Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama

Ronnie Van Zant: “I confess, those songs are there to
cause some controversy. I like looking for trouble. I mean, I always dug
Neil Young and we’ve been friends ever since the song came out. It was just there to provoke a little excitement. Ya gotta catch the audience off guard to keep ’em
listening.”

I was never going to post this song because it is one of the most overplayed songs in rock history. I still like Ed King’s opening riff…it’s so crisp and clear. The Turn It Up phrase was a mistake. Van Zant was telling the engineer to turn up the volume in his headphones…they liked it so they kept it.

While writing this post I listened to the song around 5 times in headphones. I noticed things that I’ve overlooked through the years just because I was so familiar with it. The song has some great hooks, riffs, and piano fills. Forget the lyrics…the music for this song is full of catchy runs. I heard things I never heard before…I now know why it was a hit.

In a rehearsal for the first album Gary Rossington was playing around with the simple D-C-G chord structure and Ed King added the main intro. They knew they had something special and it was written in a few minutes. After writing this Van Zant said, “this is our Rambling Man” in reference to the Allman Brothers’ rare hit single. The song ended up on the second album (Second Helping) and became a breakout hit for the band.

The song peaked at #8 on the Billboard 100, #6 in Canada, and #31 in the UK in 1974. The band was very popular in the UK.

There’s absolutely zero doubt Sweet Home Alabama was a revenge song—a rebuttal to Neil Young’s Alabama and Southern Man…for the sweeping generalization of all southerners as bigots past and at that time present by Neil. Neil even admits this now.

Neil Young: “My own song ‘Alabama’ richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”

There is also an easter egg in the song. After Van Zant sings “Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her” you can hear what sounds like Neil Young singing Southern Man out of the left speaker…it’s Al Kooper the producer imitating Young. You need headphones to hear it.

This song did not start any bad feelings between the two singers in fact it drew them closer. Neil was a fan of Van Zant and Van Zant was a fan of Neil and wore his shirt many times. Neil Young sent Ronnie Van Zant the song Powderfinger for the band to record but the plane crash put an end to that. Young performed Sweet Home Alabama one time only at a benefit less than a month after the plane crash as a tribute to them.

Just as Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA was misinterpreted, this song was also. The line about George Wallace has drawn controversy… In Birmingham they love the governor (Boo, Boo, Boo). Some ignored the boo’s, and at first thought, they endorsed the guy.

Ronnie Van Zant: “Wallace and I have very little in common, I don’t like what he says about black people.”

In the Watergate lyrics, it’s been said that Van Zant was saying the north made mistakes also. The Swamper’s lyrics are about the Muscle Shoals recording band with Jimmy Johnson.

The backup singers were Merry Clayton and Clydie King. Merry Clayton was on Gimme Shelter and amazingly enough…Southern Man by Neil Young.

The band would also dive into gun control with “Saturday Night Special” and saving the environment  with “All I Can Do Is Write About It.

Ronnie Van Zant: “We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two. We’re southern rebels, but more than that, we know the difference between right and wrong.”

Sweet Home Alabama

Big wheels keep on turning
Carrying me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the southland
I miss Alabamy once again
And I think it’s a sin, yes

Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her
Well I heard old Neil put her down
Well I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don’t need him around anyhow

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

In Birmingham they love the governor (boo, boo, boo)
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Here I come Alabama

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how about you?

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

Sweet home Alabama (Oh sweet home baby)
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama (Lordy)
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Yea, yea

Lynyrd Skynyrd (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd)

I don’t review many albums…because frankly I’m not great at it and there are other sites that do it much better…but I wanted to give this one a try.

Looking back on this album…it was one of the greatest debut rock albums of all time. The track listing

I Ain’t the One
Tuesday’s Gone
Gimme Three Steps
Simple Man
Things Goin’ On
Mississippi Kid
Poison Whiskey
Free Bird

That is four classic rock songs on their debut album! It’s great if you can luck out with one good song on your first two albums. There is not a weak song on here. They had been playing around 7 or so years by this time… around Jacksonville and Atlanta. They did not improvise like other bands…they played for the song and the song only.

Al Kooper discovered them in a rough club called Funochio’s in Atlanta Georgia. He ended up signing them on MCA’s Sounds of the South label and produced this album. They were called the American Rolling Stones and their concerts backed that claim up.

It was idiotic but they were compared to the Allman Brothers…who had nothing in common except both were from the south. The Allmans were a very versatile blues/jazz/rock jam band and Lynryd Skynryd was a southern rock band that was influenced by British rock and blues… the closer comparison would have been Paul Rodgers’s band Free. One listen to I Ain’t The One will verify that.

I Ain’t The One – One of my favorite songs on the album. It does remind me of the band Free with Paul Kossoff’s guitar sound. A rocker…

Tuesday’s Gone – A simple epic song that is structured beautifully. One of their best slower songs.

Gimmer Three Steps – A song that has been played and played on the radio but a rocker about getting out of Dodge really quick.

Simple Man – The song is simple and effective… now it’s been in numerous commercials. It’s the third most streaming song from LS just behind Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama.

Free Bird – The signature song of their career. It usually ends up in the top 3 of the best rock songs. Both Stairway to Heaven and this one build up into a never to be forgotten ending. This one ended each of their shows with an incredible high. When they played this at Knebworth no other band could touch it.

They only released 5 albums in their career before the crash. Of those 5 albums, 3 were great and 2 were really good.

Robert Christgau…the crusty rock critic loved this band and album: Lacking both hippie roots and virtuosos, post-Allmanites like ZZ Top, Marshall Tucker, and Wet Willie become transcendently boring except when they get off a good song. But in this staunchly untranscendent band, lack of virtuosos is a virtue, because it inspires good songs, songs that often debunk good-old-boy shibboleths. Examples: “Poison Whiskey,” “Mississippi Kid,” and “Gimme Three Steps,” when Ronnie Van Zant, instead of outwitting the dumb redneck the way onetime Dylan sideman Charlie Daniels does in “Uneasy Rider,” just hightails it out of there. Savvy production from onetime Dylan sideman Al Kooper. A

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Simple Man

This song was on their debut album (Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-erd ) but if it were up to their producer (Al Kooper) it wouldn’t have been recorded.

Kooper didn’t like how the song was sounding and wasn’t crazy about it in the first place. He kept on saying he didn’t want it on the album.

At the studio, Van Zant told him to go somewhere and not come back for a while. He then proceeded to walk Kooper outside and to his car…he opened the door and then waved Kooper goodbye.

They recorded the song while he was away and it stayed on the album. Kooper later overdubbed an organ on the song.  It’s a huge favorite with fans and has been featured in movies and commercials. It’s one of those album songs that has gotten more popular as the years go by.

Van Zant’s grandmother passed away around the same time, so Gary Rossington and Van Zant got together at Van Zant’s apartment to share memories of their grandparents. As they talked, the stories they passed back and forth suddenly began to form into a song. Rossington came up with a chord progression, and Van Zant wrote the lyrics based on advice the women had given them over the years. They wrote it in about an hour.

Rossington was raised by his mother, and Van Zant was like a father figure in his life, even though he was just a few years older than him. Van Zant taught the guitarist how to drive a car or the other things that youngsters needed to learn in their teenage years.

The song was not released as a single but it finally charted in 2021 on Billboard US Hot Rock & Alternative Songs.

Ed King: I really enjoyed working with Al Kooper. I believe, had it not been for Al, no one would’ve heard of Skynyrd. He was the visionary behind the band and how it should be presented to the world. We didn’t always agree with Al, but I certainly enjoyed his presence.
When we drove up to Atlanta to record “Simple Man,” we played the song for Al in the studio. He hadn’t heard it. He didn’t care for it and said “You’re not putting that song on the album.” Ronnie asked Al to step outside. He escorted Al to his Bentley and opened the car door. Al stepped in. Ronnie shut the door and stuck his head in thru the open window. “When we’re done recording it, we’ll call you.”
Al came back a few hours later, added the organ part and it was a keeper. I don’t think any band before or since, making its debut album, could get away with doing that to the record producer. There was a healthy respect happening there…and that is a really funny story that reflects that.

Gary Rossington: “We just put down in a song what our mama or grandma had said to us, they really wrote it, we just played it.”

Al Kooper: Early on I begged Skynyrd to change their name. It looked on paper like it was pronounced “Lie-nerd Sky-nerd.” It didn’t make any sense at first glance, and it certainly didn’t conjure up what their music was about. I tried everything, but to no avail. They would not budge. So, I decided if I was stuck with it, I’d make the best of it.
They were also always getting in fistfights. If they couldn’t find anyone to fight, they’d fight each other. I decided to paint a rough-house image for them. I designed a skull head and spelled their name out in a bones typeface. 

Simple Man

Mama told me when I was young
“Come sit beside me, my only son
And listen closely to what I say
And if you do this it’ll help you some sunny day”

“Oh, take your time, don’t live too fast
Troubles will come and they will pass
You’ll find a woman and you’ll find love
And don’t forget, son, there is someone up above”

“And be a simple kind of man
Oh, be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can”

“Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold
All that you need is in your soul
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied”

“And be a simple kind of man
Oh, be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can”

Oh yes, I will

“Boy, don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself
Follow your heart and nothing else
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied”

“And be a simple kind of man
Oh, be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me, son, if you can”

Baby, be a simple, really simple man
Oh, be something you love and understand
Baby, be a simple, kind of simple man

Turn It UP! My years with Lynyrd Skynyrd…. by Ron Eckerman

Not long ago I had to fly somewhere and I’m a nervous flyer. I usually dread getting into a plane but I was determined I would enjoy this flight to Texas and then Colorado. We got into the air with my right ear-popping like crazy and I decided to listen to an audiobook once we were flying. I opened my audible library selection and just picked one at random. Well, needless to say, I picked this one. I was 30 minutes into the book before I discovered the irony of the situation. I quickly picked another book (Grateful Dead bio) and listened to that but…I finished this one on the way back while… driving safely on the ground.

This is not an autobiography of the band… it is an account of their mid to late-70s tours. The book was written by an insider (the road manager) book from 1974 to the 1977 plane crash. Lynyrd Skynyrd was a wild bunch who was ruled by lead singer Ronnie Van Zant with an iron fist. It was partly about babysitting a bunch of up-and-coming rock stars and yes…very entertaining. These guys learned from the best… they had opened for The Who on the Quadrophenia tour in 1973. Keith Moon showed them the path to destruction in hotels across the globe. They took it to a new level though…not only fighting with people who annoyed them…they fought each other. Contrary to popular belief…most of them were well-read and intelligent men but with a wild side. 

The band was managed by Peter Rudge who was known to be very cheap with bands. He also managed the Stones and The Who. It was Ron Eckerman’s (tour manager) job to collect the money and figure out the most economical way of traveling. In early 1977 he saw that traveling by plane would be cheaper than by bus. The band toured constantly and was rarely at home adding to the short tempers. They lost their guitar player Ed King in 1975 because of that plus madness exploding out of pure exhaustion. Keeping a road crew together while you are not touring was near impossible unless you play over 200 – 250 shows a year. 

Reading this book is truly like being transported in time back in the seventies rock world. It was back to a time when bands had to build up an audience. It didn’t happen with a youtube video or a Facebook page. There were no auto-tune or backing tracks to save you in concert. Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the best live bands around. They played at Knebworth in 1976 and were heralded in the press as the next great band in league with the Stones and Who. They never got that chance and were different than most bands. They had no production values at all…just a mirror disco ball. Ronnie Van Zant did not dance around like Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler…he was more like a field general directing his troops to conquer the audience. 

After losing Ed King, a great California guitarist… they picked up Oklahoma native Steve Gaines who would have had a chance to be a huge star. Gaines was an absolute phenom on guitar and had he not died at 28 in the plane crash, he might well be a guitar legend now. The book is hilarious in places but you know what is coming. They climbed the rock ladder and the new album Street Survivors showed what they might do. The album was not a “southern rock” album…it was a rock album by a band from the south. 

They never would get a chance to fulfill their promise. The new album was their biggest yet and in two weeks’ time, they would have headlined Madison Square Garden for the first time. It really did look like they were about to be elevated to the top bracket of touring rock bands.

I was a kid when all of this was going on but I am amazed at how much the world has changed since then. If a band, no matter how successful, would do what they did in today’s world…the band would be in jail and shunned. Not only Lynyrd Skynryd but Led Zeppelin, The Stones, The Who, and a host of other rock bands. The book will truly transport you back to that time. Even if you are a fan or not…it’s worth a read. Ron Eckerman was in the plane when it crashed and his description is truly chilling. 

Eckerman took the blame for the crash but it wasn’t one man’s fault. A short while after releasing the book he died of acute myeloid leukemia. His wife said he never got over the guilt for the crash and he died three years after the book was published. 

Lynyrd Skynyrd – One More Time

This band was known mostly for Sweet Home Alabama, Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, and Free Bird for the most part. It’s a shame really because they have some outstanding album cuts.

I’ve had love-hate feelings with them because people automatically think you have to like them…if you are from the south. Our band would refuse to play their music for the longest time. Now I’m embarrassed we thought that way.

After a little time, I started to realize how great of a  rock band they were…southern or not. Their influences were The Stones, Yardbirds, and most of all Cream…and it showed. At the time of their crash in 1977, Street Survivors had just been released 3 days and it was moving fast up the charts. This was going to be their big breakthrough album…and it was. They were a double-threat band…they could hit with singles and make superb rock albums. If not for the crash they would have been up in the stardom league of Aerosmith at least.

Ronnie Van Zant was a fantastic songwriter and a good singer. He is a singer who knew his limits and stayed within them. He would never write any words down…he would walk around the band during rehearsal and start to make up verses while hearing riffs and he would have a finished song.

I was really surprised by this song. I always liked it but…it sounded different from the other songs and I never knew why. I assumed that this song was recorded in 1977 but I was wrong. One More Time was recorded back in 1970 – 1971 when they were making demos and just starting their recording career. That was 2 years before they released their first album.

It was written by Van Zant and guitarist Gary Rossington. They worked on this album for a long time…they re-recorded every song on Street Survivors twice except this one. They dropped some other songs they worked on and pulled out this demo from the vaults and used it. The band re-mixed it and it blended in with the other new songs but I can hear now while listening to What’s Her Name and others on the album.

Street Survivors peaked at #5 in the Billboard Album Charts and #3 in Canada in 1977. The band has sold 28 million albums in the US since 1991 when Nielsen SoundScan started tracking sales, not including album sales for the band’s first 17 years.

His voice sounds a little different in this song because it was so early in their career and he was learning. Van Zant sings this song in a controlled cool while delivering this line.

So I’ll take the word of a liar
One more time, one more time

One More Time

How can you stand there smilin’
After all you’ve done
You know it seems to make you happy
When you’ve hurt someone
Twice before you fooled me
With your deceivin’ and lyin’
Come in and close the door
One more time, one more time

Yeah you’ve been gone so long
No one knows where
And you say that you still love me
Then show me you care
‘Cause you got what it takes sweet mama
To make a man feel fine
So I’ll take the word of a liar
One more time, one more time

Girl you’ve got me hungry
Losin’ my mind
I know I’m playin’ with fire
Get burned every time
Yes I’m a fool for you baby I can’t deny
But I got to have your sweet love
One more time, one more time

Girl you’ve got me hungry
Losin’ my mind
I know I’m playin’ with fire
I get burned every time
Yes I’m a fool for you mama I can’t deny
But I got to have your sweet love
One more time, one more time

Yes I’m her fool once more
I can read her brown eyes
But when the rooster crows tomorrow
Well its her turn to cry
I’m headed down that old road
She lost her free ride
So tonight I’ll take what I paid for
One more time, one more time
One more time