August 13 marks 50 years since Lynyrd Skynyrd released their debut album, the classic (Pronounced ‘Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd), an album that changed American music.
Forming before either the Marshall Tucker Band and the Allman Brothers Band, the band were pioneers in “Southern rock.” They merged the vibe of blues-based rock that hippies were playing with a strong sense of Southern pride. Musically, they combined blues, bluegrass, country, and of course, rock and roll to make something distinctly American.
Pronounced… gave rock radio some of its most enduring hits, including “Gimme Three Steps,” “Simple Man,” and one of the format’s biggest classics, “Freebird.” The lineup on the album featured drummer Bob Berns, keyboardist Billy Powell, bassist Ed King (who soon moved to guitar when founding bassist Leon Wilkeson returned to the band), guitarist Allen Collins, singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Gary Rossington.
With Rossington’s recent passing, no more members of this lineup still walk the earth. But all great art lives longer than the creators, and it’s safe to say that Pronounced… will be considered a classic album for generations to come.
Skynyrd’s career came to a tragic end on October 20, 1977, when the band’s plane crashed in Gillsburg, Mississippi. Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines died in the crash. Assistance road manager Dean Kilpatrick also perished in the tragedy, along with pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William John Gray.
Rossington led a reunited version of the band a decade later. Ronnie’s younger brother, Johnny Van Zant (who was already a solo artist), became the band’s new singer. As anyone who has seen the band over the past three decades knows, he’s done an amazing job leading the band – and it looks like he will continue to do so. He’s also sung on eight studio albums, all of which have their gems.
But here, we’re counting down the 20 best songs from Skynyrd’s original era, with Ronnie on vocals.