42 Years Ago: Lynyrd Skynyrd Reinvent Southern Rock With Their Debut Album
“The South will rise again” is an oft-misused cliche with very politically incorrect origins. But when applied more innocently to the world of music, it has usefully described the frequent spikes in popularity enjoyed by southern rock, and perhaps never more so than when Lynyrd Skynyrd released their debut album in August 1973.
After all, though Skynyrd were not the first, and certainly not the last southern rock band, they are surely the style’s quintessential embodiment, and so too, one could argue, is that first album, the not-so-helpfully titled Pronounced ‘Leh-’nerd ‘Skin-’nerd.
The LP essentially laid the foundation for Skynyrd’s entire career with staples like “I Ain’t the One,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Simple Man” and the most requested song of all-time, the universally known “Free Bird,” making them seem, to many outside observers and new fans, like your classic overnight sensation.
Not so for high school pals Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, though, who had been jamming together in their native Jacksonville, Fla. since as far back as 1964. Over the ensuing ten years, the trio would cycle through numerous group names and short-termed band mates on a painfully slow and winding road towards becoming Lynyrd Skynyrd.
But this obviously paid off in the outstanding quality of the tunes that the central Skynyrd trio of Van Zant, Collins and Rossington slaved over for years to eventually impress famed songwriter, performer and producer Al Kooper, who officially “discovered” the band and signed them to his MCA-distributed Sounds of the South label.
Pronounced ‘Leh-’nerd ‘Skin-’nerd threw Lynyrd Skynyrd into the leading role of southern rock bands, which had been recently forfeited (or at least compromised) by the tragedy-stricken Allman Brothers Band — especially when “Free Bird” became associated with fallen guitar god Duane Allman, even though Skynyrd wrote the tune well beyond his death.
In any case, Skynyrd’s publicly perceived inheritance of that southern rock mantle was entirely deserved, as they would carry on exposing untold legions of new fans to the style with a slew of spectacular albums and songs, right up to the day when horrendous tragedy befell them too.
Since then, “Free Bird” has become Van Zant’s tribute song, and it is bound to forever keep his memory alive — as it will that of this landmark first album — for as long as lonely voices in random clubs and stadiums everywhere interrupt the void between songs with cries for “Free Bird”!
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