We love good old-fashioned southern rock and wondered who the original Lynyrd Skynyrd band members were.
After all, they created an unforgettable sound entrenched in blues, rock, and country.
So, who were these guys?
Let’s find out!
The Story of Lynyrd Skynyrd
Three teenagers, Ronnie Van Zant on vocals and Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, both on guitar, got together to form a band in 1964. They called themselves My Backyard.
Within a few months, the group added bassist Leon Wilkeson and keyboardist Billy Powell. With Bob Burns as their drummer, the original Lynyrd Skynyrd prepared for music history.
The story goes that the schoolmates liked their long hair and rebellious ways. Their physical education teacher thought otherwise and said, “Not in my backyard.”
The guys got multiple suspensions and could not get teacher Leonard Skinner out of their hair. A play on his name brought the band to their iconic name, Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The band is the epitome of classic southern rock and roll. In 1973, they released their first album, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd. The members included bassist Leon Wilkeson, keyboardist Billy Powell, and guitarist Ed King.
Hitting it Big
That first album produced some of the band’s well-known hits like Free Bird and Gimme Three Steps. The hard-driving “triple attack” of three guitarists, plus Van Zant’s honest country lyrics, gave this group a fresh appeal to audiences in the 1970s.
The hit song Free Bird and an opening on The Who’s Quadrophenia tour sent the original members into stardom. The band’s second album, Second Helping, went multi-platinum and gave fans everywhere the ever-popular single, Sweet Home Alabama.
By 1976, Lynyrd Skynyrd comprised ten members, including three female backup singers and new guitarist Steve Gaines. Ed King and Bob Burns departed the band. However, with their success on the rise, tragedy struck.
The Fatal Plane Crash
Lynyrd Skynyrd released their sixth album, Street Survivors, on October 17, 1977. Three days later, the private charter plane carrying the band crashed outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi.
Original Lynyrd Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Steve’s sister Cassie (backup singer), assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray didn’t survive. The remaining crew and band members were seriously injured.
Ironically, the cover of Street Survivors showed the band enveloped in flames. After the crash, producers changed the cover. Following the tragedy, Lynyrd Skynyrd disbanded.
Who Is the Only Remaining Original Member of Lynyrd Skynyrd?
After the deaths of keyboardist Billy Powell (2009) and Larry Junstrom (2019), guitarist Gary Rossington became the last surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was in the ill-fated 1977 plane crash, sustaining injuries to both arms, legs, wrists, ankles, and pelvis. His recovery took years, but he returned to play on stage.
In 1980, Rossington joined former Lynyrd Skynyrd members Collins, Wilkeson, and Powell to form the Rossington-Collins Band. Their debut album, Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere, did well, but the group didn’t last. It broke up within a couple of years.
In 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited for a full-scale tribute tour. It included five members of the pre-crash band, Rossington among them. He still plays with the band today.
What Happened to the Original Drummer from Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Original Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer, Bob Burns, helped form the band in 1964. The young band’s teenagers first started practicing in Burn’s garage.
Burns laid the pace for the famous songs Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama. He was exhausted from touring and left the band in 1975, and Artimus Pyle replaced him. Burns wasn’t aboard the fatal 1977 plane crash.
When Lynyrd Skynyrd reformed, Burns joined the band two more times. In 1996, he participated in a performance to promote Freebird: The Movie. In 2006, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Burns rejoined the group for a one-off performance.
Tragedy struck again when Bob Burns died on April 3, 2015, after his car crashed into a tree.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Best Known Songs
We all grin at a concert when the band pauses, and someone yells out into the quiet auditorium, “Free Bird!”
Described as one of the band’s only love songs, it tells the story of a guy explaining to a girl why he can’t settle down. Today, it’s one of the most loved instrumental passages in rock history. Each listener finds their own meaning in the lyrics.
The first album version runs nine minutes and eight seconds, allowing original Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarists Collins, King, and Rossington to full-on jam. We still love this fan-favorite show finale.
Sweet Home Alabama
No matter where you are in the world, everyone is from Alabama when Sweet Home Alabama plays. The song is a homage to Muscle Shoals, Alabama’s early music scene. It’s also a dig at Neil Young, who disparaged the southern United States.
The song is featured in over a dozen films and TV series. Kid Rock borrowed from the melody and lyrics in his 2008 hit, All Summer Long.
Like Van Zant says at the song’s start, “Turn it up!” We agree.
Gimme Three Steps
The song Gimme Three Steps is based on a true story. Van Zant snuck into a bar as a teenager. He danced with a girl whose boyfriend didn’t like it. Before the man could act, Van Zant told him to “gimme a few steps,” and he would be gone. The rest is history.
Still Carrying On
Lynyrd Skynyrd still performs today with lead vocals delivered by original member Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny Van Zant. Most members have changed, but the classic, hard-living, hard-driving southern rock sound remains.
Tell us in the comments what your favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd song is!