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From Jacksonville Beach, FL

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jacksonville's boys. We all have our story

Freebird Live, 200 1st Street, N, Jacksonville Beach, FL

Jacksonville considers Lynyrd Skynyrd the best Southern rock band that's ever lived.  We all feel a connection to them.  Their devastating plane crash in 1977 killing Ronnie Van Zant, the lead singer, and 6 of the band and plane crew seemed unbelievable, and put music circles in shock.  We knew their stories and knew them.  

Three brothers, Ronnie, Donnie and Johnny Van Zant became the core of Jacksonville's Southern Rock scene.  Donnie (the middle brother) was in my 9th grade English class at Stilwell Junior High on Jacksonville's west side. He later played with 38 Special.   In class he was quiet and buttoned down.  His clothes would be considered "preppy" by recent standards, but that was the way male students were required to dress:  shirt tails in, belted pants, and short, short haircuts.  It was the short, short hair that gave his brother's group, My Backyard, the name by which they became known. 

 When band members, Ronnie VanZant, Allen Collins, Gary Rossington , Larry Junstrom and Bob Burns got to Lee High School, Coach Leonard Skinner, hassled them constantly about their long hair.  In defiance and a gesture of ultimate irony,  the group renamed their band for him.  Later, in 1973, when the group released their debut album, the spelling was altered to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Coach Skinner taught at Stilwell for a while when I was there.  His own hair was in a crew cut.  When fame came to Lynyrd Skynyrd, he seemed to enjoy that the group was named for him and spoke well of them.  He even introduced them at one of their local concerts.  

After the plane crash, it took ten years for the band to re-form.  When they did, the dynamic was altered.  Ronnie's youngest brother, Johnny eventually became the lead singer.  After a lot of shuffling and changing membership, they still have the best Southern Rock sound.  

Who can forget "Freebird," or  "Sweethome Alabama," songs done by the original group. In 2005, Lynyrd  Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC.  The inductees were the original band members.  No one who was a member after the crash was inducted.  

In 1999, Judy Van Zant-Jenness, Ronnie's wife, and Melody Van Zant, the daughter of Judy and Ronnie, opened Freebird Cafe in Jacksonville Beach with a concert by The Charlie Daniels Band. Memorabilia of Lynyrd Skynyrd, music and food were the main attractions.  In 2005, the name was changed to Freebird Live and the restaurant status ended.  It is now a standing-room only venue with space for 700.  It is one of the few local live music venues and is immensely popular.  Recently, some of us went by late to try to get in, but it was sold out.  That's a lot of people!!!

In 2008, the solo "Free Bird" was named the 3rd greatest guitar solo.  In 2010, VH1 named Lynyrd Skynyrd number 77 in the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.  Jacksonville will continue to play them and love them for a long time. 

Skynyrd band website:
Freebird Live:  

                                     This was the album cover for "Street Survivors"
                                      released 3 days before the horrific plane crash.

                                       After the crash, the album was re-released with
                                       this cover with no flames.  
                                       Both of these albums belong to the author of this

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