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Lynyrd Skynyrd

Five Jacksonville, Fla., high school buddies formed a band in 1964, which they soon named after their notoriously oppressive gym teacher, Leonard Skinner. Before long they dropped out, leaving school and Skinner behind to pursue a career in rock 'n' roll. They built up a local following and got a gig as opening act on a Strawberry Alarm Clock tour. In they 1973 released their Al Kooper-produced debut album, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd, which caught the attention of Pete Townshend and got the group an coveted gig opening for The Who. One of the album's cuts, "Free Bird," a tribute to the late Duane Allman, became the quintessential high-flying guitar anthem and hasn't lost popularity in three decades. The subsequent single, "Sweet Home Alabama," a response to Neil Young's "Southern Man," conclusively established the group as Dixie darlings, and they proceeded to enjoy the lifestyle of outlaw redneck rockers for several albums. They were emerging from a brief slump with 1977's triumphant Street Survivors when, three days after the album's release, the band's tour airplane crashed, killing songwriter/vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup vocalist Cassie Gaines. Other members were badly injured, and while the album itself was a huge hit, the tragedy was apparently the end of the band. In 1991, however, surviving bandmembers joined forces with guitarist Johnny Van Zant, the late Ronnie's younger brother, and launched a highly successful reunion tour and album. They've continued to be a popular touring act ever since.

Written by: Mary Eisenhart

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