Ever since their meager beginnings in Jacksonville, Fla., Lynyrd Skynyrd has flavored its love of the Who, Thin Lizzy and other rock ‘n’ roll legends with an ample helping of “songs about the South-land.” The band’s pre-plane crash run, marked by legendary songs and a three-guitar assault, must’ve had at least a small hand in inspiring the uptempo sound and ambitious stage shows that revitalized country music in the 1990’s.
After a 10-year hiatus, the band launched an ongoing reunion in 1987. In the 30-plus years that followed, the band’s songs and overall image mirror the likes of Hank Williams Jr. and Charlie Daniels, meaning they’re rebels with a conservative cause.
The following 10 deep cuts, culled mostly from the band’s original 1973-’77 run of albums, find the late Ronnie Van Zant, his brother Johnny and a massive cast of musicians and backup singers interpreting a shared love of country music legends for a rock audience.
“Mississippi Kid” (1973)
This early cut finds the band mirroring front porch picking sessions instead of the suburban garage jam sessions that still produce great rock ‘n’ roll.
“Railroad Song” (1975)
Skynyrd loved Merle Haggard and Jimmie Rodgers and went on to cover both artists. What better way to celebrate both men than an original song that glorifies trains?
“Whiskey Rock-a-Roller” (1975)
This song is a little more obvious since it remains a staple of the band’s live show. Still, no other Skynyrd song better celebrates life on the road, where the band hopped from honky tonk to honky tonk to keep Southern music alive.
“All I Can Do is Write About It” (1976)
Ronnie Van Zant and the band were socially progressive at times, as shown by this classic plea to protect the beauty of Southern wildlife.
“Honky Tonk Night Time Man” (1977)
Originally demoed with new lyrics as “Jacksonville Kid,” Ronnie Van Zant’s final album includes a nod to Bakersfield via this Merle Haggard cover.
“Four Walls of Raiford” (pre-plane crash demo)
A gorgeous acoustic song with roots deeper in the blues than other regional folk sounds, this is the greatest obscure Skynyrd track that remains buried in plain site.
“Truck Drivin’ Man” (pre-plane crash demo)
When Skynyd first made records, country radio was a commercial for CB radios. Fortunately, many of those truck driving songs were as awesome as this rocking interpretation of the trend.
“When You Got Good Friends” (pre-plane crash demo)
Skynyrd became what Tim Wilson called “Nashville name-droppers,” as well as Macon, Ga. Southern rock band mentioners, in this rundown of their favorite artists and peers.
“The Last Rebel” (1991)
For over 30 years now, the reunited band has extolled both old-time Southern music and old-fashioned values. This title track from their best modern run album remains their statement of purpose.
“That Ain’t My America” (2009)
Nowadays, Skynyrd sounds a little like the acts they inspired. This plea for a return to simpler times kind of sounds like Montgomery Gentry covering a Toby Keith song.