Next year marks the 30th anniversary of the deadly plane crash that took the lives of Lynyrd Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines.
While the tragedy forever changed the band, it didn't define it. This is a tribute to both Skynyrd's rich catalog and the determination of their surviving members. Less than a decade after the crash, which was chalked up to mechanical malfunction, Skynyrd re-formed with original players Gary Rossington, Billy Powell, Ed King and Leon Wilkeson joined by Van Zant's kid brother, Johnny, on vocals.
Since the late '80s, Skynyrd has been flying high on a touring circuit that finds the Southern rock legends seemingly playing to larger crowds every summer. Moreover, the band's double-guitar flair and country road anthems have become archetypes for contemporary jamming rock bands and rockin' country bands.
"What the cool thing about Skynyrd is, you'll get people in the rock world that will say they were influenced by Skynyrd; you get people in the country field saying they were influenced by Lynyrd Skynyrd; and, hell, you got people who are a little bit of both, like Kid Rock, who has rock, country and hip-hop, saying he was influenced by Skynyrd," says Johnny Van Zant, calling from a tour bus outside of Milwaukee.
"So, that's a pretty amazing thing, when you get down to it. I think good music stays around forever. When the history books of music are written, that's going to be a cool thing to go back and read."
Despite their vast influence and popularity, perhaps the last feather for the band to add into their cap was induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Eligible since the late "90s, Lynyrd Skynyrd was overlooked for years. Conspiracy theorists hypothesized that snooty voters were ignoring Southern rock.
However, after seven nominations, everything changed this past year, when the Rock Hall came calling.
"Yeah, it was way too long," Van Zant says. "For me, I think it was great for my brother who passed on in 1977 and for [former guitarist Allen] Collins, Stevie Gaines, and for Gary Rossington and Billy Powell. I think that's a great honor for those guys, and I'm glad the rock 'n roll community finally wised up and gave Skynyrd its just due."
Granted, it's hypothetical, but what would your brother have said about the induction?
With a laugh, Van Zant says, "I think he would have said, 'I don't think it's going to pay my light bill next month, but it's pretty cool to be in there. Now let's go play some gigs.'"
As far as playing gigs, seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd live has become a summer tradition for many families. And like the legacy of the band's catalog, something else seems as though it will live on, no matter how many years go by.
"Probably the 'Free Bird' thing," Van Zant says. "We always get asked that question, 'How does it feel to have people holler, 'Free Bird!' all the time?' They even do it to us, too."
He adds, "Hell, I even went to a Cher show and yelled it out, just to say I did it."
Did she hear you?
"I hope not."
Lynyrd Skynyrd, with Blackberry Smoke
World Arena, 3185 Venetucci Blvd.
Saturday, Sept. 9, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $35-$45; call 866/464-2626 or visit worldarena.com.
I miss you, Lenny! My family and I thank you for all the special times…
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