Simple Men: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) at 50

Looking back on the Southern rock greats’ debut LP

Back cover of (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) (Image: Discogs)

In terms of the indelible impression that it left on the seminal sound of Southern rock and roll, arguably no album had a more definitive influence than the debut album by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

When it was first released on August 13, 1973, (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) not only established the fact that the Jacksonville-based band had arrived, but, equally important, that they were one determined and defiant outfit. Their Southern origins were a source of pride as well as their template for everything done thereafter.

The title was, of course, a play on the band’s name, which in turn, provided a mock homage to the members’ high school PE teacher, Leonard Skinner, a man with a particular disdain for long-haired, so-called “hippies.” At first Skinner was irritated by the faux tribute, but it’s said that as time went on, he came to appreciate the part he played in the band’s legacy, and eventually, even formed a friendship with the band that lasted until his passing in 2010 from the effects of Alzheimers. While Skinner never denied that he disproved of men with long hair, he later claimed he was merely enforcing school rules. 

Lynyrd Skynyrd (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd), MCA Records 1973

The band, meanwhile, found a handle that seemed to suit them well, having previously operated under such ill-suited names as “My Backyard,” “Conquer the Worms,” “The Noble Five,” “The One Percent,” and eventually “Leonard Skinnerd,” a reference to a character in the Allen Sherman novelty song “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah.” Nevertheless, having a connection to a real live individual who was a repressive figure in their youth seemed to make much more sense, and the distinctive spelling was good fodder for both their press and their positioning.

Still, it took Al Kooper, former Bob Dylan session man and more famously, the founder of Blood Sweat and Tears, to give them initial attention. After discovering them in an Atlanta club, he signed them to his own Sounds of the South records label, which happened to have a distribution deal with MCA. At that point, the band consisted of singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, drummer Bob Burns, bassist Leon Wilkeson, and keyboard player Billy Powell. Wilkeson played on only two tracks on that first album, leaving most of his parts to be played by Ed King, a former member of one hit wonders, Strawberry Alarm Clock. Once Wilkeson rejoined the group following the album’s release, King was shifted to lead guitar, giving Skynyrd’s front line its distinctive triple guitar arsenal, a signature sound that provided the group with a further identity. 

Kooper took the role of producer, and his experience and expertise clearly served the sessions well. Ironically, he disproved of “Simple Man,” one of the songs that the group had intended for inclusion on the album. Nevertheless, the musicians refused to abandon it despite Kooper’s insistence. Consequently, they forced him out of the studio and made him wait in his car until they completed the track under their own aegis.


VIDEO: Lynyrd Skynyrd “Free Bird”

Nevertheless, the two songs that brought the band eternal fame — an ever-assertive stomp of a rocker dubbed “Gimme Two Steps” and the driving and dramatic “Free Bird” — overshadowed all the others, and not only helped the album to garner gold status courtesy of over a million copies sold, but also gave the group a pair of overarched anthems. “Free Bird” in particular remains one of the top stadium-sized favorites of all time, as well as a punchline (“Play Freebird!”) whenever fans are offered opportunity to shout out requests, no matter who happens to be performing. With the exception of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” no one song has ever achieved such singular stature as a bonafide concert classic.

Sadly, it all came to an end a mere five years later when, following the release of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s fifth album Street Survivors, the chartered plane carrying the band and its road crew crashed in a wooded area in rural Mississippi. Eventually, the survivors were able to regroup and reform the band, initiating a new chapter in the ongoing efforts that was initially introduced on the Pronounced album. 

Happily then, “Free Bird” still soars.



Lee Zimmerman
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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville, Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

One thought on “Simple Men: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) at 50

  • August 15, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    I’ve never heard Gimme 2 steps. I’ve heard Gimme 3 Steps. Also 100, 000 sales is a gold record, 1,000,000 is platinum.


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