Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington, who died Sunday, made it huge when rock ‘n’ roll was nonetheless a defining cultural pressure on par with at this time’s TikTok tendencies and superhero motion pictures.
The enduring band’s final surviving co-founder was additionally maybe the final flagpole in a once-powerful a part of American music: Southern rock. Or at the very least a rebellious model of it that later grew to become loosely tied to conservative politics and didn’t draw back from a number of the problematic symbols of the South.
“They’re the band that form of codified plenty of what we consider as Southern rock,” stated Stephen Thomas Erlewine, a music critic who writes for AllMusic, Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.
Lynyrd Skynyrd sang about Southern life whereas enjoying a type of muscular and gritty blues rock. The music might be uncooked or bloom into an prolonged guitar solo, like on their anthem “Free Chicken.”
However the Lynyrd Skynyrd of 2023 bears little resemblance to the one in all practically 50 years prior, when the unique incarnation featured a bunch of long-haired musicians who match into the American counterculture and have been definitely not embraced by Nixon-era Republicans, Erlewine stated.
The band’s use of the Accomplice flag again then was seen as “a part of their rebellious streak,” Erlewine stated. They didn’t actually view the battle flag “as insurrectionist or pro-slavery, however extra as backyard selection rise up,” he stated.
In newer many years, although, the band got here to signify a extra particular model of politics, particularly after the distinctions between Southern rock and nation blurred and their audiences blended.
A number of the band’s present members have been brazenly political. Final 12 months, present lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant penned a track together with his brother Donnie — other than the band — that praised Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024. Erlewine stated the band’s sound — and that of Southern rock on the whole — finally grew to become “a form of Pink State, old school rock.”
The unique members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, which launched its first album in 1973, had an intense musical chemistry and have been more durable and grittier than different teams lumped beneath the Southern rock banner, comparable to The Allman Brothers Band and The Marshall Tucker Band.
They got here to have three guitarists, whose layers produced a thick, brawny sound that might turn out to be “a locomotive for solos,” Erlewine stated.
However the label “Southern rock” was nebulous at greatest, stated Alan Paul, a music journalist who interviewed Rossington a number of occasions for Guitar World and for his upcoming e-book, “Brothers and Sisters: The Allman Brothers Band and the Inside Story of the Album That Outlined the ’70s.”
Essentially the most correct approach to describe the style formed by wide-ranging influences “could be rock bands who sounded distinctly Southern — they didn’t disguise something about their Southernness,” Paul stated.
The Georgia-based Allman Brothers Band hated the time period, Paul stated, as a result of it was too reductive. However Lynyrd Skynyrd embraced the Southern rock label “to the purpose of constructing individuals uncomfortable,” Paul stated.
The Florida band’s pervasive “Candy Residence Alabama” was a response to Neil Younger’s “Alabama” and “Southern Man,” which rebuked slavery within the South. The track name-checks Younger and obliquely references Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a staunch segregationist who later softened his views.
The band’s authentic lead singer and songwriter, Ronnie Van Zant, claimed the reference wasn’t supporting Wallace.
“Lots of people believed in segregation and all that. We didn’t. We put the ‘boo, boo, boo’ there saying, ‘We don’t like Wallace,’” Rossington concurred, in a documentary interview.
However Paul stated he doesn’t actually consider that — “I don’t suppose most individuals do.” Paul cites a memoir written by the band’s authentic supervisor, Alan Walden, who stated Ronnie Van Zant was “a Wallace man all the way in which.”
And but Erlewine additionally factors out that Van Zant wrote a 1975 track, “Saturday Evening Particular,” that subtly questioned the makes use of of handguns.
“There was positively a reactionary conservatism in components of Skynyrd, however they may not be seen strictly when it comes to what you’d consider as conservative politics,” Erlewine stated of their first incarnation.
A 1977 airplane crash killed Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines and injured Rossington. The band reformed a decade later with Johnny Van Zant taking his older brother’s position. Rossington was among the many returning members and, because the lineup continued to vary, would stay.
It was this reconstituted model of Lynyrd Skynyrd that appeared to essentially embrace a extra conservative picture, Erlewine and Paul every stated.
Within the Nineteen Nineties, the group’s audiences started to overlap with these of Hank Williams Jr. and Charlie Daniels, a Southern rock pioneer whose sound grew to become extra nation.
“Quite a lot of the sounds that have been progressive within the ’70s and rock-based grew to become included into nation music, and have become the sound of nation music,” Erlewine stated. “Lynyrd Skynyrd doesn’t actually play nation music however there’s an overlap between the audiences … all of it turns into form of like a sure sort of Southern music.”
He added: “Sure photos, sure sounds, sure concepts have been set in place. And it’s simpler to maintain enjoying to that stuff, as a result of that’s the place the viewers is.”
The nonetheless touring Lynyrd Skynyrd recurrently used the Accomplice battle flag of their reside exhibits for many years. Rossington instructed CNN in 2012 that the band would cease utilizing the flag due to its affiliation with hate teams, however then walked again the remark to say they might proceed to make use of it, alongside the state flag of Alabama and the American flag.
Nowadays, musicians who might be seen as honoring the cultural and musical concepts of Nineteen Seventies Southern rock — and constructing upon them — are typically extra progressive politically, Erlewine stated. They embrace Jason Isbell and teams such because the Tedeschi Vans Band and the Drive-By Truckers who’ve additionally sung about life within the South.
The Truckers’ 2001 album “Southern Rock Opera” examined misconceptions in regards to the South, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legend and Wallace’s legacy, amongst different issues.
“I used to be a (Skynyrd) fan in elementary faculty, which is once they have been truly making data,” the band’s Patterson Hood instructed The Related Press in 2002, saying he rediscovered a love for his or her music after shopping for a vinyl copy of the pre-crash double reside set “One Extra for the Highway” years later.
“After the crash, I didn’t actually take care of the opposite Southern rock being made at the moment,” Hood stated. “Quite a lot of Southern rock took a right-wing course after the airplane crash.”
Within the span of half a century, Lynyrd Skynyrd morphed from enjoying pivotal rock ‘n’ roll right into a close to tribute band to itself. They have been rebellious longhairs who grew to become entrenched in a tradition aligned with the conservative institution. And Rossington was there for all of it, together with his rhythmic and crunchy guitar conserving the band rooted.
“This type of rocker is gone now,” Erlewine stated of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s final surviving authentic member.
Added Paul: “Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of many greatest bands of the mid to late ’70s. When rock and roll was actually on the middle of the cultural dialog — in a means that arguably hasn’t been since and positively isn’t now.”