Deja Vu All Over Again – Getting Reacquainted With Lynyrd Skynyrd

“If I Leave Here Tomorrow”

Back in the 60s and 70s my friends and I were like so many other teens and young adults and the early story of the band known as Lynyrd Skynyrd is a prototypical example. A group of kids who were growing up together in their neighborhood impulsively decides to form a band – no musical experience needed. They play with equipment that they beg, borrow, and steal. Rehearse in any empty space they can find, annoying the hell out of their parents and neighbors. For most, that’s as far as they go. Some manage to get decent enough to actually play a local club circuit. A special few fulfill the dream of becoming a famous rock and roll band. Personally, I played in two bands – one mirrored the first scenario, the other rose to the “heights” of the second. Lynyrd Skynyrd had the very same humble beginnings, but they rose as high as a rock band can go, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s the American Dream – long-haired hippie version.

Pre-Crash Timeline

  • 1 – 1964 – 1967: Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, Larry Junstrom

  • 2 & 3 – 1970 – 1973: Billy Powell, Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson, Bob Burns, Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Ed King

  • 4-7 – 1974 – 1977: [front] Allen Collins, Leslie Hawkins, Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant, JoJo Billingsley, Steve Gaines [back] Artimus Pyle, Cassie Gaines, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson

  • October 20, 1977: The Crash

The Lynyrd Skynyrd Memorial - 7364 Easley Rd, Magnolia, MS
The Lynyrd Skynyrd Memorial – 7364 Easley Rd, Magnolia, MS

I listened back in the 70s – and the music was great – but it wasn’t until I saw the Showtime documentary called “If I Leave Here Tomorrow” (2018) that I truly began to sense their greatness and just how tragic a rock & roll story it is. Back in the day, it was relatively difficult to see what a band was all about unless you were there at a show. Especially in a multi-guitar setup like Skynyrd had – who is that playing that solo? Viewing the dichotomy of a revved-up Collins next to the laid-back Rossington. Speaking of the latter: He holds a pick in his right hand and finger picks along with it. But the amazing part is that he also holds a lit cigarette in the same hand. Never did I see Lynyrd Skynyrd perform live – and I did see quite a few live shows – from The Beatles to The Grateful Dead. Little did I know how hard this band worked to rise to the level they did. From Jacksonville, Florida’s “skid row” to “The Hell House” where they spent endless hours rehearsing and creating some of their greatest songs in the stifling Florida heat. I began to appreciate the blistering attack of the Three Guitar Army and the intenseness of Ronnie Van Zant. As guitarist Ed King says in the documentary, if you want to know who Ronnie was listen to six of his songs, it doesn’t matter which six. One of the founding members, guitarist Gary Rossington (the “Prince Charming” in That Smell), narrates much of it and by the final frame, you kind of feel like he’s one of your best friends. To this day a band continues to play under the name of Lynyrd Skynyrd – featuring lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant – but the music that accompanied me in the 70s ended on October 20th, 1977. The plane crash wasn’t the end of the tragedy … the good news is that the music lives on and sounds as fresh today as it did upon release. Better, even!

The Free Birds:

  • Ronnie Van Zant: January 15, 1948 – October 20, 1977, Steve Gaines September 14, 1949 – October 20, 1977, Cassie Gaines: January 9, 1948 – October 20, 1977 [plane crash]
  • Allen Collins: July 19, 1952 – January 23, 1990 [paralyzed from the waist down in a 1986 car crash and died from complications]
  • Leon Wilkeson: April 2, 1952 – July 27, 2001 [chronic liver & lung disease]
  • Billy Powell: June 3, 1952 – January 28, 2009 [heart attack]
  • Jo Jo Billingsley: May 28, 1952 – June 24, 2010 [cancer]
  • Bob Burns: November 24, 1950 – April 3, 2015 [car crash]
  • Ed King: September 14, 1949 – August 28, 2018 [after a successful heart transplant in 2011 he died of cancer]
  • Larry Junstrom: June 22, 1949 – October 5, 2019 [natural causes?]
  • Gary Rossington: December 4, 1951 – March 5, 2023 [not announced, but he suffered for years from heart disease]
Lynyrd Skynyrd Hell House Site it was much more remote back when it was occupied by the band

For those who have never seen the documentary, it’s available on Bluray through Amazon and probably other places. As the credits roll, my Class of 1970 is duly represented. Quite a few born in 1952. Anyway, that trivia aside, here’s a link. Oh, the Bluray not only includes “If I Leave Here Tomorrow,” but a really good set opening for the Rolling Stones at Knebworth Park in England. Their stated intention was to blow whoever they were playing with on a given night off the stage. I’m sure they succeeded here. And, the set includes a CD of the show, as well. Lynyrd Skynyrd Live At Knebworth ’76

That Smell --

Whiskey bottles and brand new cars
Oak tree, you're in my way
There's too much coke and too much smoke
Look what's goin' on inside you
Hoo-hoo that smell
Can't you smell that smell?
Hoo-hoo that smell
The smell of death around you (yeah)
Angel of darkness is upon you
Stuck a needle in your arm (you fool, you)
So take another toke, have a blow for your nose
One more drink, fool, will drown you (Hell yeah)
Hoo-hoo that smell
Can't you smell that smell?
Hoo-hoo that smell
The smell of death around you
Now they call you Prince Charming
Can't speak a word when you're full of 'ludes
Say you'll be alright, come tomorrow
But tomorrow might not be here for you (yeah, you)
Hoo-hoo that smell
Can't you smell that smell?
Hoo-hoo that smell
The smell of death around you
Oh, you a fool, you
Go on, stick them needles in your arm
Ooh, hoo-hoo-hoo
I know I been there before
You fool
One little problem that confronts you
Got a monkey on your back
Just one more fix, Lord, might do the trick
One hell of a price for you to get your kicks (Hell yeah)
Hoo-hoo that smell
Can't you smell that smell?
Hoo-hoo that smell
The smell of death around you
Hoo-hoo that smell (whoa)
Can't you smell that smell?
Hoo-hoo that smell
The smell of death around you
Oh, you a fool, you
Go on, stick those needles in your arm
You're just a fool, just a fool, just a fool
Gimme one more blow
One more blow for my nose, woah, yeah 

-- Van Zant/Collins

A brief candle; both ends burning An endless mile; a bus wheel turning, A friend to share the lonesome times. A handshake and a sip of wine. So say it loud and let it ring. We are all a part of everything. The future, present, and the past. Fly on proud bird. You’re free at last. — Charlie Daniels

Rest in Peace, Gary Rossington [March 5, 2023] … the last of the Street Survivors; now all the Birds are Free. Those killed in the crash: Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, road manager Dean Kilpatrick, and pilot & co-pilot Walter McCreary and William Gray, The remaining 20 or so passengers [bandmates, crew, etc.] were badly broken … physically & psychologically. Their lives altered forever.


~~ No copyright infringement intended. ~~



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