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History of Lynyrd Skynyrd: Profile of 'Sweet Home Alabama' Band

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Founded in Jacksonville, Florida in 1964, Lynyrd Skynyrd became leaders in Southern rock thanks to their iconic guitar solos, trademark swagger and hard rock appeal. Their blend of blues, rock and country appeared on popular tracks like the hit "Sweet Home Alabama," and the epic "Free Bird," which turned Lynyrd Skynyrd into a household name. Unfortunately, all good things must end, and Skynyrd weathered their share of tragedy: in 1977, a plane crash killed lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, as well as guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie. The band took a ten-year hiatus, but eventually returned with Van Zant’s brother Johnny on the mic. In this video, learns more about the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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History of Lynyrd Skynyrd

They’re the “Free Birds of Southern Rock.” Welcome to, and today we’ll be taking a look at the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Early Years

Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd formed in Jacksonville, Florida in 1964. After going through numerous band names, vocalist and primary lyricist Ronnie Van Zant, and guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington settled on the stylized Lynyrd Skynyrd as their moniker, in honor of their high school gym teacher who hated long hair.


With drummer Bob Burns, bassist Leon Wilkeson and keyboardist Billy Powell, Lynyrd Skynyrd was discovered in 1972, and soon began recording their debut, with guitarist Ed King along for the ride.


Three guitars became a trademark of Skynyrd’s sound, and distinguished them from southern rock contemporaries like The Allman Brothers. Set against music inspired by British invasion bands, Van Zant’s unpretentious and honest lyrics tended more toward country than straight-up rock and roll.

(Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)

Their blend of blues, rock and country featured prominently on 1973’s (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd). Many of that record’s tracks became signature songs for the band, but, it was the epic rock standard “Free Bird” that made Lynyrd Skynyrd a household name. That tribute to the recently-deceased Duane Allman went to number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was later called “the most-requested song in the history of rock music.”

Live Success

Skynyrd soon became famous for their hard livin’ and hard rockin’ attitudes, and as a stellar live band thanks to an opening gig on The Who’s 1973 “Quadrophenia” tour.

“Sweet Home Alabama”

They moved forward with 1974’s Second Helping. That record was certified platinum multiple times, on the strength of their most famous song. As a playful retort to songs by their friend Neil Young, that track peaked at number eight in the U.S., and reinforced Lynyrd Skynyrd’s place as the kings of southern rock.

Members Come and Go

1975’s Nuthin’ Fancy featured new drummer Artimus Pyle, and while it was the first Skynyrd album to crack the top 10, it was not as commercially successful as its predecessors. King’s fatigue soon forced his departure, so Skynyrd abandoned three guitar rock. 1976’s Gimme Back My Bullets was a flop.

Cleaning Up Their Act

Steve Gaines filled the guitar void, and Skynyrd started planning their next effort and playing some high-profile shows. Progress was hindered when both Collins and Rossington were involved in car crashes in 1976. The band released the live album One More From the Road to buy time, while some members considered quitting drugs and alcohol.

Plane Crash

Singles like “That Smell” explored that theme on 1977’s Street Survivors. In support of that album, the band scheduled their biggest tour yet; however, three days after its release, on October 20th, 1977, the band’s plane ran out of fuel and crashed in Mississippi between tour stops. Along with some crew members, Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and his sister, backup singer Cassie, were killed on impact, and the rest of the band was injured.


Following this tragedy, Street Survivors shot to number five on Billboard. Even so, Lynyrd Skynyrd decided to call it quits.


During Skynyrd’s ten-year hiatus, previously unavailable recordings were released, and remaining members formed groups like The Rossington-Collins Band. However, Collins was paralyzed in 1986 when he crashed his car while drunk, and he died four years later.


In 1987, Rossington, Powell, Wilkeson, Pyle, and Ed King recruited Van Zant’s brother Johnny for a Lynyrd Skynyrd reunion. That tour’s success prompted them to continue releasing albums to the ultra-loyal fans of Skynyrd Nation. After a popular Christmas album in 2000, they stayed relevant with two more top 40 records before decade’s end.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

As members have left or passed away, the lineup has changed, but Skynyrd endures. In 2006, they were recognized with a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Controversy About Confederate Imagery

Around the release of 2012’s Last of a Dyin’ Breed, the band stirred up controversy by announcing their decision to distance themselves from Confederate imagery due to its potentially racist connotations. Significant fan outcry made them reverse this decision.


After building the southern rock genre, Skynyrd overcame misfortune to remain leaders in redneck rock. With their iconic guitar solos, trademark swagger and hard rock appeal, Lynyrd Skynyrd will forever be known as the sound of the south.

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