Once described as the most requested song of all time, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1974 release Freebird is truly a rock ‘n’ roll icon.
a band from way back
Lynyrd Skynyrd could easily be the unluckiest rock band of all time. They formed way back in 1964 and played various clubs and bars for years before being jettisoned to fame on the release of the 1973 album, Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd. It featured the songs, I Ain’t the One, Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, Tuesday’s Gone and, the fabulous, Freebird which cemented the band as one of the best live bands in the world.
the unluckiest band in rock ‘n’ roll?
In 1976, Allen Collins and Gary Rossington both had serious car accidents over the same weekend. Then, on October 20th 1977, three band members were killed in an aeroplane crash. They were less than one month away from fulfilling a dream Ronnie Van Zant had held for many years – headlining at Madison Square Gardens.
Then, in 1980, Allen Collins’s wife Kathy died of a hemorrhage during a miscarriage. Six years later, Allen crashed his car while driving drunk in Jacksonville. His girlfriend was killed and he was left permanently paralysed from the chest down.
During this time the band reformed and continued to perform in various forms. Allen used to be wheeled onto stage to chat to the audience about what had happened to him. He died of pneumonia January 23rd 1990.
On July 27th 2001, Leon Wilkeson, the band’s bassist since 1972, was found dead in his hotel room. The cause was emphysema and chronic liver disease. Then, on September 9, 2007, Hughie Thomasson died in his sleep of a heart attack.
On January 28th 2009, keyboardist Billy Powell died leaving Gary Rossington as the only remaining pre-crash member of the band.
The band has won numerous awards but, on March 13th 2006, received the ultimate accolade. After being nominated seven times, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The induction included only those members at the time of the plane crash.
Lynyrd Skynyrd continues to perform today though Gary Rossington is the only original member (obviously). Ronnie’s brother Johnny is the lead vocalist.
Lynyrd Skynyrd were discovered by Al Kooper, one time leader of Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
- Freebird, or Free Bird as it’s sometimes spelled, was released as a single on November 23rd 1974. It was from the 1973 album, Pronounced ‘lĕh-‘nérd ‘skin-‘nérd .
- Freebird has been included on a number of subsequent albums including the fabulous 1976 live album One More From the Road.
- Amazon.com music reviewer Lorry Fleming calls Freebird;
the most-requested song in the history of rock music.
- In early 1975 Freebird became Lynyrd Skynyrd’s second Top 40 hit in the US, peaking at #19. The live version later peaked at #38.
- Freebird was listed at #3 on Guitar World’s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos.
- Even today, Freebird is used as the finale for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s live performances
- Freebird is included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and is at #193 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2009 it was named the 26th best hard rock song of all time by VH1.
- Following the plane crash in 1977 all of the songs played by surviving members were performed as instrumentals. When FreeBird was played a solitary microphone with a single spotlight would be at centre stage while the band played the instrumental version. This tradition lasted until 1989 when Johnny Van Zant sang the song for the first time.
- Johnny Van Zant said of Freebird,
For years Skynyrd has always closed the show with that song and the song has different meanings for different people. This kid was telling me that they used it for their graduation song and not too long ago somebody told me that they used it at a funeral. And really it’s a love song, its one of the few that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ever had. It’s about a guy and a girl. Of course at the end it was dedicated to Duane Allman from the band Allman Brothers because it goes into the guitar part. If you can get through that one you’ve had a good night at a Skynyrd show.
freebird – lynyrd skynyrd – 1974 – video
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