Rickey Medlocke via Zimbo
Johnny Van Zant‘s world was rocked to the core on October 20, 1977, when his brother Ronnie, the lead singer of Southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, was killed in a plane crash. Following Ronnie’s death, the band took a break, and Johnny turned to his music for comfort. He released four albums with his band, The Johnny Van Zant Band, between 1980-1985, before he decided to take a break from music.
However, Johnny didn’t stay away from the music industry for long. In 1987, he joined a newly-reunited Lynyrd Skynyrd in his brother’s place as lead vocalist and primary songwriter. Johnny continues to record and perform with the group to this day, and also records and performs with his other brother, Donnie.
In 1990, Johnny released his solo album Brickyard Road, which included a track with the same title. The single “Brickyard Road,” was a mega hit, and claimed the top spot on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, a position which it held for three weeks.
“Brickyard Road” was such a success because it is an emotional tribute to Ronnie and his legacy. The song gets its title from the place Ronnie, his wife Judy, and his daughter Melody lived before he was killed. In addition, the song also makes a reference to “Free Bird,” which is a hit Lynyrd Skynyrd song that came to represent Ronnie after his death.
In the song, Johnny speaks directly to his brother, asking if he realizes the impact he left on Earth. “Brother, do you realize what you’ve done?” he sings. “Touched the hearts of everyone/You might’ve died too young but your songs live on.“
During a performance in 1990, Johnny chose to perform “Brickyard Road” as his final song of the night. Before he started singing, Johnny held up a sign that read “Brickyard Road,” saying a friend had made it for him.
After that, Johnny moved into the song, and his performance was nothing short of emotional. He kept his eyes closed for most of the performance and stayed close to the microphone, as if he was trying to really concentrate on his brother and his memory. The emotion also shows through in his voice on certain lines in the song, particularly when he sings, “Things just ain’t the same since you left our world.“
By the end of the performance the entire crowd was on their feet cheering for Johnny. Once you watch his performance below, you’ll see why.
We’re sure Ronnie would be so proud to see everything Johnny has accomplished over the years.
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