavy rock.
The sound quality of the album is mesmerizing. The mix is punchy and powerful, as you would expect from a multi-million modern record.
Lynyrd Skynyrd Discography
Lynyrd Skynyrd has released an impressive 14 live albums, 6 live albums, 23 compilation albums, 30 singles, and 5 video albums. Only 5 of the 14 albums were recorded by the original lineup. The complete list of credits for songs is a fascinating read for fans.
As previous album sales were not counted, they have sold more than 28 million albums from 1991 to today. This shows that later lineups were nothing but noncreative and did justice to the name.
- The band, at their peak, performing a set of classics: Lynyrd Skynyrd – Full Concert – 07/13/77 – Convention Hall (OFFICIAL)
- Right after “Second Help” release the band features still Ed King on guitar. The show is pure raw rock n roll: Lynyrd Skynyrd – 1974 Rockpalast – Musikhalle Hamburg Germany Dec.5
- One of the latest performances of the band featuring a completely new lineup: Lynyrd Skynyrd Live from the Greek theatre LA
Scandals, Tragedies, and Revival
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s story was full of drama from day 1. Violence, drugs, and guns were a repeated theme in their lifestyle. Stories of physical fights between band members became a norm during their early days, and members would often show up on stage with broken teeth, bruises, and bandages.
In one famous accident in Munich, it’s said that frontman Van Zant started a fight in a club, which then expanded to the whole city and even to their hotel.
On October 20, 1977, a passenger aircraft plane transporting the band members to a show crashed near Gillsburg, Mississippi, killing frontman Van Zant, the young Steve Gaines, and his older sister Cassie Gaines. The cause was engine failure and the crew’s inattention to fuel supply.
Both pilots and one crew member of the band also died. The rest of the band suffered major injuries, with only keyboard player Powell being injured relatively lightly. The tragedy is one of the biggest in rock history, halting the career of Southern Rock’s biggest band. A full documentary released only a few years ago has been dedicated to the tragedy.
Even the surviving members of the plane crash would suffer tragedies. Drummer Allen Collins was known for causing incidents while drinking and was paralyzed in the latest. He would join the band on stage multiple times and hold talks on the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Which was the Best Lynyrd Skynyrd Line-up?
Most fans, including me, will give you a simple answer that the original lineup until the 1977 Plane crash is unparalleled. The authors of the cult songs we know and love will always get more appreciation. However, I want to give credit where it is due.
Even though I still prefer the sound of the old Lynyrd Skynyrd due to the individual members’ styles, you could start listening to the band from any modern album and get a feel of pure Southern Rock. Even when it comes to live performances or album sales, they do justice to the original.
I can even say that even if the original lineup was still around, we can’t say for sure they would be this prolific and consistent with their album releases.
I think Lynyrd Skynyrd’s modern rebirth is the most well-executed and true to the original band’s comeback. Other big acts that tried it, such as The Animals and Friends, The Yardbirds, and others, never achieved success, and some never even recorded a new album.
I believe they understood that Lynyrd Skynyrd was now a name that belonged to the people, and as such, they had to make it justice. They didn’t let the pressure stop them from adding their mark.
Apart from the different eras, the lack of Van Zan songwriting and lead makes the new lineups (after 1987) inferior.
Even though the old Skynyrd was pure Southern Rock, the lyrical content was much more personal and went beyond the typical southern lyrics. The universality of the hit songs testifies to the song’s impact across all genres. Modern Skynyrd also tries to o so but cannot match the original. Thus, they might still be the best Southern Rock band, but mostly for Southern Rock fans.
Lynyrd Skynyrd Guitar Legacy
Being a rock guitar player means knowing the solo from “Free Bird” and the Intro to “Sweet Home Alabama.” Once I got into the band, I found a guitarist’s gold mire of solos and riffs.
I would place Lynyrd Skynyrd with no hesitation on my list of top 5 guitar bands of all time. The Southern group is a rock guitar school. Everything in the guitar world, acoustic, electric, rhythm, solos, slide guitar, etc., is at its highest level.
The combination of hard rock power with country grooves and bluesy feel is a signature sound of their iconic solos that later inspired everything from heavy metal to prog. 3 Guitar players allowed the band to do much more than other bands. Doubled guitar solos in the studio and live turned what was already an epic solo into a frantic experience.
The intricate arrangement and many band members lay a bed for guitars to shine, so it’s as much the merit of the rhythm section.
The biggest lesson I learned from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s guitar legacy is how to respect each player’s space and merge the efforts into something bigger. The classical definition of only rhythm and the lead player is something they didn’t need to do as they combined musical ideas beautifully.
Lynyrd Skynyrd Legacy
The most significant merit Lynyrd Skynyrd has is giving Southern Rock its distinct sound of the 70s. They effectively created a genre that defined millions of people’s cultures and became a national icon for many.
Their songs are so popular that In 5 out of 10 rock concerts, somebody in the crowd will randomly yell “Free Bird!” You know a song is legendary when it turns into worldwide slang. “Alabama” is often considered the National Anthem of the South.
Overall, l Lynyrd Skynyrd is the ultimate Southern Rock band somewhere of the life of the most influential American Bands ever.
Answer: Former bassist Larry Jungstorm and guitarist Gary Rossington are the only members of Lynyrd Skynyrd still alive.
Answer: The Lyrics of “Sweet Home Alabama” are a response to Neil Young’s song “Southern Man.” Young’s song blamed slavery and racism on the south, while Skynyrd’s reaction is by saying that you cannot blame the southern man for something that happened two centuries ago.Young and Van Zart were good friends and shared the stage multiple times.
Answer: Guitarist Allen Collins and Gary Rossington wrote and played the guitar solo of ‘Free Bird” together.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd: Band’s History With Confederate Flag, Guns – Rolling Stone
- Lynyrd Skynyrd Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide
- Lynyrd Skynyrd |
- Lynyrd Skynyrd | History, Members, Music, & Facts | Britannica
- Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash (2020) – IMDb
- Lynyrd Skynyrd The Last Stop – An Emma Harrington Documentary
- Lynyrd Skynyrd – The Legacy of Lynyrd Skynyrd Documentary – By Tom Wills – 2019
- Lynyrd Skynyrd Albums and Discography | AllMusic