It's pronounced 'leh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd, Southern rock giants Lynyrd Skynyrd want you to know. While most hard rock groups face obstacles (admittedly, most of them being of their own making) Lynyrd Skynyrd's musical and cultural relevance are, perhaps, the most miraculous of them all. Lynyrd Skynyrd, an integral part of classic rock, was raised (and raised hell) in Jacksonville, Florida. The band began as three friends, Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington, in the summer of '64. A year later the Van Zant-Collins-Rossington ensemble expanded to five members with the additions of Larry Junstrom and Bob Burns. But the public hardly took notice of the budding musicians until they rocked a local Battle of the Bands contest, earning a slot opening for the psychedelic Strawberry Alarm Clock on their Southeast tour.
The early '70s were a conflicting time for Lynyrd Skynyrd: they brought the additions of bassist Leon Wilkeson (who replaced Larry Junstrom) and Strawberry Alarm Clock's guitarist Ed King, the releases of their first two albums of which were both immensely successful, Lynyrd Skynyrd's peak, and Blood, Sweat and Tears' Al Kooper as their producer. Kooper stumbled upon the boisterous group in 1972 during an Atlanta show. Immediately recognizing the group's supernatural potential, Kooper signed them to MCA records the same year and produced their first album, pronounced 'leh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd (1972). The band's name, referenced in the album's title, comes from the hard-ass gym teacher, Leonard Skinner who tested the long hairs in his classes like troublemakers Van Zant, Collins, and Rossington. "Freebird," the breakout track from Lynyrd Skynyrd's first album, was written as a tribute to Duane Allman. Lynyrd Skynyrd built their sound off of a three-guitar attack, toppling over the Allman Brothers' two-guitar attack, but Skynyrd's intentions were a good-natured homage as they crafted a similar tribute to Neil Young on their second album in the song that would reach iconic status, "Sweet Home Alabama."
With the help of a secured spot as the opener for the Who's 1973 Quadrophenia tour, Lynyrd Skynyrd's following grew in time for the release of their second album, Second Helping (1974). The album reached #12 and went multi-platinum almost immediately after its release and Lynyrd Skynyrd was at its peak. The title of their third album, Nuthin' Fancy (1975), couldn't have been more ironic. Lynyrd Skynyrd, with their long hair and tattered threads, were raking in the dough. But celebratory indulgences often spiral into a sticky messes. And the next few years brought about Lynyrd Skynyrd's darkest period.
In 1976, Lynyrd Skynyrd added the Honkettes to their lineup. The Honkettes, consisting of Leslie Hawkins, Cassie Gaines, and JoJo Billingsley, were recruited as back up vocalists for Lynyrd Skynyrd in January of '76. Cassie Gaines, the female embodiment of Lynyrd Skynyrd's larger-than-life persona, soon began boasting of her younger brother, Steve's talent. Since Ed King had left, Lynyrd Skynyrd lacked one of their most important elements, the element that showcased their rock-hard demeanor: Their three-guitar attack. They were fishing for a new guitarist when Cassie mentioned Steve. If there was any happy moment for Lynyrd Skynyrd between the years of '75 and '77 it was the addition of Steve Gaines. Frontman Van Zant immortalized him on stage during shows and was even heard saying, the band would "all be in his shadow one day." One such notable highlight was the Bill Graham promoted Day on the Green festival in Oakland, during which Skynyrd played a killer show and shared the stage with other rock luminaries like Peter Frampton, Santana, and Outlaws.
Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded Street Survivors (1977) with Steve Gaines and then, three days after the album's release, the band performed what would be their last show (with most of the original members) in South Carolina and boarded a plane that would run out of gas less than 100 miles from their destination, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Though Lynyrd Skynyrd's chartered Convair 240 attempted a makeshift landing on a small patch of flatland, Van Zant, Cassie Gaines, and Steve Gaines were killed upon impact. Then in 1987, 10 years after the tragic accident, crash survivors Gary Rossington, Billy Powell Leon Wilkeson, and Artimus Pyle joined former guitarist Ed King and Ronnie Van Zant's younger brother Johnny Van Zant reunited for a full-scale tour.
Today, only Gary Rossington remains from the original Lynyrd Skynyrd line-up and he, along with Johnny Van Zant, continue to perpetuate the group's legacy. The new Skynyrd released the full-length album God & Guns in 2009 for which they continue to tour.
Read more about Lynyrd Skynyrd in Crawdaddy!:
"Twist of Fate: Lynyrd Skynyrd Survive"