Free bird! Skynyrd flying into the fair - Quad-Cities Online: Life

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Free bird! Skynyrd flying into the fair

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Posted: Sunday, August 2, 1998 1:00 am | Updated: 2:19 pm, Mon Apr 21, 2014.

Lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant says Lynyrd Skynyrd is not just a band, it's a story of survival.

Twenty-one years ago a plane crash claimed the lives of four Skynyrd band members -- Johnny's brother Ronnie, the lead vocalist of the group, among them.

However, the surviving members refused to let the South's most famous rock band die with them. In 1987 they invited then-solo artist Johnny on board and together they resurrected the band at a 10th anniversary tribute concert to the late members.

They've been playing together ever since. ``As long as our fans want us out there and we have breath in our bodies we'll play,'' said Van Zant in a recent interview.

Their persistence has paid off. Referring to the tour's healthy ticket sales, Rolling Stone magazine calls Skynyrd's present 65 city jaunt, which comes to Davenport this week, ``the summer's biggest surprise.'' And Skynyrd has seen their fan base explode this year due to their rigorous touring schedule and cable station VH-1's constant coverage of the band.

Though now celebrating their most successful tour since re-grouping in 1987, Van Zant has not forgotten the struggle and perseverance it took to get there.

``When the guys asked me to join in '87 I felt more afraid than anything,'' Van Zant said. ``I was worried about doing justice to Ronnie's songs.'' At the time, Van Zant had just brokered a deal for his own record ``Brickyard Road'' and was cementing his career as a solo artist.

But Van Zant's desire to revive his brother's musical legacy overcame this fear and he signed on. ``I don't think Ronnie would have wanted the crash to be the last memory of Skynyrd,'' says Van Zant. ``I think he'd be proud of us carrying on.''

What Skynyrd carries on is a distinct rock 'n' roll sound born out of the American South in the early 1970s. Unlike its predecessor -- '60s acid rock -- southern rock shirked psychedelic, amorphous sounds and ambiguous lyrics. Instead it drove American rock 'n' roll back to its roots -- southern country and blues.

``Skynyrd is a touch of both,'' says Van Zant, who grew up listening to the Merle Haggard and Hank Williams songs his truck-driving father played on the road and the Ray Charles tunes he heard over the radio. ``We've brought in country's slide guitar and the pedal stool, and the blues gives our music its soul.''

Culture, says Van Zant, provides the rest. ``Real southern rock -- bands like the Allman Brothers, the Charlie Daniels Band and the Marshall Tucker Band -- comes from a way of being raised,'' Van Zant said. ``We were brought up with clear, simple values and that's how we wrote our songs.''

Van Zant refers to his favorite Skynyrd song, ``Simple Man,'' in which a mother advises her son to be satisfied with a simple life made up of God, family and wife. She tells him ``forget your lust for a rich man's gold'' because ``all that you need is in your soul.''

When asked how much longer he and Skynyrd will be singing ``Simple Man'' and Skynyrd classics ``Sweet Home Alabama'' and ``Freebird'' to American audiences, Van Zant replies, ``The way I see it my brother Ronnie was the quarterback who passed me the ball, and I'm going to run with it as far as I can go.''

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