Despite being an absolute staple of classic rock FM radio, a band so famous that everyone alive knows their name (if not the proper spelling), the signature act of their genre, and authors of what has become one of the more ubiquitous and comical clichés in live music, I don’t think Lynyrd Skynyrd gets the respect they deserve.
Okay, never mind that the only original member of the band is their bus driver* (though it’s fair to remember that the lead singer, a backup vocalist and her brother who had recently joined the band as a hotshot guitar player all died when the band’s plane crashed in a farmer’s field in 1977) or that the last time they released a hit song The Dukes of Hazzard was still on the air, Lynyrd Skynyrd not only wrote some great, great, songs packed full of stellar guitar pickin’, they were almost single-handedly responsible for elevating a localized Florida/Georgia guitar-harmony sound into a popular genre that directed bands like The Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchet, The Marshall Tucker Band, .38 Special, and so many more towards a national audience.
And man, the songs! Gimme Three Steps, Don’t Ask Me No Questions, I Know a Little, Gimme Back My Bullets, Workin’ For MCA, That Smell, The Ballad of Curtis Lowe, and on and on and on. I mean, that’s some great songwriting right there. And I’m not talking good, I’m talking great. Then of course there is their career-defining song Sweet Home Alabama from their second album, which contains namechecks to Neil Young and the Muscle Shoals Swampers (one of whom was the father of a member of a newer Southern Rock band, Drive-By Truckers), and also prominently features one of the world’s most misplayed guitar riffs.
(As to the Neil Young/Lynyrd Skynyrd controversy: there seemed to be no animosity between Van Zant and Neil. Not only did Zant wear a Neil Young shirt for the cover shot of Skynyrd’s Street Survivors album, Neil was also a pall bearer at Zant’s funeral. For more on this give a listen to Ronnie & Neil by Drive-By Truckers.)
And of course there is Free Bird, an absolutely brilliant, heart-wrenching ballad that has entered the world of parody and mockery through no fault of it’s own. The fact that the song is at the heart of a worldwide running gag shouldn’t belittle it’s greatness just like overplayed guitar store hackery shouldn’t have diminished the strength and power of Stairway to Heaven, but it has. I only hope it’s not too late, and that these songs are somehow returned to the top of their respective pedestals.
Anyway, this is all preamble (of course) designed to tell you how I convinced myself to trek down to the Ottawa Bluesfest on July 14th, 2015 for no other reason than to see another old, tired classic rock band that has been past their prime since I was a kid.
It was easy. It was Lynyrd Skynyrd.
*Just kidding – guitarist Gary Rossington is still and always has been in the band.