One note of the “Free Bird” guitar solo, and a few from the Southern fried intro to “Sweet Home Alabama” sets the mind reeling to the era of classic 70s anthem rock. Telling stories like American folklore, the band has endured, despite all odds, through death and disaster, as the signature rock group of America's working people. Modern musicians as diverse as Kid Rock, Metallica and Travis Tritt pledge allegiance to the Skynyrd sound, and a new wave of hard rocking youngsters values the Skynyrd legacy above all else. Drawing on their blue collar roots for musical inspiration, Skynyrd has always been known as one of the hardest working bands in history, having exploded onto the scene in the 1970’s and playing approximately 300 dates each year. Skynyrd debuted in 1973 with a down home sound and lyrical sensibility that promoted the values of its heritage, the values of America’s working class. The band's hometown of Jacksonville truly was a blue collar town, and Ronnie, Donnie and Johnny Van Zant learned the value of hard work from family patriarch Lacy Van Zant.
Skynyrd was going strong before the now legendary plane crash in October 1977, which killed lead singer/co-founder Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and Steve's sister, back up vocalist Cassie Gaines and several crew members. They had sold millions of records, and brought their down-home brand of rock to legions of fans around the world. Their sixth album, Street Survivor had just been released and became the first Lynyrd Skynyrd album to be certified gold. Their first tour of major arenas had been booked, including a lifelong dream fulfilling show at New York's Madison Square Garden. But after the crash, which seriously injured surviving members Gary Rossington, Leon Wilkeson, Allen Collins, Billy Powell, and Artimus Pyle, the thought of continuing as Lynyrd Skynyrd felt impossible. Much to the surprise of the rock world, the resilient survivors reunited in January 1979 for a special appearance at Charlie Daniel's Volunteer Jam V where they performed an instrumental version of "Free Bird" as a eulogy for their lost comrades and the band. Although Lynyrd Skynyrd was no longer performing as a unit, its members continued to work together.
First, guitarist and co-founder Gary Rossington, along with guitarist Allen Collins, bassist Leon Wilkeson and pianist Billy Powell formed the Rossington-Collins band which released two albums in the early 1980's and toured extensively. When Rossington-Collins broke up, Rossington and his wife, singer Dale Krantz, moved to Wyoming and recorded and performed as a duo while Collins started the Allen Collins Band. On the tenth anniversary of the crash, some of the members considered doing a tribute concert. They invited Ronnie's younger brother Johnny, an accomplished recording artist in his own right, to provide lead vocals. In putting together the current lineup of the band, Rossington, Van Zant, Wilkeson, Powell and Hale went to some of the American rock's finest guitarists - former Blackfoot founder/guitarist Rickey Medlocke, and Hughie Thomasson from The Outlaws. In the summer of 1996 this unit broke records in amphitheaters across the country as they toured together for the first time. "Our fans are country folks, they like the basics," Johnny explained. "They're not afraid of dirt, they know how to work with their hands. If you've got a good car and a good woman you can be happy. Life has gotten so complicated that a lot of people have lost sight of the fact that the simple things are the best things.”