Often performed as the finale at their live performances, "Free Bird" is regarded as Lynyrd Skynyrd's signature song. Between the instrumental solos and lead singer Ronnie Van Zant's wickedly talented vocals, it's easy for anyone to hear why.
Released in 1973 off of the band's debut album, (pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd),"Free Bird" was co-written by Ronnie and Allen Collins, but the song wasn't an easy one to write at first.
In an interview with Blender magazine, later cited by Songfacts, Lynyrd Skynyrd's guitarist Gary Rossington says that Ronnie thought Allen's initial version of the song, "had too many chords to write lyrics for." Finally, during a rehearsal Ronnie had Allen play the chords to the song over and over again, eventually writing the melody and lyrics in a matter of minutes.
"After about 20 minutes, Ronnie started singing, 'If I leave here tomorrow,' and it fit great. It wasn't anything heavy, just a love song about leavin' town, time to move on," said Gary.
The band added the guitar solos at the end of the song with the intent of giving Ronnie some time to rest when they played back to back shows. With the addition of keyboardist Billy Powell's intro to the song, "Free Bird" was complete, and the rest is history.
Typically lasting for 14 minutes total, "Free Bird" was a huge hit with the band's fans and an even larger audience. The song broke into the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Guitar World ranked the guitar solo as the third greatest guitar solo of all time.
At the Selland Arena in Fresno, California on August 24,1977, the band concluded their show with "Free Bird," like always, and were also being recorded by David L. "DJ" Johnson.
Little did any of them know that recording of "Free Bird" would be the band's last live recording of the song with Ronnie, who passed away in the infamous plane crash that also claimed the lives of bandmates Steve and Cassie Gaines on October 20, 1977.
With that information in mind, it makes this particular recording of "Free Bird" all the more valuable. The recording captures Ronnie's legendary voice and lyrics to Lynyrd Skynyrd's masterpiece, forever securing his place in music history.
You can listen to Ronnie's last live recording of "Free Bird" below.
Although Ronnie may be gone, he lives on in recordings like this, and through each and every member of Lynyrd Skynyrd today.
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