Happy Birthday Ronnie Van Zant: Lynyrd Skynyrd Performs On ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’
Today marks what would have been Lynyrd Skynyrd founding lead singer Ronnie Van Zant’s 73rd birthday. Van Zant was born on January 15, 1948 in Jacksonville, Florida. On October 20, 1977, Van Zant and other members of the band died tragically in a plane crash.
Van Zant founded what would become Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1964 with a band called My Backyard. The group eventually settled on the name Lynyrd Skynyrd as a tongue in cheek tribute to a gym teacher they had named Leonard Skinner who was reportedly not a fan of long hair but who the band would go on to have a good relationship with. The group would release their self-titled debut album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) in 1973. The record went gold and eventually two times platinum and contains some of Skynyrd’s most well known songs like “Tuesday’s Gone, “Gimme Threes Steps,” “Simple Man” and one of rock’s biggest and most requested anthems, “Free Bird.”
In 1974, Skynyrd released their sophomore album, Second Helping, which contained another of their signature songs, “Sweet Home Alabama,” the legendary reaction to Neil Young’s “Alabama” and “Southern Man.” While it appeared that “Sweet Home Alabama” was critical of Young, Ronnie and Neil were friends and admirers of each others’ music.
With two successful albums under their belt, Lynyrd Skynyrd appeared on the UK television program The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975. The seven-song set kicks off with “Double Trouble” and also contains the band’s cover of JJ Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze” as well as penultimate number, “Sweet Home Alabama.” But the appearance is famous for the closing fireworks of “Free Bird,” stretching to 13 minutes and showcasing Van Zant’s vocals and songwriting as well as the band’s musical prowess as a whole. The performance is punctuated by guitarist Allen Collins’ soloing.
To celebrate Ronnie Van Zant’s birthday, watch Lynyrd Skynyrd perform on The Old Grey Whistle Test below via the JamBase Live Video Archive:
Double Trouble, I Aint’ The One, Call Me The Breeze, Same Old Blues, Every Mother’s Son, Sweet Home Alabama, Freebird