Southern rock rarely gets as good, or classic, as this; the genre’s best known (and probably most successful) band in their heyday and the original period albums are reissued on these replica LPs, 180g vinyl.
Sound extravagant? Well, yes. But it’s worth it.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, formed in the late 60s, found success in the 70s in a genre that formed stemmed out of a mix of American, rock n’ roll, country and blues.
Singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington formed My Backyard in 1966, a band name that would change over the next three years.
Early band members included bassist Greg Walker and second drummer Rickey Medlocke, who left to form Blackfoot before the recording of the first album.
Signing to MCA, 1973 saw the band augmented by guitarist Ed King, pianist (and former roadie) Billy Powell, drummer Bob Burns and bassist Leon Wilkinson. The classic debut album, (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd), was produced by Al Kooper who, alongside Ed King, also provided many of the bass during Wilkinson’s temporary departure.
Reproduced here with the original gatefold sleeve, the album is a classic mix of punchy rock n’ roll with boogie, slide, Americana and a touch of blues. From the opener ‘I Ain’t The One’ you know it’s going to grab you, which it does. The twin guitar (King provided lead on one track only) with piano support gave Skynyrd their trademark sound. This is bolstered by Van Zant’s distinctive vocals; while not the world’s strongest vocals, they had punch and attitude.
With ‘Gimme Three Steps’ and the aforementioned epic ‘Freebird’ (running at nine minutes, the classic Southern formula of a steady start, build and blistering finish) this is a 5* album by anyone’s standards. Deservedly multi-platinum.
With the same line-up now stabalised, ‘Second Helping’ was the first album to fully feature the triple guitar attack. Opener ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is a well-known classic and a reply/dig to Neil Young. ‘I Need You’ is a slower moody track, while ‘Working For MCA’ soon became a live staple and fan favourite. The band also covered ‘Call Me The Breeze’. Again this album would eventually go double platinum.
1975s ‘Nuthin’ Fancy’ featured new drummer Artimus Pyle and kicks off with the smokin’ Saturday Night Special. ‘Cheatin’ Woman’ is a slower stripped down heartfelt song, ‘On The Hunt’ features some moody slide guitar, something not as prevalent here as on previous albums. Likewise ‘Whiskey Rock A Roller’, which finishes the album on a high (quite literally).
Fourth album ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’, recorded at the tale-end of 1975 and originally released early in 1976, saw the band back to the twin lead guitar sound after the departure of Ed King (who would later rejoin the reformed band). The opening title track is an in-your-face rocker, while ‘Every Mother’s Son’, with a good slide guitar solo, is more Americana. ‘I Got The Same Old Blues’ is another JJ Cale cover, and ‘Double Trouble’ soon became another classic and live staple. Excellent though this album is, it doesn’t have the passion or consistency of early releases and that was reflected in the sales.
With guitarist Steve Gaines now bolstering the triple guitar, 1976 also saw the release of ‘One More From The Road’, widely considered one of the finest double live albums ever. From the intro right through a fine and varied set, including covers of Jimmy Rogers’ ‘T For Texas’ and Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’, it’s a blistering set with only minor overdubs and edits. Those two blistering covers are how you wished the band sounded a whole lot more, and the closing thirteen minute rendition of ‘Freebird’ is as epic and classic as Skynyrd ever got.
The same line-up followed up with ‘Street Survivors’, featuring Gaines’ sister Cassie on backing vocals. This was a much more solid album than the previous studio outing, and from the opening bars of ‘What’s Your Name?’ it’s just a wonderful listen. The brass too adds bluesiness and weight to the sound. Likewise, ‘That Smell’ is a classic, and the album features some solid contribution from Gaines.
The original cover ironically featured the band surrounded by flames, and in the UK at least, the tour dates; this is now a collector’s item as within a few days of release the band were involved in a plane crash. This killed members of the plane’s crew, the road crew and three band members in Van Zant, and Steve and Cassie Gaines, injuring the others. The LP’s artwork was soon amended.
A sad and sudden end to Southern Rock’s brightest hopes, who had just found their footing after a weaker album or two.
Those original albums are here in their original form, with a heavyweight sound to match the vinyl. Definitely one for fans of Southern Rock and vinyl alike.
As for the band’s legacy – there’s more to it than ‘Freebird’ and it’s all here in this set.
The band have since reformed, with Ronnie’s younger brother Johnny on vocals, and a multitude of line-up changes and natural passings, with Rickey Medlocke (now on guitar) back in the fold. And a much more AOR direction. the band’s sound is as watered down as the line-up; the 73-77 era is where this Southern Rock fan is more than happy.
Overall, classic rock music and a package to match. 8.3/10