Sunday, November 2, 2014

Lynyrd Skynyrd, The #68 Artist of the Seventies*

This Jacksonville, Florida band had its beginnings in the group My Backyard, which featured Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins and Gary Rossington.  Drummer Bob Burns joined shortly afterwards.  The group went through several name changes before deciding on Lynyrd Skynyrd as early as 1970.  Lynyrd Skynyrd began performing throughout the South, and bassist Leon Wilkeson  and keyboardist Billy Powell came on board in 1972.

Al Kooper, former member of Blood, Sweat & Tears who was  involved as a producer at MCA Records at the time, saw Lynyrd Skynyrd perform in Atlanta, Georgia, and signed them to his Sounds of the South label, distributed by MCA.  Ed King, guitarist for Strawberry Alarm Clock, joined the band for the recording of their debut album, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd.  The single "Free Bird" only peaked at #19, but its popularity continues to grow to the present day.  Both the studio version and the live version are excellent, which shows the group's prowess on stage, and we will feature both versions for you in this tribute.  You can listen to one or the other, or both.

"Gimme' Three Steps" was also released from the album.  It went nowhere, but remains a fan favorite.

The overwhelming popularity of "Free Bird" led to the album selling over two million copies.  Lynyrd Skynyrd got a great opportunity when they opened for the Who on their Quadrophenia tour in 1973.  The following year, the group released the album Second Helping.  The single "Sweet Home Alabama" reached #8. 

The album reached #12 and eventually went Double Platinum.  In 1975, Artimus Pyle replaced Burns on drums, and Lynyrd Skynyrd released their third album Nuthin' Fancy.  King left the band midway through the subsequent tour.  The album featured "Saturday Night Special", which peaked at #27.

Nuthin' Fancy went Platinum, and the following year, the group released the album Gimme Back My Bullets.  The album was less successful than previous efforts, but still went Gold.

Skynyrd had been missing their three-guitar attack, and after autiditioning several guitarists, added Steve Gaines.  Gaines was part of the group when they released the live album One More from the Road, which wound up selling three million copies.  It showcases the ability of the group to somehow replicate the great "Free Bird" in concert. (Please press the "Play" icon at the top left-hand side of the video...)

In 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd released the album Street Survivors, but the album cover turned out to be tragically ironic.   Collins and Rossington both later suffered serious car accidents over Labor Day weekend, prior to the album's release.   Skynyrd was set to perform its biggest tour yet, including a headlining date at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  After a concert at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium in South Carolina on October 20, 1977, members boarded a charted plane to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the site of their next show.  However, the plane was running low on fuel, and its pilots attempted an emergency landing before crashing in a heavily forested area five miles northeast of Gillsburg, Mississippi.
Van Zant, Gaines, his wife Cassie (also a backing singer), assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick and both pilot and co-pilot were killed instantly.  The other members of the group (Collins, Rossington, Wilkeson, Powell, Pyle, and Hawkins) survived but suffered serious injuries.

MCA released the single "What's Your Name". It peaked at #6 in Canada, and an underrated #13 in the U.S.

Street Survivors returned the group to Multi-Platinum status, but the tragedy of course shook the surviving members to the core.  .  The single "That Smell" was a tale about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

The surviving members disbanded the group, reuniting just once at the Volunteer JAM V in 1979.  Rossington, Collins, Wilkeson and Powell went on to form the Rossington-Collins Band.

Two compilation albums were released in the wake of the plane crash--Skynyrd's First...and Last (which went Platinum) and Gold and Platinum (a three-million seller).  Skynyrd reformed in 1991 and have released nine studio albums since then.

Lynyrd Skynyrd had five hits and sold 14.5 million albums in the 70's. 

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