With over 28 million records sold in the U.S. and a sound as iconic as the American culture it celebrates, Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Lynyrd Skynyrd continue to inspire fans of all ages while embodying the very soul of Southern rock.
Celebrating 50 Years
From their humble Jacksonville beginnings, through tragedy, reunion, and redemption, the band has earned its place on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” – as well as a prominent spot in the hearts of generations.
In 2023, with the 50th anniversary of their pioneering debut album Pronounced ‘Lĕh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd the band continues to tour, record, and delight their hundreds of millions of global fans with an eye on both the future and their rich history.
The Beginning1964 - 1967
In the summer of 1964, teenagers Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, and Gary Rossington met while playing on rival baseball teams in Jacksonville, Florida. An impromptu afternoon jam session in the carport of Burns’ parents’ house inspired the trio to form a band. Before long, guitarist Allen Collins and bassist Larry Junstrom were added to the mix, and the band began entertaining Jacksonville audiences – first as My Backyard, then as The Noble Five, then as The One Percent, before finally arriving on the name Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969.
(The name was partially inspired by a P.E. instructor at the boys' high school who was known for his strict policy forbidding long hair on boys.)
Staking their claim.1970 - 1973
By 1970, the band was well on their way to developing the hard-driving mix of blues, country, and rock that would become their signature. Having become one of the top bands in the Jacksonville area, they had an opportunity to record their first demos at the now iconic Muscle Shoals Sounds Studio in Alabama. Originally intended to form the basis of their debut album, these tracks were ultimately shelved, which made their follow-up effort, "Pronounced ‘Lĕh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd,” their actual debut in 1973. The album, featuring the hit song “Free Bird,” sold over a million copies and reached number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The Muscle Shoals recordings would ultimately be released in 1978 as “Skynyrd’s First and…Last,” then repackaged in 1998 as “Skynyrd’s First: The Complete Muscle Shoals Album.”
Breaking Through1973 - 1974
The band’s fan base continued to grow throughout 1973, fueled in part by their performances as the opening act for The Who’s U.S. “Quadrophenia” tour.
Then came the album that would change everything.
Recorded and released in 1974, “Second Helping” cemented their legacy as a band determined to face the world entirely on its own terms.
In addition to introducing the world to the three-guitar attack that would become their hallmark, the album also featured some of Ronnie Van Zant’s finest moments as a songwriter – with tracks like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” establishing a blueprint for Southern rock that would inspire artists of all genres for decades.
"Sweet Home Alabama" reached number 8 on the charts in the summer of ’74, on its way to becoming one of the best-known American rock anthems of all time.
Tumult leads to triumph1974-1976
Over the next few years, personal issues began to take their toll on the group. The band’s next album, “Nuthin’ Fancy,” was recorded in a rushed 17 days to accommodate an aggressive touring schedule. Disagreements and pressure led to fissures among the group and prompted additional lineup changes.
One of those new additions was Steve Gaines, whose multiple talents were on full display in the band’s fifth album, "Street Survivors." In addition to multiple songwriting credits and rousing guitar riffs, Gaines also served as co-vocalist – the only time to that point anyone other than Ronnie Van Zant had sung lead vocals for the group.
The album was an instant success, going gold in just 10 days. (It would eventually go double platinum.) It marked the last Skynyrd album featuring original members Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins. It was also Steve Gaines’ only Skynyrd studio recording.
Tragedy strikesOctober 20, 1977
On October 20, 1977, just three days after the release of “Street Survivors,” the band was flying from a show in Greenville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when their chartered plane ran out of fuel. The plane crashed in the woods five miles outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi, killing band members Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, as well as backup singer Cassie Gaines (Steve’s sister) and road manager Dean Kilpatrick. Both pilots also lost their lives. The other band members suffered serious injuries but survived.
Skynyrd disbanded following the crash. It would be ten years before they reunited.
In 1987, the band returned for what was intended as a one-time tribute tour and album – "Southern by the Grace of God: Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Tour 1987." Ronnie’s younger brother Johnny Van Zant took on lead vocals, backed by members of the pre-crash band, the return of Ed King, and new guitarist Randall Hall. Although intended as a one-off, the tribute tour was so successful it prompted a rebirth of the band. Before long, a second generation Lynyrd Skynyrd was adding new members and recording new music, despite legal battles with the widows of Van Zant and Gaines over the use of the name.
The band’s sixth studio album, “Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991,” was their first collection of new music since 1977’s “Street Survivors."
Replacements and resilience1997 - 2006
The next few years saw several changes in the lineup, including a major retooling of the band’s “guitar army” – with members Hughie Thomasson and Rickey Medlocke now contributing to the band’s songwriting along with Van Zant and Rossington.
This new lineup released their first album, “Twenty,” in 1997. Several other albums followed, including "Edge of Forever," "Vicious Cycle," “Thyrty,” and more, as band members continued to come and go.
The early 2000s saw more recording and touring, including a performance at the 2008 “Bama Jam” in Enterprise, Alabama, which was attended by over 111,000 people – the largest crowd the band had ever entertained.
Honors and Recognition2004-present
The band’s legacy as pillars of Southern rock has only grown over time. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Lynyrd Skynyrd number 95 on their list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time."
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
On March 13, 2006, in a ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by fellow musician Kid Rock. Inductees included Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Ed King, Steve Gaines, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson, Bob Burns, and Artimus Pyle.
After five decades and more than 60 albums, the musical powerhouse continues to tour – delighting crowds around the world with their iconic sound. 2023 sees them teaming with fellow southern legends ZZ Top for the “Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour,” as well as playing several stand-alone concerts for their enthusiastic and generational fan base.
As founding member Gary Rossington says, “We’re still standing, Still keeping the music going. We wanted to do the guys who aren’t with us any more proud – and keep the name proud, too.”